I am often get asked the question what can improvisers do in between shows and class to get better? One thing I found that helps is to write, or more specifically to journal.
You can work out a lot of stuff on the page that can help you get out of your own way. I have also found writing on regular basis helps me to articulate my ideas, which is a plus if you’re someone who needs to think on your feet on a regular basis.
So, when I heard improviser Matthew Beard was creating an improv journal, I got excited. His new book is called “The Yes And Journal,” and he is currently doing a KickStarter through Aug. 31 to raise money to publish it.
So, this week I asked Matthew if he’d be willing to share his thoughts on how journaling can make you a better improviser. Enjoy!
- Journaling lets you get out of your head and see your thoughts objectively
If you have negative beliefs about yourself during class such as, “I’m not as funny as everyone else,” or “I have no reason to be here,” take the time to write those thoughts down after class. You’ll be amazed at how they will immediately feel false once you see them on paper. Trying to wrestle with these thoughts from the inside is nearly impossible, and will cause most of us to spoil our improv. Instead, take a few minutes to reflect on paper and move on.
- Stream of consciousness journaling is an incredible solo improv exercise
For ten minutes, try writing non-stop. Even if you have to write “I don’t know what to write,” keep going the entire time. This exercise activates your subconscious and forces you to keep making choices. You might be shocked by the creativity that flows when you let go of trying to be right. The key to applying this to improv is to focus your exercises on a purpose, like taking on a point of view, connecting to an emotion, listing a million possible solutions to a made-up problem, etc.
- Journaling can help us connect with ourselves and our scene partners
I’ve journaled after almost every workshop or show I’ve ever been in — reflecting on how I felt during each scene/exercise and why that might be. When I felt great, journaling helps me remember my choices and appreciate my scene partner’s work. When I felt bad, journaling helps me see that experience in the third person and connect with why I felt that way without ego. With this practice, fear of failure disappears and you can connect more fully.
- It can help us slow down and get real on stage
Not everyone understands their own emotions. If you’re the kind of improviser who wants to be able to go to real places on stage, first you have to be able to understand where those feelings and points of view come from. Before you try to improvise characters on stage with emotions and opinions as dynamic as your own, it might be worth trying to answer the hard questions in your own life. Who hurt you more than anyone else? Whose love do you crave the most? How do you respond to pain? How do you internalize love? Answering questions like these as specifically and honestly as possible on paper will help you understand the impulses of your characters and feel safe playing them.
- Mindfulness journaling is an exercise in being present
Journaling can also be an exercise in quieting your thoughts by focusing on the present moment. Mindful writing can be as simple as making a list of what you can see, hear, and feel right now. “I hear birds chirping outside my window,” “I see paint chipping on the edge of my desk,” etc. This kind of relaxation and present-focus is good for improv and good for mental health in general. Believe me, it works.