There’s joy in learning how to cry

Tuesday night at Meisner 4 we each read our Spoon River piece out loud, then put our copy away and said it again in our own words.

I’d read it at least one hundred times over the week and had very little reaction to it. Just words on a page, words in my head.

By the time I finished saying it in my own words I was trembling and on edge. (half ready to cry, half afraid/wanting to hide) By the time one of my classmates had finished her piece  More

Page by Page

Finished my first page-by-page of my spec! It has a LONG way to go but it feels good to get this far. I’ve always goofed around at scriptwriting but having the structure and deadlines of a class is helping me get through the slumps. I have to write it, because I have to turn it in or look lazy. That’s a stronger motivation.

The DNA chain I wrote for the pilot of Grimm.

The DNA chain I wrote for the pilot of Grimm.

I’m taking the spec writing class at iO with Michael McCartney. Who, by the way, is such a great teacher.  He really cares about us and what we’re doing, he isn’t all burned-out and cynical like some of the teachers I’ve met in Chicago. Michael gives us “art” homework, related to out scripts. He also gives us “commerce” homework, which relates to turning this into a career. Another thing I appreciate. It’s one thing to teach me how to write a script. It’s another to help me learn how to talk to agents and what to do once I have one. The goal of the class is that at the end of the 8 weeks I’ll have the 2nd draft of a spec script, as well as have started reaching out to targeted agents to build a relationship. More

Recap: Week 35

One Million Words Challenge

Week 35

This week I crossed the halfway mark. Since the middle of March I have written over a half million words. That’s… yeah.

It’s been hard. Really, really hard. I toy so often with the idea of quitting. Yet this is something I truly want to do. It’s not impossible, it’s only insane.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 646
  • MPs 6,804
  • Letters 1,660
  • Blog 536
  • Avon 19,856
  • Total 29,505
  • YTD 525,473
  • Where I should be 671,300


My 100th Post.

Thank you. Anyone reading this- I appreciate it.

I’m shocked to realize I’m at 100 already. This is the fifth or sixth blog I’ve started and none of them have gotten anywhere near to this point. It’s… crazy.

Here’s to the next 100!

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.

Ways I Stay Motivated


I set a lot of goals for myself. Getting the motivation to complete said goals is not always easy. So I thought I’d share my methods in hopes that at least one of them will be useful to you.

  1. Take a class
  • This is the number one way for me to stay motivated and finish what I start. I love taking classes. I’ll take a class on almost anything as long as I’m even remotely interested, and I’ll do the homework, study, whatever. I don’t know why this is such a part of my identity but it is. And it’s not that I like sitting in classrooms, I don’t. I’m a kinastadic learner and I want to move around. In a class.
  1. Join a group
  • Similar to above. Less structure, perhaps, but still getting with other people to do something. If I have to explain was I wasn’t there, or know that everyone else is doing X without me, it puts a lot of pressure on me to show up as well. Gets me through those days where I wouldn’t do it if no one knew that I wasn’t. Going to an improv jam, a write-in, or a church small group keeps me on track with my goals.
  1. Make a chart
  • I love charts. I love making them and filling them in. Colored ones. With markers. The physical sensation of coloring in a square gives my brain a little reward rush. Then I hang the chart where I can see it all the time, which motivates me to do the work so that I can color in the next section. Electronic charts don’t work though, I want to feel it in my hand. (Jerry Seinfeld seems to think work along the same line)
  1. Write it down
  • I suppose this is a subset of above. If I write something down and look at it regularly I’m much more likely to do it.  Reading them regularly helps me to remember them, and then to actually do them.
  1. Make it part of something else
  • This one is suggested by almost every person who teaches habit forming. I use it to motivate myself to do something. Multi-tasking would be another word for this, bad rap that it’s gotten lately aside. If I have things I need to do but am lacking motivation to do I try to find a way to combine it with something I like. I try to convince myself- “You don’t want to go running? But if you do you can listen to junk music guilt free” or “Aren’t you going to finish that knitting project? You can watch Ocean’s 11 again at the same time….” Things like that. It works quite often.
  1. Remind myself about what I want
  • Credit for this brilliant idea goes to Justine Musk, here. The idea felt selfish to start with but by the time I finished her article I was sold. I try to use this on myself and the more I remember it the more I get done. What do I WANT? Really want? OK, what should I do in light of that? Maybe I don’t feel like writing, but I want to be published so I write anyway. I tell myself I don’t want to run, but in reality I just don’t feel like running.
  1. Actually want the end result
  • Of course, that supposes that what I am aiming for is what I want. I pruned my goals list earlier in the year because I picked it up, read it, and realized that I didn’t want half the crap on there. It was on there because I wanted to want it, or because it sounded good (not that anyone else ever sees the list), or because I felt like I ought to want it. It is very difficult to be motivated over the long haul when the thing you’re striving for isn’t something you actually want to reach.

