Recap: Week 27

One Million Words Challenge

Week 27

I’m moving to Chicago!

I haven’t said anything because I wanted to wait until it was official. And it’s soon, next week. This time next week I’ll already be there, or at least in a car on the way up. Which is thrilling/amazing/terrifying/exciting/etc. Now the job hunt begins.

Having said that, I went further into the hole this week. Not good, but hard to avoid with everything else I’ve been doing. Not too bad, much less than last week. This coming week and the next my entire goal is just to not go any further into the hole, I’m going to not worry about getting my counts over until I’m moved in. It just seems unlikely that I’ll be able to get any extra writing done while packing and moving across the country.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 1,858
  • MPs 6,804
  • Blog 486
  • Letters 2,313
  • Black Dog 936
  • LFF 3,451
  • Story Ideas 314
  • Total 16,162
  • YTD 394,073
  • Where I should be 517,860

By The Numbers

5 weeks.

5 instructors.

15 classmates.

100 hours of class.

1 writing class audited.

2 workshops attended.

1 city explored.

3 injuries sustained.

20 lunches eaten with friends.

2 threatening encounters with locals.

4 shows participated in.

40+ shows watched.

50+ cups of coffee consumed.

60+ hours spent on the L.


One of the best decisions I ever made.

Recap: Week 26

One Million Words Challenge

Week 26

Remember last week and how awesome it was? This week was the opposite. I only wrote five days out of seven, and I slacked all the other days except one. I went further into the hole. Only by 6,000ish words but since I’m trying to get out of the hole that’s still terrible.

I’m not sure what happened. I just didn’t do it. I wasn’t busy. I’m not working. I had a little bit of stuff to do around the house and some errands to run but no more than last week. I went to AL one day, which does throw off my writing time, but I still could have done something that day.

Something in me decided to not write. Part of it was I realized one night that by the time I’d done that days writing I’d be done with Black Dog. I’m that close. I put it down and haven’t picked it back up. The idea of finishing it is terrifying. I can’t explain it, with my last book I rushed through the very end because I was so happy to be done with it. This time, the idea of finishing makes me feel a little ill. I don’t want to be done because then I have to face what I wrote. That’s frightening.

Also, every time I finish a project I worry that I won’t be able to start another one. That all my ideas are used up and I won’t be able to write anything else. I have an large notebook that I glue ideas into, all the things I jot down on scraps of paper. Tons of ideas, waiting to be written, In fact, I have several in my current writing notebook as well. Doesn’t do one thing to relieve the pressure. Even with that I still have this choking sort of fear that says all my good ideas are gone and that’s it, I’ve used them up.

Plus this book is different. I write funny stuff. Always have. This book isn’t funny. That makes it extremely scary to me. I don’t know if it is at all something people would ever read. I’m considering going back through it and trying to add some funny in places because the idea of a serious book is so overwhelming. So there’s that.

I know the answer. The answer is to keep writing anyway. And to do that I have to finish the book I’m working on. So I will. That’s my baby step for the day- I will finish this blog post and then I will get out my notebook and I will write the end of Black Dog.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 338
  • MPs 4,860
  • Blog 521
  • Black Dog 7,104
  • LFF 729
  • Total 13,552
  • YTD 377,911
  • Where I should be 498,680

The End

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite


Last day of class. I cannot believe how fast time has gone by, feels like I just got here and now it’s over. Which I’d best not spend to much time thinking about or I’ll get choked-up.

Barry woke us up with a shake-out, butts added. My favorite. Then we jumped into a back line to do burners, but with a twist. Following up on the last thing we did yesterday we added scene painting. Two people would step out and paint three things, then two new people would step out and do a scene there. Then, after they got swept they’d stay, paint a new scene with three new things, then two more people would do a scene.

We then ran half class Harold’s where the first three beats were scene painted before they started. Barry told us to get our 3rd beats moving fast, runs are good. We can show anything/everything we want, don’t let these scenes drag or build, that time is over.

We’re not going to get to Close Quarters, just picking up a few skills that go toward it. Which is sad because I love the form but, on the other hand, I learned new forms instead so I suppose that’s better anyway.

We then ran Cat’s Cradle’s again. He really wanted to have one of the teams tonight do one but we just are not enjoying them. I like the form, as do a couple of other people, but it doesn’t play to the team’s strengths. And we were driving Barry half crazy because almost all our scenes were about people hiding…

Before lunch Barry sat us down and explained how tonight would go, and made teams. One half will do an ASSCAT, they will go first, and then the other team will do a Harold. The only rules he’s putting on us are that the ASSCAT can’t have any scene painting and the Harold can’t have people playing objects. That will make it pop more when the other half does those things. He also mentioned that we should feel free to do incantation edits, as we’ve been doing them a lot this week without being prompted.

