Improv Tips for Finding Your Creative Zone

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I’ve been writing sketch comedy for two decades now. I’m also an improv ninja. Quick thinking and adaptability is key to making this hobby into an award-winning group: the Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe. With the art of improvisation; listening, building on what you hear, and never closing an idea down, we can trade thoughts and go anywhere in the universe! Then we reel it back in and make it tidy and neat for real life use.

1. When you’re stuck with your writing, it really helps to have a Bouncy Buddy.

This is not one of those inflatables seen flailing in front of car dealerships – but rather a friend or family member you believe gets your style of writing (to bounce ideas off of) and can tell you when an idea is close… but not quite there. It’s important sometimes to verbalize instead of solely writing. Experimenting with a fresh viewpoint allows you to step back a tad and see the flow from another angle. It’s like when you drop your hairbrush, and while down on all fours you finally find that other sock. You win an ‘a-ha’ moment just because you changed your viewpoint.

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2. Write down all of your inspired thoughts. Even if they seem lame.

It may not make sense in the moment, but sometimes two unrelated thoughts can connect as one big one. Some of my punch lines become sketches, and the opposite – some well thought out sketches turn into one little punch line. And I am finally okay with that (after two decades of sketch writing). Never believe the lie “I don’t need to make a note. I’ll remember this for sure.” In today’s point-and-click world we simply can’t hold onto a fleeting thought, and that could cost us a chapter or an entire book idea! Most phones have a handy app to add notes while we are on the go. I prefer paper lists to see all the ideas laid out at the same time. Try both methods! Secret: most of my wilder ideas are noted just after that middle of the night potty break. I write them all down. And of course, not all of them make sense in the morning. That’s the time a brain isn’t bombarded with two screens and other people around to block creative thoughts.

3. Listen to hear, not to wait your turn to speak.

In your next conversation, see if you are truly hearing what the other person is saying. Could you repeat what they just said? What about asking follow up questions to show you were engaged in the interaction? Chances are you were waiting to add your spin or share your thoughts and not really, truly listening. I constantly work on this, and on the good days, I find I learn a lot more and have a better acceptance of new ideas. That’s a really good thing to have as a writer. Bonus; you’re really neat to talk with!

4. Find your best time.

When are you most energetic and free to write? Where are you when ideas strike? The shower, the car and while in line at a store are the most popular answers I’ve heard. Try this: don’t plug in earphones on your next walk. Drive in silence. Try meditation, even if you fail at it. Try it. Let your brain wander and listen to where it wants to go. Don’t drown out your own thoughts! You are bright and worthy of sharing what makes you YOU.

~ The Business Side ~

As a comic performer who also produces shows, does the bookkeeping and is a major player with media and advertising - the amount of work pre-event is astounding. Then the show week has arrived, and it’s worth the long hours, out-of-pocket costs and crabby mornings. Being paid in laughs is immeasurable and addicting. I am certain this is similar to your own deadlines with writing and author events. This includes ordering enough books to have on hand to sell, having a snazzy booth set-up and being ready for different methods of payment as if you are a convenience store. A number of details that you didn’t plan on when you just…wanted…to…write.

In getting a project or show off the ground, the last thing we can anticipate or fathom is the crash afterward - the extra time we suddenly have is mixed with exhaustion and even (weirdly) missing your project mates. Perhaps keep a pocket journal to capture quick thoughts on what made the moments of success along the way. Also jot down what NOT to do on the next one. Grab only part of your group to meet and discuss how to look at the project from a new angle, inviting creative ideas where anything is possible, the wilder the better. We build trust in groups by celebrating all ideas, no matter how colorful or nearly illegal they seem. By having only part of the team present at times, you will hear freer thoughts. I’ve done this for years with my group. It’s not an inclusion club in the least. It’s simply changing the dynamic of the circle to invite everyone to share openly. Listen to learn why (or why not) your team is invested and then encourage them to offer new content. It’s a trust builder and safe meet-up where wacky thoughts are celebrated, and then toned back just a tad.... to be used in the latest project plan.

Want more improv ideas for writing or business? Reach out! I do Creative Coaching via Zoom, phone or in person.


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I’m Lisa David Olson, a comic, voice talent, author and keynote speaker.

I have a book out in print and on audio, called Laughs On Wry; an improviser’s memoir. I run a comedy troupe where I also write, manage, produce and provide healthy snacks from time to time.

I’m a mom of 5 shared sons and have a very patient husband.