Ready to write a novel?

NaNoWriMo starts today!

Want to write a novel? This is the best chance you’re going to get.

Is the timing bad? Working overtime? Babies underfoot? Three jobs?

Still the best chance you’re ever going to have.

It’s an entire novel in one month.

It’ll NEVER be convenient. It’ll never be easy. It’ll never be the right time.

And if you keep putting it off it’ll never get done.

Go to their website and sign-up. Put your pen name below and I’ll friend you, or you can find me- Shather.

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.

Welcome to Camp

iO Summer Intensive

Week 1

Instructor- Tara DeFransisco


Everyone is so excited to be here. The room this morning was buzzing with energy. The teachers keep calling it “summer camp” and it really has that feel about it. Camp for adults. I like it. We started out with a chance to sign-up for extra workshops, which I passed on, and then we had a Q&A with Charna. For those not in improv circles Charna founded the theater, and is something like the mother of long-form improv. It’s complicated, and I don’t know all the details, but I know enough to know I should be impressed. In a couple of weeks Jason Chin will be doing a weekend class on the history of long form improv in Chicago that I plan to attend, then I’ll know more.

After lunch, which they catered in for us, we split into groups and met our instructor (who will change weekly) and out classmates (which will remain the same all five weeks). Tara seems awesome, looking forward to working with her. She is a full-time actor/improviser, which isn’t extremely common. My team is an unique mix. There are 16 of us. 12 men, 4 women. 7 Americans (including all the women), 1 Swede, 1 Australian, and 5 Estonians. The 5 Estonians are from the same troupe, and then 3 guys in the class are from the same troupe in NC, the other two members being in another class. We also have a range of ages, from 20 to 45(?). I think I’m the least experienced in the group, at least in years. Only two. Most of the others are in the three to four year range, a few have significantly more. It’ll be interesting to see how the class dynamic shapes up.

We started with Conducted Story. It felt different than when I’ve done it at CSz or Funny Bones. Less competitive, little slower. Tara was trying to get us into the same page and listening to each other. After a couple of rounds we switched to Unconducted Story. Same thing, but we spoke up popcorn style. Apparently this can be used as an opening. It’s weird that I’ve never done openings. I think it’s because I’ve never done a Harold. No one here can believe that considering I’ve done long-form but it wasn’t something HUGE taught so I never had the chance. So learning “new openings to try” goes into my “if I ever do an opening” file.

We moved to Cocktail Party. I’d done something called Cocktail Party before, this was a little different. Four groups of two, just talking as ourselves. Each group took a turn and, as much as felt natural, tried to weave in something from the group before while still have a real, honest conversation. Tara said these were intended to be authentic, but that, while being respectful, to feel free to dig deep or ask personal questions. It allows things to come up the way they do on an airplane- more honest than you expect because there is no pressure to see this person again.

I was in the first group and we struggled a little bit with understanding the entire point, but there were still some good moments. The second group had even more of those.

Then we did 2 Chair Confessions. Person A makes a confession. Any personal confession, doesn’t have to be true. Big or small. Person B then makes a confession of their own, but only a confession that will comfort the other person. You have to start your confession with “I have something to confess to you/tell you”, and then go one. Like-

A- “I need to confess something to you. I killed your cat.”

B- “I have something to confess to you too. I’d already made an appointment to put her down.”

A- “I have to confess something. I’m the one who drank all the milk.”

B- “I have a confession too. I hate milk, I only drink it to be polite.”

A- “I need to tell you something. I lost the rent gambling and we’re being evicted.”

B- “I also have a confession to make- I forgot to renew the lease so I’m actually the reason we’re being evicted.”


Follow the feelings, not the plot.

People and ideas are interesting, plot and activities are not!

Stay with the emotions instead of fixing the problem.

We followed that up with some self-edited, two person scenes. That ended day 1.

Other random snatches from the day-

  • Try to avoid fighting. If there is a fight it has to be the characters, not the actors. And you have to agree on what the fight is about.

