How did you become a writer?
I worked as a full time advertising copywriter for many years, and still do as a freelancer. After I quit my job to freelance, I immediately began trying my hand at non-ad writing. I started submitting to McSweeney's, got one through and was hooked. It was incredibly liberating to write about whatever I wanted, however I wanted. Those years in advertising were really great prep for the submission process, however. First, I learned to develop a thick skin through the rounds and rounds of ideas that are critiqued and killed by creative directors and clients. Second, I built the stamina to keep coming up with new ideas even when I think there are none left.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I wasn't one of those kids who grew up devouring books. I think I was always looking for a bigger laugh and turned to TV for that - Cheers, Taxi, Happy Days, etc., I was a bit of a sitcom junkie. I'm not exactly sure how this informed my writing, but I know it was a huge influence on what I thought was funny. But after college, I started reading humor essayists like Jack Handey, Steve Martin, Jon Stewart and Ian Frazier. They had a major impact on me, as did David Sedaris and Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. It was a huge revelation that the written page could make me laugh out loud. I wanted to try doing what they did.
When and where do you write?
I live in Brooklyn and have a circuit of coffee shops that I frequent. I like writing in places like that and bouncing around when it starts to feel stale. The only problem with that is the more I bounce around, the higher my obligatory scone intake.
What are you working on now?
I'm always working on ideas for McSweeney's and Shouts and Murmurs to keep a semi-constant stream of submissions in the pipeline. I'm also working on a screenplay and book idea. I recently learned something about myself, which has proven pretty important: as much as I like to juggle lots of different creative ventures at once, it rarely leads to the best outcome. I'm at my best when I laser in and focus on one thing (or maybe two) at a time.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Absolutely. There's such a stark contrast between those times when I sit down to write and struggle to even form sentences, and those inexplicable times when my fingers can't keep up with my thoughts. I think I need to be better about abandoning the former sometimes and doing other things instead, but I usually try to slug through it. Sometimes I'm successful, but usually not.
What’s your advice to new writers?
I would say, focus. Even if you have the eight-pronged bio that so many of us feel we need these days, my advice is to pick an idea, an essay, a short film, a comic, whatever it is, and put everything you have into it for whatever period of time you choose. I think a lot of people, myself included, are getting caught in half-ass mode right now.
Colin Nissan is a humor writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He is a regular contributor to McSweeney's Internet Tendency and has written for The New Yorker, The Paris Review Daily, Wired Magazine, and Vice. He can be found on Twitter @cnissan.