How to Improve at IMPROV (and Life)

I organized my first official drama event last night here in Jeddah–A Night of IMPROV.

I emceed the event where five members of my new drama group – The Sun & Sand Players – took the floor for a crazy night of improvisation.

A small but enthusiastic group participated, and we pulled in a slight profit to help fund our first real show in January.  Overall, it was a fun night.

The IMPROV performers are knew to the genre. They did a fantastic job – especially when taking into account the few opportunities that they’ve had to perform IMPROV, let alone IMPROV in front of an audience.

There were tense moments when their brains didn’t respond quickly enough, and they were flat-footed, unable to make that leap to the center of the floor to give a response. But that is normal. Natural, really. It’s to be expected no matter what you’re working on. The only way to improve IMPROV is to do it. Try. Jump in. Use the impulses. Feel the nerves in the gut and go for it. Mouth blazing, with little regard for self-censorship or self-consciousness. And as an actor practices, puts herself out there, let’s himself be put into different situations, he or she will improve. It’s a process. Sometimes a slow-moving one. But a process none-the-less.

It’s no different with my writing. It’s no different with life. If you have a goal, if you follow a passion, if you want to get better at something, put yourself out there. Play the fool for once, follow your pride, and jump right back in.

As an IMPROV actor, you might say something that people don’t laugh at. That can be painful. As a writer, I might write a cringe-worthy cliche that unleashes a whole slew of down votes. I won’t improve if I don’t learn to shake it off, learn from the misstep, laugh at myself, and move on.

This is the way life works. You will only attain that which you stubbornly shoot for. You’ll never hit the stars if your standing inside a barn. You’ll never cross the ocean if you don’t get into the vessel. You’ll … yeah, there’s all kinds of other corny saying I could add here, but you know the drill. You only improve at things which you are willing to work at, continuously, religiously, passionately.

That’s the only way you’ll improve at IMPROV, or at life in general.

I’ve got some writing to do.

Indie Authors: Do you have True Grit?

Research has shown that those who succeed have the quality of what we would call grit – ability the shake off the negative and keep going – perseverance in the face of failure.

Do you, indie author, have it?

When you receive a bad review … do you have true grit?

When you haven’t made a sale in days … do you have true grit?

When you can’t see the path ahead that would allow you to write full time … do you have true grit?

When you stare at a blank page for an hour … do you have true grit?

When your family patronizes you with another smile concerning your writing … do you have true grit?

When every single literary agent in the world think they could get leprosy from you via email … do you have it?

When you write something that you know just isn’t very good … ?

When you simply have NO time for promotion and your wonderful new book is languishing in a marketing black-hole … do ___ ____ it?

When doubts creep in and you start to question whether you have the right stuff to make it as a writer or not, ____ you _____ true _____?

Do you have true grit?

It’s a choice. Sometimes it’s painful, hopeless, and seemingly pointless.

But you’ll never make it if you don’t keep going.

And if you love to write, what choice do you really have?


A Failed Novel Resurrects Itself

Put this one in the category of never giving up on a project.

About 10-12 years ago I got up the gumption to write a novel – something I had never attempted before. I had a certain premise in mind, 3 generations of Americans who had somehow been affected by Vietnam – one at the tail end of WWII, the other during the Vietnam War, and the third in modern day Vietnam. I even fleshed out the opening scene which would help thrust the story into action, a tragic accident upon which the rest of the story would hinge. It was perfect in my mind, and so I tried.

I wrote the opening few pages of the first chapter. And then I stopped.

I reread it. Left it alone awhile. Reread it again. Left it alone. Again and again until I finally realized that it wasn’t going anywhere, and so I abandoned it.

That was a failure. Or was it?

Fast forward ten years, and after I had written Beauty Rising, I knew I wanted to attempt a second novel before I ever published or did anything with my first. I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke. And so I sat down to try and resurrect that failed novel, but as I began to ponder my options, an image of a man in a red hat captured my mind, which sent me down a very unexpected path leading to my second novel, The Recluse Storyteller – now only a month and a week away from release!

But before I released The Recluse, I wanted to write my third – you know the drill. I wanted to prove that number one and number two weren’t flukes. And suddenly, what do you know? That original novel idea bloomed.

It flowed. My original opening scene was pushed back another 15,000 words to better set the scene. The three generations of Americans just fell into place and within two months the story was finished Рmy longest novel to date entitled The Reach of the Banyan Tree.

So here are a couple things I learned:

  • Starting a project in which I fail is not a failure.
  • Failed projects just might need more time to prove themselves.
  • Go where the words take you.
  • Be patient.
  • Enjoy.
  • And lastly, I love writing.

Thank you, failed novel. I hope that 2014 will bring you success after twelve years. But I realize now that you are not late at all.