(I’d heard that, but not the last part. That was eye-opening! We, as actors, have to agree on what the fight is about, not just agree to fight. If I think we’re fighting over the eggs being gone and he thinks we’re fighting over me not taking responsibility for things then the fight will go no where and it will just leave everyone feeling bad. I think there is a life lesson in this.)

  • Strong initiations feel weird to say, but great to receive. Never be afraid of offering one. No one will begrudge it to you. Your partner will be thankful. Aren’t you when you get one?
  • When in doubt on the stage- love the shit out of each other! Always a good move.

I went to see the Armando Show tonight. I’m not a fan of Armando’s. I don’t like watching them very much and I often get annoyed with the monologist. Like the guy tonight was fine, but I felt like the same improv could have happened without him. I don’t know. Just not my thing.

After Armando iO does DeFransisCO and Powerball. Everyone who wants a shot at participating tosses their id into a large pot before the show starts. I tossed mine in because hey, why not? DeFransisCO is when Tara (yes, my teacher this week) draws one name out and then that person comes up on stage with her and they do a 35 minute set together. Which is insane! The guy who she drew tonight was a level one student, he’s been doing improv for three weeks. She found that out with a little interview on stage and then she told him the rules. I can’t remember them exactly but basically it was, you can’t fail. And if, somehow, this thing doesn’t work, it’s 100% on me. You are already golden.

Poor guy was shaking so hard that I could see it from the back of the room. This would be a good time to point out that there were probably over 200 people there. Including Charna, right in the front.

So- it was amazing. Tara supported him and drew him out, totally taking his offers and making them beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it. And he totally transformed as well. He went from visibly shaking and quivering to confidently making offers and big moves. I could have kept watching them go on for even longer.

After that was over was Powerball. 7 of the experienced cast members and/or instructors at iO drew 6 names out, to come up and do a montage for 35 minutes. I was one of them! Completely stunned. I really didn’t think I had a chance of being picked. I tried to be cool but it was a massive number of strangers and I felt totally out of my league.

However, it went well. Again, I think it’s just a credit in the nature of improv. We didn’t know each other, and there was a HUGE difference in ability on stage, so of course there were some hiccups and communication issues. Not the best improv of all time. But because we had this basic idea of sharing, supporting, and following the interesting things, it worked out.

One of the scenes I was with two of the veterans and while it was frightening because they purposefully put me in the center of the group and gave me the focus, which was a lot of focus in that room (I felt half-smothered), they also gave me support in a way that I’ve rarely felt. Only when I’ve done scenes in jams or class with really confident and experienced improvisors. It’s a real, physical sensation of sensing that this person is 100% behind you and everything is going to be just fine. It’s hard to describe. The first time I ever noticed it was in a class I took with Michael, at HUGE. He had me do a very simple two person scene with him to show the class what he wanted out of the exercise. I was so flustered by the unexpectedness of the feeling that I don’t even remember what I said. I was too confused by what I felt. Since then I’ve felt it other times, like tonight, so I know it wasn’t a fluke. It’s just not often, because I play with people around my same level and apparently we don’t have the magic yet.

I did feel very bumbling and awkward on stage. I feel like, even when I’m not nervous I come across as nervous, so when I am nervous I look painfully afraid. I stutter and I fidget and I feel like everything I say is only half applicable and five seconds too late. Gah. I know it takes time but sometimes it feels like I’m not getting any closer.

The adventure begins

I’m in Chicago!

I’m here taking the summer intensive at iO, one of the big improv theaters in Chicago, which is the improv capitol of the world. It’s a five week course, I’m thrilled to have the chance to do this. I almost didn’t come because the timing wasn’t great. Then my sister pointed out that there will never be a convenient time to spend five weeks studying improv. She had a point, and here I am.

