Do you know what one of my biggest career-related fears is? I specifically say career-related because obviously swimming with sharks, finding a spider in my shoe or accidentally eating a mouldy yogurt are also pretty bad things.
But, my career-related fear is that I’ve used up my small well of creativity. My creativity was finite and I only had so many ideas at my mind’s disposal. I’m not naturally the most creative person. My favourite subject in school was maths. Sometimes, when I’m struggling with writing, I start reconciling accounts as a break. I like numbers, numbers do what you tell them to; ideas don’t come to me so easily.
Maybe they don’t come to any writers that easily? Maybe we all just side eye eachother, jealous at eachother’s apparent prowess at churning masterpieces out at will. Regardless, I’ve proved to myself that good ideas ARE in my head somewhere. But let’s just say they need beating out with a stick. With nails in it.
I put myself under alot of pressure to write good stuff. Sometimes that stuff just doesn’t want to budge. So I had a look for things that might inspire me… and I took an improv course.
The one where Natalie goes to Improv
So, improv was cringingly embarrassing and I hated it… but I also loved it? Sometimes you’ve gotta do things that scare you, push you out of your comfort zone. It may be unpleasant, but only in times of pain and hardship do we get the opportunity to grow the most… right?
Improv was hilarious and it was so silly that my face hurt with laughter. But more importantly, it reminded me how to think up new ideas without judging them; instead to grab them as they appear and work from them rather than deny them. And after telling stories of lizardmen wars and after walking through portals inside imaginary whale mouths, I remembered that despite my imposter syndrome, there are actually some pretty freaky ideas inside this head of mine. I’m perfectly capable of coming up with creative ideas on the spot.
There’s also something quite liberating about letting go, goofing around like a child and allowing your ideas to flow without judgement. Not only this, but some of the methods I learned could easily be adapted to help kickstart creativity in other arts too.
Methods of improvisation
- Colour and advance.
- While telling a story to a partner, they interrupt with either ‘colour’ or ‘advance’ to control what parts they want to hear more on. ‘Colour‘ means to pause the story and flesh out the detail of that particular point you were at. ‘Advance’ means to go back and continue with the full story as before. This was actually really helpful at developing a more fleshed out and in-depth story. Those details that I would have otherwise overlooked actually ended up building the foundations of my otherwise lackluster tale.
- First thought.
- Working from the very first ideas to pop into your head without pausing for thought. This particular exercise involved pulling imaginary items out of an endless Mary Poppins-style sack to fill a museum with. Pulling each item out quickly, quickly, quickly without stopping, helped ideas to flow out. You can use visual cues with your hands (e.g. a large item for wide arms), use the alphabet as a prompt, or simply go with the first thing to hit your brain.
- Tagging out.
- In one particular exercise, we acted as two journalists reporting a news story to a camera. We’d switch an invisible microphone between eachother, jumping in and continuing on the story as soon as the other got stuck. We ended up with a news report about mutant chickens terrorising a neighbourhood. Having a partner to take turns with made the story take on fresh directions. It meant that the story couldn’t possibly die, instead being kept alive like some horrific, unnatural Frankinstein abomination. In a good way, of course.
- In this exercise, you’d face your partner and take turns to reflect the other’s movements and behaviours, zero speech involved. Like a mirror image, letting it take its own shape from a simple prompt from your partner. Simply wrinkling your nose could eventually lead to slobby, grunty frogmen rubbing their thighs at eachother, Vic Reeves style.
Although improv is heavily partner reliant, I still believe most of the above exercises, even alone, are brilliant for pulling us out of a ‘dry’ spell in creativity. At the very least, they’re useful reminders to turn off our ‘judging mind’ and find our way back to our thinking zone.
All in all, it was tough letting go but I’m glad I tried improv. Despite being THE most important thing to remember with writing, I frequently forget to just… write. Let the ideas flow. Instead, I put pressure on myself, sitting head in my hands as I try to will out great ideas. You can’t force out good ideas without wading through and laughing at the shitty ones first. Cool ideas don’t appear out of thin air. They need to evolve.
So… I won’t be doing it again, I’m not that extroverted. BUT… I will be watching a lot of improv as it’s funny as heck.
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid of making ideas that suck