And one of the biggest examples of why this is true is humor.
Ever since someone said to my face that women aren’t and never will be funny (blatant lies!), I’ve been mildly obsessed with studying humor—especially humorous storytelling—because dammit, I will be a funny woman out of spite if nothing else. And after reading rather a lot of funny books and writing advice, I’m forced to conclude that most of the advice about writing humor can’t be generalized to all writers.
Yes, there are some basics that will be useful for most people, such as learning about different types of humor and how to implement them in writing and comedy. For example, making readers laugh out loud often requires a combination of different humor techniques (e.g. see the Discworld books).
However, at the end of the day, humor is very much a YMMV thing and anyone who says they can single-handedly teach you to be a master of comedy is probably very over-confident or only trying to train you to know how to do their exact humor style, which may not even be what your target audience enjoys.
Case in point: John McNally’s writing advice book, Vivid and Continuous, has an entire chapter devoted to the art of writing humor. The first part of his chapter is okay, as it discusses different theories of humor with a personal anecdote for examples. But then, McNally ends the chapter with his “Sure-Fire Formula For Becoming Funnier in Thirty Days!” And he proclaims that if you don’t laugh at all while following his formula, you simply aren’t a funny person.
Hmmm, yeah. How about no???
My dear fellow writers, if you look up his formula and try to follow it and don’t laugh at all, it’s not because you aren’t funny, but because his advice just doesn’t apply to you. Not only is his list very Straight White Baby Boomer American-centric, but also he disses any sort of humor that relates to popular media and as Millennials and Gen Z folks will attest, humor based on popular media (i.e. memes), can still be extremely funny and audience-friendly. Lord of the Rings jokes and memes made back when my parents were reading the books (i.e. “Frodo Lives”) still exist in the humorous posts and fanfics posted to social media or fiction posted to WordPress. And even if pop culture humor is temporary, then so what? It was enjoyable in the moment, and that’s really what matters in the end.
Anyway, this is just a friendly reminder to take writing advice with a grain of salt, especially writing advice on humor. And if you’re already making people laugh at your jokes, you’re doing just fine, even if you fall outside of someone’s fancy writing formula. 🙂