Be forewarned- I’m going to be posting a LONG post for each day of class. You might want to avoid reading the posts if you aren’t a huge improv geek because they will bore you to tears. Really. They will. However, if you wish you were here, or are thinking of coming next year, they will (hopefully) give you a good overview of what we are doing and learning.

Time to Refine

This blog is boring.

Why? Because even though I care about this topic I don’t really want to write about it. At least not in a deep, regular way. Not yet. Maybe someday when I have more perspective. There have only been a few posts on here that really wanted to write, and focusing on what I wish I could write when I would try to write has been illuminating.

Improv is my current obsession. I love it. I’ve loved it since the first time I went to see it live (back in March, I think?) and then I loved it even more once I took the class back in early summer. I’m currently taking another level 1 class on Tuesday nights at HUGE and starting next month I’ll be taking a level 2 class at ComedySportz on Saturday afternoons. I’ve always had a secret desire to act but I never had the faintest hope that I’d have the chance. Now that I’ve tasted it I am hooked.

Because of a writing group I’m a part of I’ve read my work out loud for the first time and had a taste of all the fear and junk that goes with that. And I’ve been forced to start critiquing other people’s work, something that is even harder for me than having mine critiqued. And because of having to go with nothing to share I’ve started writing more.

After writing group one day I met a woman who does story-telling contests. Attended my first one last month and was shocked by how much I enjoyed it! Something I want to get involved in this winter. It’s writing and speaking rolled into one, a chance to practice both in a friendly, open environment.

I’m doing Morning Pages again, every single day right after I get up. It’s killing me some mornings but it works, my output rises significantly when I do them. Doing them every day for less than a month has already led to pages more than average in my journal, tons of short story ideas, a few poems, and wanting to get this blog going again.

This is an excerpt from my first post here-

“I’ve put off starting this blog for months. I have thought about it, considered it, played with it, pondered it; I didn’t start it. I refused to commit. I didn’t feel sure of myself, I thought, “a blog needs a theme, a driving point- it needs to be built around something” and so I refused to start one.

Nothing has changed.

I still don’t don’t have a theme. I still think I need one. However, my refusal to start has more to do with pride and perfectionism than it does anything else. So I’m starting a flawed, vague blog that I will refine as I go.”

I am now refining that theme. I want to focus on improv and art and writing and story-telling; communication. The name still fits. Any improvement I’ve gained in learning to write and speak and act has been nothing more than persistence in failure, a determination to pursue these things even if I look and sound like a fool.

This has been my quote over this summer–

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.
~Charlie Chaplin

I repeat this to myself on a regular basis. No matter how ridiculous I look or sound or feel I am building into my life the skills and character I want to have in 20 years. Plus, in 20 years I’m certain I’ll still be making a fool of myself and the ability to not die of mortification will come in handy.

To who I was & who I will become

Five Years by Corbett Barr

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

(Author: Corbett Barr)

5 Years Ago


It’s going to be ok. Yes, you are leaving for Korea next month and you don’t know where you are going to stay or what you are going to do or even the name of a single person in the country. And yes, by any sane person’s standards, what you are doing is crazy, dangerous, and more than a little irresponsible. Of course you’re terrified. You’d be an idiot not to be.

But here’s the thing- You know it is the right thing to do. Despite the panic that sometimes says you are seriously delusional you know the truth- God is behind this trip. He gave you the idea, he set it up, and he is handling the details. Believe me, there is no better trip planner in the world. When you are freaking out on the plane cling to that tiny little certainty in your heart and ask God to let it be enough. It will be.

You will get lost. You will get sick. You will feel like you are melting from the heat. You will be embarrassed and confused and frustrated and angry. You will get cheated by a taxi driver, accidentally stay in a love motel, receive 3 marriage proposals, and stain all your clothes while trying to learn to use chopsticks.

It’s so worth it.

You will become a confident traveler. You will learn to trust your roommate as you take her “medicine”. You will not melt, and you will get to see a beautiful fall. You will hang-out in a rice paddy, go to a film festival, meet tons of wonderful people, learn to love an entire new cuisine, be regularly asked if you are a movie star, play ping-pong against a man with no hands, and give directions to lost tourists.

