Everything You Need To Know About Being a Terrible Writer You Can Learn From Family Guy’s Brian Griffin
I watch a lot of Family Guy. It’s one of my favorite shows to unwind with at the end of a busy day. Good for a quick laugh, with pop culture references that tend to skew a little older and geekier, which I love. And it’s the perfect show to load up on Hulu while I’m cooking in the kitchen, or leave on in the background while I’m busy writing.
Ah yes, writing. Out of all the wacky characters and bizarre plotlines on Family Guy, my absolute favorite has to be Brian Griffin and his wonderful “I’m a writer” story arch. He’s had a disastrous time over the course of his writing career, despite releasing an enormous bestseller (Wish It, Want It, Do it) and a book “selected” by Oprah’s Book Club (Faster Than the Speed of Love).
But why? Why do things go so poorly for our anthropomorphic friend? Well, let’s discuss. Because everything you need to know about being a terrible, terrible writer (and probably a terrible person), you can learn from Brian Griffin.
1. Don’t Steal Other Peoples Ideas: Brian’s first novel, Faster Than the Speed of Love, doesn’t only have a terrible name. The plotline, which Brian explains to Lois in Brian’s Song (Season 6, Episode 2), is the plot of the Iron Eagle film series. He claims he hasn’t seen them… but yeah, I’m not buying it.
Be original! It’s okay to be inspired by other ideas, obviously. But flat out stealing a plot? Don’t do it. Not only is it wrong, it’s plagiarism, you guys.
2. Don't Sell Out: So Brian isn’t having much luck on the publishing front, which really, should come as no surprise. When he successfully rallies for the legality of marijuana in 420 (Season 7, Episode 12), he turns his back on his campaign, and sells out everything he believes in to get his book published, complete with an Oprah’s Book Club sticker on it.
The result? It sells zero copies and is slammed by the media.
He also comes close to literary success, in a genuine way, with the pilot for his television show What I Learned on Jefferson Street (Season 8, Episode 15). Instead of standing up for his values, he lets the producers of the show walk all over him, creating an absolutely horrible product in the process.
The takeaway here? Stand by your values, your beliefs. Write what you want, and stick by your work. Don’t sell yourself out just because you want some measure of success. It isn’t worth it if you’re not proud of what you’re doing.
3. Keep Trying, Don’t Give Up: Right before Brian goes on to finally write that bestselling book (more on that in a bit) in Brian Writes a Bestseller (Season 9, Episode 6), he makes plans to give up on his dreams. Not just because his first book was a disaster, but because the publisher sends back 300 boxes of the book. To his house. Stewie makes a fort out of some, pictured above.
They even used shredded copies of the novel to pack the boxes of the returned book, which is easily my favorite moment in all of Family Guy.
I get it. But one literary blunder shouldn’t lead you to throwing in the towel. Writers face rejection all the time. It’s part of the gig! Keep at it.
4. Don’t Belittle Your Audience: In the episode Dog Gone (Season 8, Episode 2), Brian believes he’s been awarded a literary prize called the Special Literary Excellence award… but it turns out his book is a pick for a book club of mentally disabled people. Instead of embracing this and these newfound fans, he gets drunk and ends up running over another dog. Good job man.
Someone’s embraced your book? Great! Embrace them. Don’t be a monster.
5. Don’t Write For the Wrong Reasons: Now, in that episode Brian Writes a Bestseller, Brian pens Wish It, Want It, Do It, a self help book that he writes simply to try and make money. It goes on to become a huge success, and in the process, he loses the respect of people he admires. He also openly admits it’s the worst thing he’s ever written.
A colleague of mine, Joshua Ignard (author of Conquistador of the Useless), once told me that if you’re writing to get published, and that’s all, you’re writing for the wrong reasons. Write because you enjoy the craft.
6. Don’t Be Jealous of Your Peers, Support Them: Brian has another brush with success when his play, A Passing Fancy, becomes a sensation in his hometown. Unfortunately, the literary elite think its awful. And hey, it probably is.
Inspired by Brian, Stewie decides to write a play… and it’s amazing. Better than anything Brian ever could have done. It causes a lot of problems between the two, and Stewie ends up sacrificing his work to make Brian happy. Which is terrible!
Don’t be jealous of your writerly peers. Don’t talk them down or try to discourage them. Be supportive. They are your people!
7. Be Kind to Your Team: In that same episode, Brian treats Stewie, who joins in as his publicist absolutely terrible. Doesn't matter how hard he's working, he yells and belittles him at every turn.
The lesson? Don't be mean to your team! Seriously. Your publicist, publisher, etc… they're all working for you. Look at poor Stewie's face in that picture up there. Poor guy.
8. Don’t Use People: And in a recent episode Brian’s a Bad Father (Season 12, Episode 11) which inspired writing this post, Brian finally reconnects with his son… only after discovering he’s a famous teen actor staring on a Disney-esque television show. He uses his son to get a job as a writer on the show, is promptly fired, and further fractures his relationship with his son, Dylan.
The lesson? Don’t do that! Seriously. Just as you shouldn’t be jealous of your peers, you shouldn’t use them either.
Man, Brian sure is terrible. Can’t wait to see how he continues to be an awful writer in future episodes.
ERIC SMITH is the cofounder of Geekadelphia, a popular blog covering all-that-is-geek in the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the Philadelphia Geek Awards, an annual awards show held at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He’s written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, and Philly.com