To decide teams Barry drew names out of a bucket. I ended up on the ASSCAT team with Seth (who will host/do the first monologue), Chris, Rauno, Mihkel, Tormi, and Andres. We’ve had standing team names over the 5 weeks, each group taking whatever one they want as they got up. One has been “Team Girl”, which is what my half will be tonight because I’m going up with 6 guys. The other team will be “Team Shorts”, which will make no sense to the crowd sense they’ll all have pants on. Inside jokes abound in improv, I’ve noticed.

After lunch we ran our forms. And we got chewed-out. Barry got onto us because we were making a ton of newbie errors. He told us we have GOT to QUIT FIGHTING. Especially at the top of scenes. NO fighting at the beginning. It’s a rule for us, because we are out of hand. Also, we have to start our scenes in the middle. We are doing tons of introduction scenes and “Hi” scenes. That has to stop! He says it’s crap and that we are too good for it. We’ve all got a lot of improv under our belts and we have to stop sabotaging ourselves.

It was an uncomfortable few minutes but it was justified. I could tell he really wants us to succeed tonight, and to do that we have to quit this nervous ridiculousness.

Our motto for tonight is “Know Each Other. Love Each Other.”

Snatches from today-

  • Use Harold games to hit on the scene topics. Make tight patterns.

  • If you are scene painting, being thoughts, being an object, etc. don’t let that stop you from editing. You can always edit (unless, maybe, you are physically pinned or holding someone’s safety in your hands).

  • If someone puts something negative on me I should turn it into a positive. Avoids a fight and protecting myself- it’s more fun to be wrong/bad/etc.

  • Armando monologues should be reflective/emotional, not facts.

  • Keys to being a great show host

    • Confidence! Fake it if you have to, but no hesitation.

    • Speak loudly

    • Get room energy up

    • Greet/thank the crowd

Recap: Week 25

One Million Words Challenge

Week 25


I did it! I’m going to take a minute to be excited! I met my new and more intense word goal this week. To get out of my hole over the course of three and a half months I need to write 28,000 words a week. That’ll get me even by mid-Dec.

I’ve been averaging about 15,000 a week, which is why I’m in the hole to start with (need 19,180 just to stay even), so it’s a huge jump. This week’s numbers- 29,975. More than a 1,000 over my new goal!

I am still working on my novel, Black Dog, and it’s coming along. I’m at 72,043 words and am getting to the climax. Not sure how long it will be, I tend to overwrite and then edit it back out. Guessing about 100k? Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel and while I’m still not sure exactly how this section is going to end I do know how the books ends. So that’s lovely. I tend to muddle about in the dark on projects until something shows up on the page unexpectedly. Having an idea for the very end already show up is a wonderful surprise.

I’m started a couple of other projects as well (see below). I like having several things going at once so that I can switch between them. Which bugged me for a long time. I’d try to be super disciplined and only do one thing at a time, like so many authors recommended. And I was unhappy.

Then I realized- I don’t live that way. I read multiple books at a time. I work on multiple knitting projects at a time. I like jobs where I work in multiple departments. So why would my writing style not be the same way?

Now my super discipline is to finish things. Even if I decide a project isn’t going to work out I still finish it. Maybe the novel becomes a novella or short story, so I don’t spend a ton of time on it, but it gets an end. That’s hard but doable. And important. I tend to quit things that are 3/4s of the way complete because they get complex and I’m too bored with them to solve the puzzle. It’s a bad habit.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 1,058
  • MPs 6,804
  • Blog 623
  • Letters 1,665
  • Black Dog 15,603
  • IC* 2,442
  • LFF** 1,580
  • Total 29,775
  • YTD 364,359
  • Where I should be 479,500

*IC is a non-fiction book idea I’m playing around with/outlining. Don’t know if it’ll ever go anywhere but if it doesn’t I can pull parts out for blog posts.

**LFF is a fan fiction story I started this week to get my numbers up by doing some typing. I’m writing my novel by hand so it’s putting a lot of strain on my wrist and I need to work on some typing projects as well or I’m going to just have a claw on the end of my arm.

Best Improv Form. Ever.

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite



We did more burner scenes this morning, Barry’s favorite, and then moved into openings done in a certain style (Art House, Action Movie, etc.). After that we did a long, shared character monologue. Playing with different opening techniques.