Most of all- you will pray. You will pray out of desperation and out of gratefulness. You will see God move on your behalf time and again. You will come to know him in a way you never have before. Especially as your provider and protector.

You will never see the world the same.

5 Years From Now

What can I say? I have NO idea where you are living or what you are doing. I’ve quit trying to see that far ahead.

I do hope, VERY MUCH HOPE, that you are married. And that kiddo one is already around, or at least on the way. I’d like to think you’ve gotten a handful of novels written. It would be awesome if you’d sold one too. Or a script. Whatever.

I suppose all I can say is that from here the future looks pretty good.

In case you’ve forgotten- Adventures are worth the risk.

Stay curious, keep reading, & avoid eating the beans with the white slime on them.

Do I really need a goal I’m afraid of?


Dare to be bold by Matt Cheuvront

Our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Next to Resistance, rational thought is the artist or entrepreneurs worst enemy. Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.

A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. Its only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.” – Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

The idea of “being realistic” holds all of us back. From starting a business or quitting a job to dating someone who may not be our type or moving to a new place – getting “real” often means putting your dreams on hold.

Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down. Also write down the obstacles in your way of reaching your goal. Finally, write down a tangible plan to overcome each obstacle.

The only thing left is to, you know, actually go make it happen. What are you waiting for?

(Author: Matt Cheuvront)



I skipped this prompt yesterday because I needed time to think. I’ve thought, and the answer is the same-


I can’t think of anything.


Not that I don’t have goals and dreams and such, ’cause I do. It’s just I can’t currently think of anything I’m putting off because I’m afraid. Currently I’m-


  • Taking improv- With is pursuing an interest I’ve always had in acting AND confronting my fear of speaking in public at the same time.
  • Writing a novel- Confronting an entire bundle of fears. And while I’m not getting very with it I am working on it and I don’t need a game plan. I need to sit my butt down and type.
  • Going to writing groups- Getting over my fear of being critiqued.
  • Joining a church- I started the rather in-depth process last Sunday, dealing with fears of commitment, openness, and rejection.
  • Work- I am tackling a job that feels too big for me, and dealing with the fear that I will permanently ruin a student or building.
  • Trip planning- I am tentatively planning a trip for next summer to the other side of the world, to a country/countries I’ve never been to, that aren’t known for being overly safe. I’m actually not afraid of any that right now but the pre-flight tension will explode after the ticket is bought.


So, while perhaps not having a goal to reach toward is a bad sign, I have no idea, I’m pretty happy right now. I feel like I have more than enough on my plate. 

Where do you want to go before you die?

Travel by Chris Guillebeau

If we live truly, we shall see truly.– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

(Author: Chris Guillebeau)

I always said I wanted to go to every country in the world. It was a throwaway answer, something I said because I do love to travel and it sounded cool and it was impossible anyway so, why not? Then I started reading Chris’s blog. (Yes, the Chris who wrote today’s prompt. I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out)

After only a few months I had to quit saying that I wanted to visit every country because here was a man who was doing it.

By the age of 35.

It was no longer just something to be said with a knowledge that it was impossible. Suddenly it WAS possible, if it was a priority. Which it’s not.

I do enjoy traveling. I do quite a bit of it. I’d like to see a lengthy list of countries, cities, and sites. However, while travel itself is a priority in my life (and I plan on keeping it as one even once I have a family) I don’t really want to go to every single country in the world. I do, however, have the goal of going to every continent at least once.

Still, this is a hard prompt because I can, with absolutely no hesitation, name off 25 places I’m dying to visit. I finally narrowed it down by imagining someone offering me $10,000 to go any place I want, as long as I left right then. My gut answer?

-The U.K.

