The Weekly Re-Motivator: Shooting into the Dark

I wrote a few weeks back about how I’m teaching improv in my classes, and drew some comparisons between that practice and writing. Well, I’m teaching it again (different levels and all), so it’s front of mind again.

Writing — drafting, at least — is like improv. Virtually just like improv, as it turns out. The blank page is like the first moments stepping out onto the blank stage, not knowing what you’re going to do or how it’s going to go over.

Then, you just start shooting into the dark. I mean, you know there are targets out there: good ideas tucked in the rubbery folds of your brain, lines and ideas and expectations that might resonate with an audience. But from where you stand at the start, you can’t see sharknado. You just fire away and hope you hit something.

And maybe you hit something right away. If so, great, awesome, train on that spot and keep shooting. If not (which is almost laughably more likely), well, what? Give up? Slink off the stage and give up? Hell,no. You aim elsewhere in the dark, reload, and let loose again.

See, improv teaches us not just to allow mistakes — improv encourages mistakes. The mistakes are where the learning happens. And if you aren’t drawing a few sideways glances or jolting some uncomfortable hiccups of laughter from the crowd, well, you’re not doing it right. If you’re not drawing reactions, you’re playing it safe, and playing it safe in improv is the equivalent of skydiving from the second floor: it can be done, but really, what’s the point?

And so it is with writing. Sure, you can play it safe. But what’s the point? Much better to see if you can surprise your audience — which, in the drafting stage, is only yourself — than to sit there boring yourself to death, playing it safe and staying in your tiny little circle of torchlight.

Screw that.

When I teach improv, I tell my students to think of it like a flowchart. You try a thing. Does it work? Does it feel good? Does it excite you? If so, continue down that path. Does it bore you? Does it feel “dead”? Does your partner look lost? If so, abandon that path and try something totally different. Then do it again. Does this work, or does this suck? Readjust, and press on. Readjust, and press on.

Reload, and shoot into the dark again.

The blank page is no different. If anything, it’s easier: you have the infinite safety net of as many drafts as you need to get it right. The absolute worst thing you can do in an improv is to give up and stop trying, and so it is with writing. And yet, that’s exactly what too many would-be writers do. It’s what I did for the past decade: sat back thinking how much I’d like to be a writer, but lived in fear of actually doing it.

Again, screw that.

Load up your word-cannon and shoot into the dark.

Worst that can happen is you miss. (Actually the worst that can happen is you hit a bystander, but y’know — if that happens, just aim away from the screams and try again.)

But as long as you keep shooting, you can’t miss forever.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

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