The next form we covered was my favorite form I’ve ever done. It’s insane. JTS Brown. I’m going to try to turn my notes into something reasonably easy to understand but this form is complicated enough that Barry added to it in layers so it’s a little tangled up in my notes. Barry said there are about 9 fun things that this form adds to the scenes, if everyone is playing at the top of their game.

The entire set scene changes come through transformational edits only, no sweeps. Anyone can be any character at any time, all characters are common property. It’s vital to make character choices VERY clear in this form, and use names, because people need to be playing each others characters as it goes on. Also, when the scene transforms, if you stay on stage immediately and drastically alter your character. Keeps things clear.

It starts with a shared character monologue. Someone starts a scene from there, this is the one sweep edit that can occur if you need it. Scenes can be one person, everyone, whatever. Any scene can be brought back at any point if you want to continue it. However, in the middle of the set there should be a 4-6 minute two person scene that is not added to, touched, or brought back. This is the grounding scene that everything can go crazy around. When I say “any scene” below this scene is exempt.

Now, on to the really fun “add ons”-

  • At any point in any scene someone off stage can step out and and freeze the scene, then ask any character 3 personal questions. These can range from “How old are you?” to “What is your deepest fear?”. Try to keep them, and the answers, brief but there’s no rule here. Also, anyone in a scene can step out of character as an actor and do the same thing, just stepping back into character afterward.

  • Scenes are STRONGLY encouraged to happen anywhere. Use the entire space, move around the room, play with the audience and get off the stage a good bit.

  • Playing as objects, sentient or not, should be happening. This is a physical form.

  • Entering or leaving a scene transforms it and a new scene starts. If you want to get on or off stage you can do so during those few seconds when a transformation is happening, any other time you’ve changed the scene (so no tags!).

  • Any character can pop out of a scene at any point and narrate themselves (character or history), or whatever is going on.

  • Whenever you find two scenes that can be easily toggled (World Within Worlds) it’s a great game. For example, if something going on reminds you of somethings else (like in freeze tag) you can step out and make it immediately clear that you want them to stay and do this other thing, then step out and hopefully if they’ve caught the idea they will go back to the first scene. You can then step in and out of the scene, toggling it back and forth between two scenes. This one is tricky until the team reads each other well.

  • Playing “ids”. You can step out behind any character and indicate (we used holding our hand over the characters head) that you are that person’s “thoughts”. You can then participate in the scene by playing the things they don’t dare say out loud.

  • “Ed TV”. This is another tricky one to start with. You revisit a scene you already did and make a quantitative difference in it at some point. This can be seen as an alternate reality. If you went left the first time go right this time, if you took the red pill then take the blue, if you fell in love with the hot chick in round one then this time fall in love with her ugly sister. The idea is to explore what could have happened.

  • Stealing characters. Anyone in a scene can “take over” another character, which forces that person to become the character/thing you had been playing.

This form is built entirely on having fun and messing with each other. Hardcore. So everyone has to be on board with that. The trick is to learn to balance things so that the scenes stay up and energetic and everything is getting used, while also letting them have some time to breath. Ground the scenes, hard, and then pile crazy sauce on top.

Barry said in this form especially it is vital to not explain things. Have 10 second scenes, purely physical (silent) scenes, scenes that are more like a Harold game than a scene, dream scenes, repeating scenes, etc. Really and truly train yourselves to allow anything to happen, things that you don’t see in other forms.

This scene played to what my team liked, and what I’ve learned I like over the past 5 weeks. It’s silly and fun, and yet can still have grounding moments. The other half of my team did a set where periodically a pig would run across the stage. Whatever scene was happening would vanish and everyone in the scene would start screaming “Go pig! GO PIG!” and cheering and stomping for it, and then as soon as she scurried off the stage they would snap back into whatever scene they’d been in before. For some reason that was about the most hilarious thing I’ve seen this week.

That took all morning, after lunch we worked on Cat’s Cradle. This is a form where the entire cast stays on the stage for the entire show, everyone is in every scene. To keep that from being to chaotic most people play objects or background characters, most of the time. It’s fine to have a few true group scenes but not every single scene. It has an opening like a Harold, but that smoothly flows into the first scene.

Barry said you have about 3-4 seconds of credit with the audience at the top of scenes to change places on stage, decide who you are, and get started. Edits can be sweeps, as long as you don’t leave the stage. But they can also be focus, or someone simply making a clear move to another part of the stage. Barry also said to do about 4 scenes and then start callbacks. Longer than that it we won’t get to tangle things together as much.

