INTERVIEW: Paul Laudiero of Shit Rough Drafts

Shit Rough Drafts began when Paul Laudiero came up with humorous alternate titles for The Great Gatsby while bored in class. He posted that first image to Tumblr just over a year ago, and his blog has since achieved immense popularity. Starting today the 23-year-old writer and comedian’s debut book of hilariously shitty rough drafts (Chronicle Books) will be on shelves (check out the book trailer here). I interviewed Laudiero about the nature of successful blogs, the importance of discipline, and the highly sought-after blog-to-book deal.

To commemorate Shit Rough Drafts’ one-year anniversary, you told the story of the blog’s origin. Once you had taken that fundamental step to start the Tumblr, what came next? Your very first post ended up with over 1,000 notes — when did you start to recognize that your idea could turn into something so popular, and what did you do in its early stages to facilitate that success?

After I started the Tumblr, I just kept working at it. I spent a few hours each day really focusing on creating funny drafts and making sure that whatever I posted was something that would make me laugh. I posted two or three a day for the first few weeks, not hoping for anything, just doing it because it was fun. I think about two weeks after I started it, Mashable and The Huffington Post covered it, and then it sort of blew up after that.

I guess I realized it could turn into something popular after it got some coverage. It was an easy concept that I could apply to any sort of medium (books, plays, poetry, TV, movies, etc.) and it shared really well. I remember that right after Shit Rough Drafts got covered, the Academy Awards were coming up, so I worked really hard to have strong drafts for each movie that won something. Instead of live-tweeting the event, I posted a draft of each movie that won an award. That really helped pick up a lot of followers. Basically, I just worked really hard on it for a few hours each day. That was the main thing.

Although your project is unique and differs from conventional narrative storytelling, your description of the work involves the same discipline that writers universally struggle with. Spending hours refining drafts, striving for work that satisfies your own criteria as the creator, and designating time to get words on the page are familiar preoccupations for all people agonizing over their own shit rough drafts. What is your own background as a writer and comedian, and how did that training inform your current success?

Paul Laudiero, author of Sh*t Rough Drafts

Paul Laudiero, author of Sh*t Rough Drafts

I was an English major at George Mason University with a focus in Creative Writing. I wish there was some big thing I learned or some secret to writing they taught me, but really all I took away from the program was to write every day and know that a good amount of what I put down on paper was going to be shit. I took a few writing workshops at school, and I learned to embrace criticisms and suggestions for my writing, and to work harder at it.

As far as comedy goes, I started doing improv with the Washington Improv Theater in 2009 and went through the classes and program there. I was on a few different “indie” teams and performed once or twice a week either in D.C. or at my college. After I graduated in May of last year, I moved to New York City to keep on taking improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade. That’s what I’m doing now. Improv has definitely helped me to become a better writer. Getting to make stuff up on a stage with other funny people is the best way to generate new ideas. Even if you’re not aware of it, you’re picking up new stuff every show night and it will bleed into your writing. Also, improv is just freaking fun.

Thinking of improvisation in the broader sense is very useful, as responding creatively to current events and trends is crucial to staying relevant in the blogosphere. You have done this with historical dates in literature, popular shows, and movies. Equally important is connecting and collaborating with others on the web. When did you start posting submissions from others? Do you have any favorite guest posts you’d like to share?

I started accepting submissions a few months after I got the deal with Chronicle. People had been submitting for a while without me even posting the option, so I finally added the link. I think one of the first big events I accepted submissions for was the last season of “Breaking Bad.” It got picked up by Wired and was received really well. Since then, I’ve always encouraged submissions and tried to find ways to integrate them into promoting the book.

One of my favorites so far has been by a comedian named Dillon Diatlo. He submits a ton of drafts for children’s books and stories that are always hysterical. And dark.

Getting a book deal from a Tumblr or Twitter account is an elusive dream for most people, yet you managed to pull it off! Was this always a goal of yours with the blog, or was it a more unexpected progression? Will favorite entries of yours from the site appear in the book, or will it all be previously unseen material?

It was an unexpected progression! After I got covered by The Huffington Post and Mashable, I was put in touch with my agent, Kate McKean, by a mutual friend from D.C. I had at the same time submitted my idea for Chronicle’s Great Tumblr Book Search. I actually won that, and then my agent sat down with Chronicle and hammered out a deal.

My editor was fantastic, and the book is the same humor as the site. I was given almost total creative freedom, which was great. About a quarter of the book will be my favorite entries from the site, and the rest will be new and unseen material.

Shit Rough Drafts will surely be an ongoing project, but have you had any chance to give a thought to future aspirations? What other kinds of creative projects appeal to you? Do you have any interest in going back to your fiction roots?

Oh man, good question. Anything where humor and writing are involved interests me. I would dig writing for television but am just as happy writing fiction. I spend a few hours writing every day, whether stories, sketches, humor bits, or comics. I plan on writing for the rest of my life, and I want to do everything I can to try and become better at it. For me that just means working every day.

Just like every other white male in his twenties who does improv and writes, I’m working on a web series right now. That should be finished in the next couple months. I guess that’s the next actual project I’m focusing on.

Could you give us any details about the web series?

The series is about a young writer facing the fact that he is shit, and that he will be for a long time. He wants to be a good writer and is trying to work hard at it, but he is young and has no life experience. So he’s shit.

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