The Three Impactful Lessons Writers Can Gleam From Bo Burnham’s Inside

Bo Burnham’s Inside is many things. Funny. Entertaining social commentary. Perhaps one of the first widely consumed pieces of post-pandemic art.

And Bo Burnham: Inside is a fantastic look at the creative process. While watching this 87-minute film, three things stood out to me as impactful lessons for writers.

Bo Burnham is a comedian/actor who got his start on YouTube in 2006. Burnham starred in the 2020 film Promising Young Woman, and he released Inside on May 30 of this year.

Burnham recorded Inside during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic from inside one room in his home. Pandemic restrictions forced Burnham to make the film alone. He was director, star, producer, lighting, grip, and so on.

Inside includes some hilarious songs commenting on present culture, such as “White Woman’s Instagram” and “FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight).” 

As the film progresses, though, things turn dark. Burnham grows frustrated, panicked by the isolation of quarantining and of making a massive piece of art. 

By spotlighting, literally at times, his creative process, Burnham provides three notable lessons for writers.

Screenshot from Bo Burnham's Inside
Bo Burnham: Inside. Photo: YouTube

Writing Ain’t Easy.

A famous writing quote, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, goes something like this: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Most writers can relate to this sentiment. Writing is painful. It’s hard, sometimes almost impossible, and not always fun. 

How many times have you labored over the same sentence, struggling to find the right words to express what’s inside your head? Who hasn’t stared at a blank page or screen, begging for a writing idea to arrive?

We know what it’s like to be alone in a room trying to birth into the world this thing that’s inside you, but we do not see how this appears.

Burnham shows us. Inside holds a mirror to the creative process we writers go through, and the results are jarring, a visual reminder that writing is not easy.

Your Endurance Will Be Tested.

Right now, I have around 40,000 words of a novel I stopped writing a few years ago. The other day on Twitter, I saw a writer say a story they’d submitted to dozens of websites and journals finally got accepted.

The cliché holds: Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. And any marathoner will tell you endurance is a critical part of finishing the race.

Writers have many definitions for finishing. It could mean completing a first draft, or it could mean publishing something you’ve written.

For Burnham, finishing Inside meant getting it ready for release on Netflix. It took him months. He worked alone inside the same room, bringing us along as he raced this marathon.

In the beginning, we see him freshly shaved, rested, and energetic. Then we watch as Burnham’s hair gets long, he grows a beard, bags appear under his eyes, and he appears on the verge of giving up.

But Burnham didn’t stop. He pushed through, dug deep, and finished Inside.

It takes endurance for us writers to finish our first draft, make it through editing and revisions, and see our creations released into the world.

It Will Hit the Fan.

In Jan. 2020, Burnham wasn’t planning to make Inside. He was instead returning to standup comedy, which he’d paused doing for a few years. COVID-19 stopped all that.

So, Burnham retreated to his house and created Inside. 

The business world calls this pivoting. Startup companies often pivot from their initial business model to something they think may make them more profitable.

Burnham pivoted. Many of us writers pivot, too.

Your story may not work, so you scrap parts of it. The article you’re writing may need a new angle or more or different sources. 

External forces can also impact your work. Your kid gets sick, your job gets busy, and we all know the wrench a pandemic can throw into the best-laid plans.

Writing is as much pivoting as it is creating. That’s why we writers need to be agile and able to withstand the unexpected. 

Three Lessons for Writers From Inside

Bo Burnham’s Inside is a magnificent look at the creative process, highlighting three crucial lessons for writers:

  • Writing is not easy.
  • Writers need endurance.
  • Things will not go as planned.

Keeping these points in mind can help us survive the tricky parts and create our best writing. And it’s powerful to know you’re not alone in what you’re going through. 

All of us writers have our difficulties. All of us, at times, want to give up. But Bo Burnham: Inside proves that by pushing through the challenges, we can create something magical.

Nine Powerful Lessons From Poet Edward Hirsch and How Writers Can Apply Them to Their Work

Writers learn a lot from other writers, and poet Edward Hirsch is no exception.

Hirsch shared some thoughts on poetry in an interview with The Paris Review that has instrumental guidance and insight for writers of all stripes. Whether we’re poets, freelancers, novelists, or more, we can enhance your writing practice by absorbing Hirsch’s words. 

Here are nine powerful things for writers to absorb from Edward Hirsch.

Person holding their open palm below the sun
Photo by Rampal Singh on Unsplash

It’s Not Where You Start. It’s Where You Go and Grow

“I started writing in high school to make myself feel better. I wrote the way a lot of teenagers write, out of emotional desperation. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I hadn’t really read anything. But when I wrote things down in lines—it would be generous to call what I was writing poetry—I felt consoled. And so I kept doing it.”

We’re not born excellent writers. We become good by making ourselves, through doing, writing, and writing, and by reading others’ work. 

All writers have a beginning. The best of us keep going.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to read poetry to the exclusion of other things. That would be like eating only one kind of food.”

We writers need to branch out in our reading. Read genres we usually don’t, magazines we ordinarily avoid. Consume poetry, essays, blog posts, and more. 

The more we read, the more our writing grows.

“Poetry needs to continually enlarge its vocabulary and its subject matter.”

Swap “poetry needs” for “writers need” in this sentence, and it remains true. Writers like you and I need to enlarge our vocabulary and subject matter continually. That’s why reading all we can is a big part of our writer evolution.

Be a Responsible Writer Who Uses Their Secret Sauce

“We have a responsibility to the words we employ, since, as poets, language is in our care, our keeping.”

Edward Hirsch
Edward Hirsch | Photo by Michael Lionstar, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Language is in the care of all of us writers. Words are our currency, and we’d be wise to spend them carefully. 

May every word we use advance our story and make our argument. May we show language the respect it deserves by using it to communicate to our readers effectively.

“We need poetry to keep expanding so that it can account for the actual lives that people are living. It can’t all be just about love, death, and the changing of the seasons.”

Our writing must evolve because our readers evolve. Think about your ideal reader in Jan. 2020. Are they the same, having gone through the COVID-19 pandemic and visible instances of ongoing racial injustice in the U.S.? 

We need to grow as writers so we can push and pull our writing to change with us. It’s how we progress as artists. It’s how we continue creating art that resonates with others.

“You need to write about the life you’ve lived. It can’t all be aspirational. It’s part of your job, as a poet, to write out of experience. To name what matters to you. You’ve only got one life to draw on.”

It’s become cliché, but it remains true: Only you can write in your voice from your perspective. So tap your life, your background, lessons you’ve learned, and mistakes you’ve made in your writing. 

As writers, every piece of our being comprises our intellectual property (IP). We need to put that IP into our writing. 

“It takes a certain kind of recklessness to face oneself. The more upsetting it is, the more you’re supposed to fly toward it, like a moth to the flame.”

Easier said than done, right? But we each have stories only we can tell, and we should do our best to try and tell them.

Remember, Edward Hirsch Says, It’s Not About You

“It’s good for poetry to keep human beings in mind.”

All of us writers need to remember we’re writing for humans. If we tap into our intellectual property, fly like a moth to the flame of our story, we’ll produce writing that serves a purpose that provides meaning and attracts an audience. Our audience.

“I’m writing to a stranger in the future.”

We want to be mindful about what we put out into the world. Are we writing in our voice, saying something authentic? Is each piece the best version we can make it? 

Much of what we publish will be around for others to read, maybe as early as tomorrow, perhaps long after we’re gone. So let’s be proud of what we produce, for we’re all writing to a stranger in the future.

You can read the full interview with Edward Hirsch on The Paris Review.