The Improvisers’ Guide to Better Writing – Part 2

Improvising is all about creating something magical from scratch. Writing involves much the same process. But, how can you get yourself in a state of mind where you perform your best work? What helps you to give yourself the best chance of doing something magical? And how on earth are the skills needed for getting on stage and making stuff up going to help your writing?

Well, they can. And this series is all about becoming a better improviser and a better write. Last time, I looked at the importance of a warm-up (in writing terms). Today, it’s all about focus.

Part 2 – Focusing on what you’re doing

Imagine you’re in a play. You turn up at the theatre five minutes before the curtain goes up, you greet your fellow actors and then you wander onto stage. Are you likely to put in your best performance? Probably not.

Had you arrived in plenty of time, been able to do a warm-up, re-read your lines and chatted to your co-stars, you’d have

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Preparation and

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focusing on the job in hand are as important in writing as they are in improvised comedy, or, indeed, in any other form of performance art. Daniel Day-Lewis recently became the first man to win three acting Oscars and is famous for his meticulous preparation. Is that a coincidence?

When I take an improv class, doing a series of exercises that focus the mind are key to getting the best out of the participants. Some of the exercises can seem like children’s party games, but what they are doing is making sure everyone is concentrating, focused and in the right mindset for what comes next.

Focusing exercises also ensure that everyone is on the same wavelength, gets the creative juices flowing and psyches everyone up for a good performance.

While writing tends to be more of a solitary endeavour, it’s still vital that you’re in the right frame of mind to do your best work. Preparation is key.

Before you start, make sure you know what it is you want to achieve. Read through your brief so you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Re-read some previous work to make sure you understand the tone of voice and style that you’re looking for. And make sure you fully understand what you want to write before you begin.

Passing a clap around a circle or

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trying to keep different imaginary coloured balls in the air might work for an improv class but not for you as a writer. But, the principles are the same. Before you start make sure you’re focused, in the right mindset and, most importantly, ready to perform.

Next time I’ll look at how a simple improv game can be the perfect way to write. In the meantime, please share your thoughts below.

The Improvisers’ Guide to Better Writing – Part 1


Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 28 February 2013

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