Improv class and the creative process

A photo by juliejordanscott on flickr

The creative process — photo by juliejordanscott on flickr

My computer desktop background has this quote from Sylvia Plath:

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

It’s fitting for today because I feel like nothing interesting could ever come from this head of mine.

I went to a local improv class last night. It wasn’t great (I mean, I wasn’t great). I seized up a lot. I probably ruined a few scenes. I was awkward at points. Despite my clunkyness, I’ve been enjoying the class because I’m learning things about my creative process, and I’m finding these revelations to be true in writing as well.

1. Creativity seems to come in the moment, *while* I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing. Planning to be creative doesn’t work for me at all. If I think too hard about it, the result is often terrible. It seems that I just have to jump in, wherever that may be, and hope for the best.

2. It’s easier, and more comfortable, and less scary to not try, but it is rarely as rewarding.

3. Sometimes Often, I suck horribly. But there’s something magical about that microscopic glimpse of other-worldly creative genius that peeks out once in a while; it catches you by surprise. I think those glimpses are why people continue to work painstakingly at their craft.

4. Creative pursuits are good for me. Even if it’s only because I’m stretching myself that much further. Even if it’s only to exercise a little self-discipline. Even if it’s simply because I said I would. Even if it’s only to say I did it. Actually doing something–anything–creative is, I believe, inherently valuable.

5. Sometimes I’m not as bad as I think I am (see: Sylvia Plath quote). Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. It has happened a few times at improv class when someone just nails a scene, and then refuses to acknowledge his or her comedic genius. I’ve often complimented people and they just reiterate how much they sucked. It’s not even false modesty; they just don’t see it. And that’s been good for me to see. Not to say that I’m brilliant and just don’t realize it, but maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to discount everything I produce as complete rubbish.

Not much else to say here, except I’m glad I sat down to write. It is good for me.

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Write or wrong.

I have been putting off writing this post, because I think it will come off as elitist. I’m hoping that by recognising this from the beginning, you will meet me half way.

Part of my job as a professional writer is sending away writing to get approval from people (outside my field). Too often, said people feel the need to change what I have written. And seven times out of 10, the revisions are not only not better, but actually far worse. Grammar problems, poor diction, redundancies, general convolution, nominalizations. It’s just a mess. I spend an hours going through various changes to fix every mistake.

I have commiserated with fellow writers about this, and they have similar experiences. As one of my copywriting friends put it, “No one interrupts a surgeon to offer advice, so why does everyone think they can do a better job than we can?” Granted, we’re not in school for 10 years, so the comparison is weak. But the point is there: writing seems to be underestimated  as an actual profession.

Here is my theory as to why I think this happens:

1. (This is a general suspicion) If given the opportunity in a project, people will meddle with anything they can, no matter how small the detail, to put their fingerprint on it. I think it’s a compulsion to feel like one’s efforts were necessary.

2.  Because everyone *can* write, everyone thinks they qualify as a writer.In my limited experience, I have found this to be false. Writing is a profession for a reason. It is a craft.

The non-elitist part to this equation (other than me not being perfect) is that writing isn’t magic; if given the proper attention, everyone can learn (even if learning involves reading a lot, regularly). But the fact is, most people don’t learn the craft of composing a written piece. They choose vocations such as engineering, mining, law or whatever, and invest time learning about those things.  And even though writing might be a part of a job description, it’s not the same as taking up a career in it.

Romance is for wussies.

If people only wrote when they were inspired, nothing would get done. There would be nothing to read on the back of a cereal box. Magazines would only have two articles. Manuals would be comprised entirely of graphics (think IKEA). Oh, and brochures just would not exist.

If you’re a TV or movie watcher, and I suspect you are, you’ll notice that some of the most memorable and interesting characters are writers—which may or may not be because the scriptwriter is egocentric. Anyway, it’s funny to me that the caricature of a writer is someone who is sharp and artsy and conflicted, usually carrying some sort of mood/personality disorder.

I guess it’s not altogether false—I mean, look at me, I’m a bloody genius, a psychological enigma. But writing is often associated with a romantic, almost spiritual experience that I find difficult to appreciate as a professional writer. I think it’s the people who don’t have to write every day—those who “write on the side”—who see it this way. These are the people who don’t receive briefs or word counts or deadlines.

Even writer’s block is portrayed as this internal angst that the writer has to overcome before creating her masterpiece. What they never tell you is when your deadline is in five hours, you don’t have time to go out for coffee and get introspective. You have to produce. Plain and, well, not that simple.

Writing has a very practical, tedious and uninteresting quality to it. Even the most creative fiction writers have to trudge through apathy. What does this mean? Most of us writers are generally grounded and sometimes even boring individuals. You heard it here first.

It’s not that I don’t like the caricature–it’s nice to be considered intriguing just by telling a stranger what I do. I just feel like telling the truth today. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish an article about a construction company, after which I will write about medical technology.