A couple of weeks ago, I went to my improvisation (improv) class as usual. I’d been having a lot of fun with the class and looked forward to it every week. This particular class started with a warm-up that had one person giving another person a character to act out. Each of these character acts lasted less than a minute and then the warm up game continued until another person was told to act out another character.
I did not know the first three characters assigned. Luckily, they were not assigned to me. I think they were all pop culture references but I’m not really sure.
Finally, someone referenced Margaret Thatcher and I thought, “I know her!” (I don’t really know Margaret Thatcher, nor will I, as she died in 2013, but I certainly knew of her.)
We moved on to another warm-up game and then the rest of the class, which involved creating and editing scenes.
I felt off the whole class. I was hesitant to jump into scenes and I was hesitant to edit scenes, things I normally do pretty well, in my humble opinion.
Later on, driving home, I thought about why I hadn’t had my usual fun with the class. It was only then that I recognized how “in my head” I’d been all class. Not knowing the character references at the beginning of class made me question myself. I became self-conscious and second-guessed myself for the rest of the class.
Being “in your head” doesn’t allow great improv to happen.
Being “in your head” doesn’t allow great writing—or even good writing—to happen, either.
Writing is such an intellectual pursuit, but it happens best, I believe, when we can let go of all our self-consciousness and let the words flow. There will be plenty of time to edit later, and no one will see what you’ve written until you show it to them.
So I wondered what was so different about that particular improv class? Why did I get so “in my head” when I haven’t been before?
Because I didn’t know the answer to the questions. Nobody asked me the questions, but it might have been better if they had. If I’d been told to act as a certain character, I’d have had to make something up (it is improv, after all,) and I’d have realized I didn’t need to know who these people were in order to create a character.
As it was, I watched other people create characters I didn’t know and I got anxious I’d be asked something I didn’t know. What would people think if I didn’t know what they knew? That anxiety continued throughout the class.
The same thing happens sometimes when I sit down to write.
If I’m worried about making a mistake or what “the experts” will think of what I write, I write less and I write less well. My writing is stilted and boring.
The following week I took another improv class and I’m happy to report I wasn’t “in my head” at all. I had a great time and I vaguely remember hearing some laughs from the audience (my classmates.) That’s what improv is all about.
Now I have another metaphor for good writing—improvise! Don’t get in my head, just sit down and see what comes. Don’t think too much and definitely don’t think about what others are thinking about me.
Do you have a useful metaphor for good writing?