We then did “Oh Mighty Isis”. The entire team forms a line and holds their hands out on front of them, palms up. Then they chant, together, “Oh Mighty Isis”. Barry (or an audience) would then yell out a thing/place/noun. The entire group has to immediately, and with no conversation, create that thing on the stage as a group.

Like, we did an Airplane, Millennium Park, and a Haunted House. Each person should know what part of the thing they are. In the above I was a wing (piece), a fountain, and a “stabby person” (because what haunted house does not, somewhere inside, have a person stabbing up and down with a knife?). It is also possible to be a sound or smell, anything at all that is part of the object or belongs at the place. Just avoid being a “person” (I stretched that with stabby person, but I didn’t care).

We ended with a little Close Quarters training. He didn’t say that but Close Quarters is one of the few long forms I’ve done before so I recognized what he was doing. We would paint a place and then do a short run of tiny scenes set there, unconnected to each other. And each one had it’s own Soundscape.

Snatches from today-

  • The audience wants to know what you like before you tell them what you hate.

  • If a character belongs in a space we are less tempted to talk about the space.

  • Say subtext out loud. Quit trying to be subtle, say things plainly and then heighten them. Playing subtle is often fear of what will happen when the thing is actually said and has to be faced.

  • The back wall is death. Stay away from death.

Recap: Week 24

One Million Words Challenge

Week 24

My new plan is working. No, my totals this week don’t seem to reflect that but what you can’t see just looking at the numbers is the dramatic productivity spike that occurred on the day I put my new plan into motion. A spike that has continued through today. It just wasn’t enough to cancel out the start of the week completely. So yes, further into the hole. However, it was the best week I’ve had in a long time.

Next week is already shaping up to be the best week I’ve had since I started the challenge. I’ve hit my goals every day so far. You might say, that’s only been two days. True. But with last week that’s five days in a row at 4,000 a day. And that is the best streak I’ve had since I started this project.

I knew this would be hard. I didn’t know how hard. And while the writing itself isn’t that difficult the motivation and the ability to follow-through has been. I’ve learned a lot about the way I work, and how I am or am not motivated to do things. If nothing else, if I never sell a thing that I write, at least by the end of this experiment I will have a much firmer grasp of my work style and habits.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 2,940
  • MPs 4,860
  • Blog 375
  • Letters 1,224
  • Black Dog 5,484
  • Story Notes 480
  • Total 15,363
  • YTD 334,584
  • Where I should be 460,320

Racking Up the Long Forms

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite


Started with Burner Scenes again. Added tag-outs to them. Then had a discussion about tag-outs and their uses. Which I didn’t write down. But basically, tag-outs are used to show a new side to a character, to heighten a specific characteristic, to heighten a game, to show a pattern, or, sparingly, as a joke line. But if you chose to go the joke line route be sure you can keep that character/situation going if your team doesn’t tag you right back out. Tags work best when they are a strong shift. Tags should always be used to follow relationships and ideas, never plot.

Our first form of the day was the LaRonde. It’s named for a French play where apparently a group of people sleep together over the course of the thing, one after another. We lined up half the class (7, though 8 is standard) and the first two people started a scene. Then, after 2-3 minutes, the next person in line (no changing order) tagged one of those people, A, out and there was a 2-3 minute scene between B and C. Then B was tagged so C and D could have a scene, etc. When F was tagged out A came back in to do their second scene, which also connected the first scene to the last scene.

Barry said that while the story can follow a tight the spiral, our first one did (everyone was living in one tiny village), it’s better to let the piece move out and away from the first scene. We have to trust that the final scene will work no matter how far we move away from the first one. We shouldn’t be afraid to make distant connections because anything can loop around and come back.

He also pointed out that the most gratifying tags are the ones where we see a new side to a character that is completely separate from the prior scene. Don’t try to tie them together, the mere fact that one character is the same is all the connection that we need.

The next form was the Typewriter. This form starts with the entire team (half of the class) off of stage right. Two people step out and do a two person scene, 2-3 minutes, and then someone tags one of them out. That person and the one who remained behind do a 2-3 minutes scene, just like the LaRonde. During this first run you are the same character in both scenes that you do, again, like the LaRonde. The main difference here is that there is no set order to who steps out, and as someone is tagged out they move off stage on stage left instead of going back with the team (hence “typewriter”, as the team shifts their way across the stage).

