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Versatility--A Key to Success for Writers and for Comedians

Updated on July 24, 2013
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Dr. Middlebrook, former university professor, is a fiction/non-fiction author (pen name Beax Rivers), and virtual writing coach and trainer.

What Writers Can Learn About Versatility from One King of Comedy

He’s great at stand-up. After all, he’s one of the “Kings of Comedy” who toured with Cedric the Entertainer, D. L. Hughley, and Bernie Mac. They were a magnificent comedy team, ultimately immortalized in a film by Spike Lee, The Original Kings of Comedy.

We know he's on fire with his new daytime talk show, Steve Harvey.

We also know he's a really funny guy, but we know it’s not just what he says that’s funny. In fact, sometimes what he says is more not funny than funny … but what is funny is his delivery of what he says. No one, no one I say, can deliver funny like Steve Harvey. It’s the way he speaks, along with the way he forms his words … his diction--just the right amount of a Southern accent along with a sort of “Ain’t life just a really, really big bag of tricks” kind of attitude.

Those of us who have followed his career already knew he could be great as a host ("Showtime at the Apollo"), we knew he could be great in a sitcom, The Steve Harvey Show (aired on the WB Network, from 1996-2002), and we knew he was a great host of the nationally syndicated radio show, The Steve Harvey Morning Show. And one night I was clicking the remote past the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN, a church channel), and I stopped when I saw Steve Harvey on stage. I was glad I did, because the man delivered one of the most interesting and powerful presentations I'd ever seen on that network. Then, the moment he published Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment, we knew he was a great writer/author. And now that his blockbuster book has become a blockbuster movie, upstaging The Hunger Games at last weekend’s box office, well now we know he’s not only someone who can come up with an idea that makes a great movie, we also know he is a versatile writer, and that his ideas can put some serious butts in the seats at movie theaters too.

Writers: It Pays to Be Versatile

So what am I saying that you as a writer, and I, as a writer, should be paying attention to when it comes to Steve Harvey? I’m saying that you and I need to look at Mr. Harvey’s accomplishments as being proof that it pays to be versatile. Let’s face it, one trick ponies are a thing of the past. To be relevant these days, whether it’s as a comedian or as a writer—in order to turn ideas into money, you have to be able to do more than one thing. You have to learn how to look at life, and at what we do with that same “Ain’t life just a really, really big bag of tricks?” attitude that seems to work for Mr. Harvey, and you have to be able to reach inside yourself and pull out skills and abilities you might not even know you have. They don’t have to ready for the world at first—you can work on them; polish and shine them, and then practice, practice, practice, until you’re ready to send them out in public to help you as you work to achieve your goals in life.

In his book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey preaches to women who he thinks are clueless about “what drives a man.” He tells them that what a man is all about can be summed up using three simple things: His title, what he does for a living to get that title, and how much he makes doing what he does for a living. Harvey tells women on the hunt for or trying to figure out how to hold on to a man that until a man is satisfied he has reached his goals with regard to all three of these things, that no matter how hard a woman tries, she will not be his primary focus.

What We Can Learn

So what can you and I learn, not just from what Mr. Harvey says in his book, but also from how he makes his own living? We can learn that as a writer for the ‘Net, we will need to become versatile. As writers or would-be writers, we all have to figure out how to make serious, heart and mind connections that touch people where they live. We have to be able to stop people in their tracks with well-written headlines, and then immediately engage them as they begin to read. We have to impress them with points and sub-points while presenting error-free writing that is fun, breezy, easy to read and informative, while also being relatively brief. And on top of all that, we have to be able to write on just about any topic or subject at all. It doesn’t matter if we have a lot of experience with the topic or not. If we do, then that’s great, but if we don’t then that means we have some work to do before we can write, and that work is called “research.”

And did I mention speed? Oh yeah, speed is also one of the tricks you and I will need to pull out of that trick bag as we work to become more versatile. You see, in order to make money writing on the Internet, I've learned that you have to write a lot. A lot. Did I say a lot? And you have to be able to turn out great, well written articles, quickly. Then, on top of that, you need to develop a good understanding of something call SEO. I'm working on it, and I know I haven't quite gotten it yet, but as I understand it so far, if you don’t understand SEO, then you’re not going to know how to write “keyword friendly content.” And that’s what drives traffic and ranking to your articles, and without traffic and rankings, well, you may as well not write because not enough people will see or read it.

Oh, if only we could learn from Mr. Steve Harvey. Let's see. The Web is chock full of opportunities for writers, but to do well here on the Internet, you have to be concerned about your title, as a writer, about what you do as a writer, and about how much you could make as a writer (if you’re willing to work hard and focus). To make money writing on the Internet, you have to be able to write content that is unique, and you have to be able to understand what readers are looking for. Just like Steve Harvey as a comedian and author has to understand what funny is and what will make an audience laugh. He has to know how to engage people where they live, in their hearts and in their homes. He has to know how to connect with things that are important to people, in a way that makes them laugh.

And that’s not where the versatility ends. No. We also have to be able to edit our own work. What? Did you think it was impossible for a writer to edit his or her own words? We have ways, I tell you my dear friends. The trick is, you have to get away from it for a while; put some time and distance between you and what you’ve written, and then go back and read it again with new, critical eyes. Read it as though you were reading something written by someone else. That way, you will be able to see at least some of your errors, and then you’re ready to begin the process of re-writing what you wrote.

Study the life and the versatility of the man that is Mr. Steve Harvey. Watch him, learn from him. Then, think like a writer, but act on your versatility, like Steve Harvey.


© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD

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