Monday, June 9, 2014

On Saying Yes

If I hadn’t chosen a high-paying, exciting career as a world-famous novelist, I would have been an astronaut. Wait. I got that mixed up. Let me try it again: If I hadn’t chosen the mostly-paid, often-dull gig as a copywriter, I would have been a starving artist.

Ah, yes. That makes more sense.

I decided a long time ago that in order to be happy, I had to choose fun over money. And then I realized that fun actually costs money, so I fudged a little and combined the two. Fun + money = Not as much fun, but more money. But now that I’ve been writing a while, I’ve discovered something else. Being good at what I do isn’t always a matter of talent or free time. It’s about being well-rounded.  

No, I don’t mean I’m cooler than everyone else. I mean that if my writing is ever good, it’s because I want to experience art of all kinds. This week on the podcast we talk about improv and how it applies to writing and other creative work. Some people look at acting and think it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with writing. Well, neither does taking an art class in college, but I did it anyway.

I’ve taken pottery throwing classes, learned languages, talked to bus drivers, explored museums, and read brick-sized non-fiction about lasers. Why? Why learn all this stuff if I’m just going to make things up anyway? For one, I love making things. Some girls collect shoes or clothes. I amass great quantities of art supplies and doodads. For another, every new thing I learn makes me a better writer. Google is smart, but it can’t describe what it feels like to want desperately to make an audience laugh. It can’t give me the perfect adjectives to describe the feeling of hours perfecting a plié.

Improv is one of those things that can only improve your writing. It’s learning to say “Yes!” to all the things you might be afraid of doing. My work-in progress is an exercise in improv writing. There are things in there that, had I been given the chance to plot, I would have never have given a second glance. But you know what? They work. And not only do they work – they’re addictive.

Adding spice to your art, whether it’s painting, drawing, writing, or acting, is the only way to keep it real. I don’t want to Wikipedia’s version of stage fright or butterflies in my stomach – I want to hear it from someone who experienced it. So if you’re any kind of artist and you want to get better, learn to say yes. Go master Spanish or learn the proper way to shoot a bow and arrow. Every day is a chance to say another yes, and every time you say yes, your art wins.

One of these days, Michelle is going to say yes to acting classes, and then you will never see her again. What she really wants is to take more drawing classes, though she could definitely pass up the assignments that involve sketching sweaty naked people (yes, it happened. It wasn't pretty). 

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