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What Improv Can Teach You About Writing

improv and writing
Some photos from the CTC website improv page

With something like 17 of us gathered around the stage, Chris Simpson singled me out to take a step back to enlarge the circle. I looked down at my feet. The woman to my left stood about 8 inches farther back, as did Kevin, to my right–their heels a mere inch or two from the edge. Every fiber of my being told me not to step any closer to the edge of the stage–especially with my back to the drop. I inched back a couple centimeters as a compromise.

Thus began my first lesson in trust last night in Improv 101 at the Contemporary Theater in Wakefield, RI which Chris co-teaches with Ryan Hartigan. An exercise in eye contact provided an opportunity to observe eye contact dynamics in my household later that night, providing a more intimate connection with one of my children.

I’m sure I could feel my brain developing new synapses during another exercise in three-pronged multi-tasking–an exercise so complicated, I won’t confuse you–or myself–by attempting to describe it. Suffice it to say, the fast moving exercise involved a yellow bean bag ball, colors, names, eye contact, walking and ball catching. This exercise required being present to the moment and trusting.

I took the improv class for a number of reasons, many related to writing, a few related to life. I wanted to:

  • Bring more humor into writing a business-related book
  • Bring more spontaneity to my writing, in general
  • Access my creativity in new ways–hoping that this will also bring some fresh life to my writing
  • Have fun
  • Laugh
peeking out of box
Getting ready to step outside my box!

As a business owner who works from home and mostly connects to clients and service providers by phone and e-mail, I also looked forward to interacting with people in person. Between parenting and running a busy business, my world had gotten fairly narrow compared to my single days where I tended to visit museums, watch theater regularly, dance, take tai chi classes, hike in nature, go camping, read the newspaper, read magazines, try new exotic foods, attend lectures and workshops, and interact with a variety of people at work in person. On the weekends, my kids like to stay at home, for the most part. I viewed improv as a way to expand my world a bit, and to climb out of the shrinking box that had become my life.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. But I felt like it had gotten predictable. I wasn’t growing in the same ways I used to. I felt like I needed new stimulation, more to draw on in order to bring creativity into my writing and my home life, as well.

I noticed at the beginning of class how some part of me wanted to be funny–to be a bit of a star. And improv’s not like that. I quickly grasped how improv is more about entering some new world of the imagination and creating something together with a bunch of other people you have learned to trust. You let go of the tiny self and become your expanded self–mind, body, spirit–all of you. Improv requires curiosity, suspending the inner critic, going with your gut, acting intuitively, impulsively at times. Improv requires you to be fully present, to let go of ego and allow the moment to reveal itself through you.

I guess my biggest surprise is the spiritual and personal growth aspects of improv. I went to improve my writing but I see already that improv is going to make its mark on my spiritual life, family, personality and present moments.

What activities have had a profound or interesting impact on your writing? What were some of the insights they brought into your writing and your life?

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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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