Hopefully something on that list was useful. If it wasn’t at least you have a few more insights into the backwater parts of brain.

Be Brave or Go Home

iO Summer Intensive

Week 3

Instructor- Lyndsay Hailey


Today’s notes are different. We only did a couple of exercises, but I took down tons of random notes and tips that came up as I was watching scenes and we were debriefing them. You’ll see.

We did a warm-up that I’ll call People, since I didn’t catch a name for it. There are five different “people” Lyndsay could call out and when she did we had to snap into that posture instantly. The postures were-

  1. Neanderthal. This guy is bent over, butt in the air and back caved in, arms swinging loose, slack- jawed expression. If a fly goes by he won’t even be sure how to swat at it.
  2. Toy Soldier. At attention, back perfectly straight, chin up, hands/arms held stiffly at angles in front of you, eyes fixed on a single spot. If “action” is yelled the Soldier moves with a crisp, military motion.
  3. Artist. This person is high status, nose in the air, ignoring or annoyed at the people around him as he paints, sculpts, etc. He even uses those around him as a canvas.
  4. Brazil. This is passion and love and sex in a moment. Hips swaying, arms moving, an inviting smile. Channeling their inner Latin dance moves.
  5. Mother Russia. This person screams or cries out to their Soviet Mother in the most intense manner possible, shaking their fists in the sky or even falling to the ground as the emotion overwhelms them.

We started out with plenty of time between each character but eventually she sped up until it was all but impossible to keep up. When Lyndsay does a warm-up she’s not going just mental, she wants you panting and sweaty by the end.

We also did a Singing Soundscape or two, to build group mind for the day. Then we walked around the room, stopping as instructed so we could give a monologue to a random object. Like, I talked to scratches on the wall and the fringe a classmates shorts.

From that we moved into very serious scenes with partners. It was an acting exercise where we were to expend the full content of our lungs as we spoke to push our emotions out and onto our partner.

From that we moved to serious, dramatic scenes in front of the class, two at a time. These were not to be funny, though funny occasionally came up naturally. Still, most of these scenes were divorces and break-ups and people dying and the like. We were to breath deeply while watching our partner, no speaking for at least 20-30 seconds so we had plenty of time to fill the energy between us. To look at each other and see what was already there instead of adding something to what they brought. Because this was straight acting practice she said to feel free to fight, it was fine, as well as normal doing these kinds of scenes.

We also did an exercise where we paired off and on each whistle we would switch something. Sometimes we were told to switch energies, or subtle emotions, or environments. Practice in reading what was around us and in our partners, but also pushing to try to do something different each time.

Because these scenes were long, these were all the exercises we covered. However, I have a ton of notes from them.