I spent 23 hours in London and loved every second of it. I have every intention of returning someday and spending a longer amount of time in that amazing city. And Scotland is on my top 5 list. Especially Northern Scotland, up where it’s still quite wild and barren. Such a breath-taking, beautiful country.

The 2nd part of that question is difficult for me to answer. I know I should have a plan for getting there, setting aside money and such. But I’m already planning a different trip for next summer- Southeast Asia. My goal is to hit 2-4 countries while I’m there. So I really can’t think about going to the U.K. anytime soon. But I will. And that’s not an idle comment, I’ve proven that I can and will go exploring.

I understand the point of that question is that so very many people talk and dream and talk about going places but they never actually go. It’s a shame. And it drives me nuts. Either shut up and go, or admit, out loud and publicly, that you are not going and never intended to do so. Don’t keep saying you are but never taking steps to make it happen.

But please go. Believe me, it’s so worth it. When you go overseas 3 things will happen. Well, far more than 3 but this is my blog and these are the ones I’m focusing on.

1-You will appreciate America more. It’s not a perfect country but it’s a damn good country and I have a far greater appreciation for it now.

2-You will have a greater sympathy for tourists, visitors, and immigrants. Even the simplest of tasks are frightening and exhausting when you can’t understand the language or behavior of the people around you. Going to a grocery store can take hours while reducing you to tears and a numbing weariness, and then you still might not have anything edible to eat at the end of it.

3-You will be changed. You will have experiences that others have not had, and they will mark you. I remember standing on a mountain in WY and realizing that of all the billions of people who have ever existed I was in an almost immeasurably small group who had seen the sight stretched out before me. It was humbling and empowering at the same time. I’ve had similar moments, I now call them “movie moments” because they seem like something straight from Hollywood, both here and overseas.

Getting sprayed by chilly water when a whale clapped her 40 foot flippers together an intimidatingly close distance from the bow of the boot I was on.

Eating ribs on a Korean beach at sunset while an International film festival kicked off behind me, the sound of 1000’s of screaming fans drowning out the gulls.

Standing on London Bridge one freezing cold February morning and watching the sky turn gold before the sun finally rose over the Thames, surrounded by millions of people and yet completely alone and quiet.

I’d love to know, where do you want to go?

When is that going to happen?

Get lost?

If finding my way from point A to point B was a contest I’d lose. Every time. It’s not that I can’t navigate, I’m actually pretty good with a map. It’s that I can’t navigate without a map and I know that and yet every time I still think that for some reason this trip will be different. Today I’ll find my way to the new place without a map. This week I won’t get lost, I’ll be able to figure out where I am on my own. This afternoon I will just know which way north is and thus go the correct direction.




I am always wrong. And before someone tries to defend me and explains that I’m really not bad with directions, well, just consider the following-


I once drove the wrong way across an entire state. On the interstate. And it was daytime. More than 4 hours the wrong way. Didn’t notice until I was at the rest stop and looked at the “You Are Here” star on the  map. Thankfully I saw the map. Otherwise I might not have stopped till we hit Canada.


I once got lost walking from my car to a creek that I had just driven over. To be fair- 2 other people were with me. But our 250ish foot walk ended up being over a quarter mile and we still never found the creek. Nor did we realize we had walked too far until we saw the interstate.


I once got on a random bus in Korea and then rode it to the end of the line. Why? I have no idea, it seemed like an OK idea at the time. After the driver forced me off in the middle of nowhere I spent several hours walking along weedy roadsides and waving at staring locals until I eventually stumbled across another stop and caught a bus back toward the city.


I once went for a walk in a forest in NC with 3 other people, all of whom were experienced wilderness professionals. We became so lost on our “30 minute walk” that we almost built shelters and camped for the night. No food, no phones, no supplies. I wasn’t in charge of that near disaster but I credit my direction-impairing aura with influencing their own abilities since they hike for a living.