When the last 2 people are done with their scene then anyone can tag in at anytime. However, scenes never have more than two characters. The characters, however, are up for grabs and anyone can now play any character from the first set of scenes, or bring in new characters.

Next was Weirdass. Half team again, so seven people. Two of them sit in a set of chairs that are side-by-side at the front of the stage. They do a 2-3 minute “interview” with a camera they are imagining in the back of the room. Not talking to the audience, this should feel like a documentary interview. Think “The Office”. This is not a scene, don’t let it become one. And know each other. Also, these are character interviews, not actors.

When the interview has had enough time someone steps out and begins a scene inspired by the interview. Just like Armando, looking for themes and ideas, not reenacting what was said. A specific detail is OK, but only little ones. The two who were being interviewed will clear the stage of chairs. They can join into the scenes, but try to let everyone else have a turn first.

After a handful of scenes two different people will grab the chairs and go back out to do another interview. This should be inspired in some way by the scenes, but these are not callbacks. They should have nothing to do with the actual scenes and the two characters should be completely new. This flipping back and forth continues throughout the set. Again, much like an Armando in that regard. And while it may be easy to slide into “how we met’ stories try to avoid it, it’s much more interesting to see two people who have the same passion or quirk or whatever than to hear a story about how they met.

Our last form of the day was Road Trip. This is a form designed for four, but five can work in a pinch. He said to avoid more than that because people start getting left out. Four chairs are placed on the stage to resemble a car facing the audience (stagger the “back seat” out so the audience can see their faces) and the scene starts with everyone already in the car, heading somewhere.

This first scene in the car should be a minimum of 8-10 minutes in length. And the scene will work best if everyone in the car is around the same age (not parents with little kids or something), and know each other well enough to be on a road trip together. When someone in the car decides the scene is over they will peel away and take their chair with them, letting everyone else know to do the same.

Each scene from that point forward will have at least one of the people out of car in it. They can have more, but try to avoid that. The idea is to explore outward and see each of these people’s lives outside the car. When the scene is about the character that was in the car then the same actor should play that person, new/support characters can be played by everyone else. Another reason to avoid having several people out of the car in a scene, there won’t be anyone left to play other characters.

Barry pointed out that while 8-10 minutes is the minimum length for the first scene there isn’t a maximum. It could be half the set, most of the set, or even the entire set if it’s interesting and no one wants it to end. He also said that sometimes one person won’t say much in the car, for whatever reason. He said to grab onto that as an opportunity to have a wild card. Because we didn’t see much about this person they can become anyone in the scenes.

Snatches from today-

  • No matter how dark a scene gets it can always go light again. Let it go light. (This was a specific instruction for our team, we tended to do very dark/depressing scenes/sets) Light to dark- easy. Dark to light- hard, but vital.
  • Plot is the hardest, least gratifying thing to do in improv.
  • You never have to mention or make connection to your suggestion, it’s simply for inspiration.
  • 2 person scenes still need these three things-
    • Know each other
    • Start in the middle
    • Like each other

Recap: Week 23

One Million Words Challenge

Week 23

This week I did twice what I did last week but it’s still less than I need to do just to stay even. Knowing how far behind I am (around 120k) I sat down and tried to figure out a game plan because what I’m doing is not working.

If I can do 4,000 a day I can work my way out of my hole in just over 3 months. Which is a long time, but it took a long time to get this far behind. 4,000 a day feels like an overwhelming amount, considering I’m not getting paid for this so it has to fit in around my job, as well as the rest of my life. That’s professional levels of words. Still, it’s what I have to do so next step is to figure out how.

My MPs are almost 1,000 a day. And they feel very reasonable because I do them every day, they are a habit with a set end point. So I’m going to try to break up the other 3,100 a day the same way. I want to write 1,000 words a day in other non-fiction. That would include journaling, letters, and blog posts. Then I want to hit 2,100 a day in fiction. That’s a a little over 60,000 a month, a reasonable pace for a novel or screenplay. I’m trying to not think about the fact that if I can pull this off I’ll be writing 120,000 words a month. That’s terrifying to think about and feels very unreasonable.

The big thing is, I need to write faster. I let myself day-dream, dawdle, and spend long stretches of time thinking about what to write. I don’t have time for that. And that was part of doing this- to train myself to write like a pro. To turn my hobby into a discipline that I can use to build a living. Part of that, a massive part, is turning out words on command and in high quantity.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 405
  • MPs 4,860
  • Blog 3,533
  • Letters 1,725
  • Black Dog 4,272
  • Total 14,795
  • YTD 319,221
  • Where I should be 441,140

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