Snatches from today–

  • Don’t rush physical movement. Don’t run up on people. Only move if the scene really calls for it.
  • We HAVE to go over 10 with our emotions to find the release on the other side. Going over 10 in anything (even anger) is interesting and allows for a natural change and release of tension. But if we never hit 10 we will wander around looking for that moment and not find it, not even realizing what we’re looking for.
  • Anger/argument is NOT a problem on stage or in improv. The problem is moving into a cylindrical pattern (“you did” “did not” “did” “did not”).
  • Let yourself say what you want to say, not what you think you should say.
  • Watch how your scene partner responds to you, the little things (crossing arms, stepping back, nodding, etc), to better understand what you are projecting outward.
  • We don’t have to provide a logical explanation for things.
  • Who-What-Where are in service of connection, not the other way around.
  • We practice the skill of connecting slowly in class, which feels weird. But the practice will allow us to be able to go more quickly in the future/on stage.
  • In improv we can make anything, everything, or nothing important. That is the beauty of it.
  • Don’t give your energy to the wall!
  • If you feel a laugh in a scene don’t stifle it, use it. It’s part of the scene energy now.
  • Our job is to identify the present moment, not to manufacture a situation to go on top of it.
  • It’s improv. If we NEVER apologize for what we do the audience will go along with us regardless of where we go.
  • Lines that start with “So….” or “Um….” are normally invention, not discovery. They are stall tactics while the brain spins an answer.
  • Talking about our environment is a normal human reaction to avoid dealing with our emotions.
  • If we are going to talk about objects we must make them personal and about our relationship. The items aren’t really important, what matters is what they represent.
  • If the actor is uncomfortable with a scene or what’s happening, the character can say so.
  • Can you play the Mel Brooks moment?
  • Environment is in service to the point of view or character. Always.
  • Environment can inform and serve character, and adds to credibility.
  • You add to a scene by choosing how you compliment or oppose another character. Are you adding water to their flames, or is it gasoline? Set the stage on fire!
  • Look at a scene and ask 3 things-
  1. Who is this person?
  2. How do they feel?
  3. How can I make it worse?
  • There are 3 ways to develop characters-
  1. Environment
  2. Emotion/Point of View
  3. Energy Patterns
  • NEVER show fear to an audience. NEVER. If they sense fear they will not follow you. Be fearless and unapologetic, then they will go anywhere with you and let you get away with anything you want to do.

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.

Recap: Week 10

One Million Words Challenge

Recap: Week 10

OK, so I’m not doing so well at this. I know this is my common theme but it’s still true. I’ve been neglectful of my writing, and I am falling further behind. I’m still committed, still going to keep striving forward. I will do this. It’s just harder than I imagined.

Writing is fun for me. And reasonably easy.

Not this past month. It’s been hard to hit the totals this whole time, yes, but over the past month writing has been incredibly difficult. I’m struggling to write anything. I’ve journaled almost daily my entire life and last week I only wrote once. The words are stuck in my head. Additionally I feel scattered, distant, lethargic. My mind hops from one thought to another with no connections or warning, it’s hard to hold onto a train of thought. I can’t finish books, follow movies, have long conversations. It’s like the part of my head that keeps my attention in one place has been removed.

I have dealt with this my whole life- ADD, ADH, any set of initials they can throw at someone to say that their brain is active have been thrown at me. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to help myself focused, how to pay attention, how to help myself stay on track.

But lately none of my tricks have been working and it’s frustrating. I feel like if I just had more discipline I would be OK, but I don’t have the discipline to get disciplined. Plus, discipline had never really helped me. I do best when I’m playing. Competing or taking a class work too- when I can convince my brain that something else is going on it will cooperate. I’m a loner, but I need people to stay on track. If I didn’t have such a busy summer ahead of me I’d form a writing group in the area, the closest ones I’ve found are over in the city. Still, even if I’m going to be moving soon it might be worth driving over for one even just for the next few months. I know from past experience that it does help to talk to other people and to feel like I have to keep up.

Also, re-reading The Artist’s Life reminded me about the idea of filling the well. Cameron talks about how if we do nothing but draw from our mind it will eventually run dry, especially during a very productive stage. It made me think- I’m demanding that my brain give me 3,000 words a day but I’m not giving it much to work with- few books, few movies, few events or fairs or new things to look at. Plus, I adore improv but I often feel mentally tired/drained after, as if it has sucked off my top level energy. The same energy I need for writing. So I’m writing and acting and creating and I’m not putting anything back in. And that is undoubtedly part of the problem.

On top of all that I am putting too much pressure on myself. I want to write something good. Something entertaining, fun, exciting. I’ve forgotten that all first drafts are shit, and that my first million words are practice. Hopefully I’ll get something good out of them but if I don’t it doesn’t matter, I’m learning. I need quantity, not quality. I tell myself that but remembering to believe it is a little harder. Maybe with enough repetitions it’ll eventually sink in.

That’s a big part of why I’m doing the million words challenge. I want to learn to make myself produce work even when I don’t want to, don’t feel like it, or have nothing to say. One of my career goals is to write for a TV series and if that is my job I won’t have the luxury of waiting until I feel inspired or have a great idea- I will have to sit down and write on a deadline and make it worth reading. This is my deliberate practice.

Here are my totals this week–

  • Journal 692
  • Brazil 4,505
  • MPs 6,804
  • Total 12,001
  • YTD 126,016
  • Where I should be 191,800

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