I once tried to go to church just south of Houston and spent over two hours looking for it before giving up. Long after it would have been too late to attend, I was just trying to find the place at that point. I finally threw in the towel and went to a Mexican flea market instead.  I passed the church not 10 minutes after I left, obviously sitting by a road I been down several times that morning.


The upside to all this is that I have seen some really amazing things that I might have missed otherwise. Things like a toothpick holder that was shaped like a man with cactus spines sticking out of his butt. Or fresh bear tracks, crossing over our own (though, creepily enough, we never saw said bear).


I think my sense of direction in other areas is just as bad. I always feel like today is the day I will know exactly what God wants me to do. It’s not that I can’t follow God’s will. It’s that I can’t follow God’s will without his regular guidance and yet every time I think that this time will be different.  That this move will be the move that puts me on the right road for good. That when I apply to this college or take this job or make these plans that this is when I’ll have my direction for the rest of my life. That this time when I get guidance it will be permanent. This time I won’t get confused. This will be the decision that I can handle on my own. That I’ve finally gotten the hang of this and I can totally wing it now.




I am always wrong. Not always that I am not in God’s will for me at the time, but it’s not a one-time thing. I always want him to just tell me what I should do and then I’ll go do that. A sort of  job placement. He doesn’t seem interested in leading me like that.


I once had horses and I was as happy as I’ve ever been. I thought I could raise and train them for the rest of my life and be supremely content. I’d like to say I gave that dream to God when he asked for it but to be honest he had to pry my cold, frantic fingers off one by one. And what could have been still hurts too much if I dwell on it.


I once joined the military, the Coast Guard. Everything came together so well, my tests and exams went far more smoothly than I had imagined and I scored better than I had any right to score. And I was being assigned to my #1 choice in field. Then I was given a medical discharge for a condition I don’t have, and though I had all the symptoms while I was there I haven’t been bothered once since I got out. And that was a  death of a dream.


I once went to Korea and I had an amazing time. I was scared and alone and completely dependent on God and I grew more than I thought possible. Love for a people I didn’t understand and couldn’t really talk to filled me and I was inspired by the opportunities I faced and the work I was being welcomed into with open arms by the people who were already there. Then I came home, back to the States, and “reality” set in and I let that passion drift away. And I was reasonable and I was logical and I never went back.


I once went to a missions college, full of hopes and excitement. I was going to become a missionary, and I was going to go on the field for 16 months. I passed my classes, I passed my evaluations, I dealt with issues that could have kept me here. I was fully approved. I didn’t go. There were a number of reasons and they were all good; to this day I wonder if I should have gone anyway. But I made my choice and I stuck with it. And I said bye to that dream as well.


I once moved to New Orleans to go to college. I fought the move with every fiber of my being. I hated to the city, I hated the thought of living there for 4 years, I hated that the school I wanted to attend had to be in a state I loathed. I fell head over heels in love with NOLA. I adore that city in a way I’ve never felt about anywhere else I’ve lived. I found an amazing church, made friends right away, and was excited to start classes for a major that perfectly fit my dreams. As if it had been written for me. And I couldn’t stay. No matter how hard I tried and I fought and I prayed there just weren’t any jobs and I ran out of money and I had to leave. I was so ashamed that almost just walked away into the streets and disappeared.


I once went to MN and doors opened for me at every turn. I began to work at an amazing job where I knew I had the chance to make a difference. I was surrounded by friends and people who truly cared about me. I found a great church and a great writing group and I got involved with the local arts scene.


And while I am filled with joy and excited for where I am there is a part of me that cannot help but wonder- how this chapter in my story going to end? I can see God’s hand all through my adventures, both the good and the bad. And I can see how each of those experiences has shaped and prepared me for the next one. Truly, all things have worked together for my good. But that doesn’t change the fact that I catch myself feeling nervous now, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Feeling like this is too good to be true, or at least too good to last for very long. But I’m going to enjoy it while I’m here and see what the future brings.


And I’m going to use my GPS while I’m in Uptown so I can avoid ending up in North Dakota.

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