From Publishers Weekly:
Six years ago, I was a single mom with Wednesday and Thursday nights free in that strange, silent way only a recently divorced person can understand. So, I did what all normal and not-at-all-emotionally-unstable individuals do: I signed up for an improv class.
Over the next year, I completed the class series and auditioned for the theater’s house team, and—spoiler alert—I made it! Performing in front of a paying audience proved more intense than taking classes. And soon, improv became a great teaching tool in many areas of my life, including my writing.
At first, I thought improv and writing couldn’t be more opposite—one is performed in front of an audience, the other alone in a quiet space. But now, after hundreds of shows, I’ve come to see how wrong I was. Here are six things I learned from improv that dramatically impacted my writing.
How to think fast: I’m a self-diagnosed overthinker. With writing, I could retool the same three sentences seven times before I’d show them to anyone. I like that. It’s safe.
But improv is not a slow art. When a performer hits the stage, the show is in her hands. There’s no stopping, rethinking, or asking for an extension. Though writers don’t get rewarded for speed, and good improv takes its time in developing stories and characters, the pressure of creating in front of an audience has helped me quiet my inner editor.
How to think specifically: Improv has no props, costumes, sets, or special effects. When working in a medium of the invisible, it’s important to ground scenes in the familiar. Details set a scene, create an agreed-upon reality, and provide something for audiences to see.
In writing, creating a world for readers to perceive presents similar challenges. Just like onstage, offering some authentic details can heighten the level of realism in writing. It’s through specifics that we enter a shared world, whether through words on a page or actors on stage.
How to think boldly: One of the tenets of improv is to never negate another player’s ideas; instead, we respond with a version of, “Yes, and….” It’s not a hard concept, but I found it a difficult rule to follow. What if I make a fool of myself? What if no one laughs? Yet, over the years, I’ve found halfheartedly playing an uncomfortable moment only shares the awkwardness with the audience, whereas giving in to discomfort lets us find a shared humanity. And that’s what makes any art relatable.
As I’ve numbed my fears onstage, I’ve found my first drafts pouring onto the page and my mind open to more possibilities. For a writer, learning to adapt to new opportunities is important, and for me that looks like saying, “Yes, and…” more often: going to conferences, writing in a new genre, accepting speaking opportunities, writing this article.
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How to think about myself: My biggest mental shift since improv has little to do with my craft or career—it’s a change in the way I see myself. I no longer claim the title of writer or improviser. Instead, I gladly accept that I’m a creative person. All creativity takes an insane amount of courage, and every time I get onstage, I’m reminded how important it is to try new things in life. Only by taking inspired risks can we shift our thinking and continue to evolve.
Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly