How to Improvise: A Book Flight

How to Improvise: A Book Flight

For a long time, I didn’t understand improvisation. I thought it was the art of being hilarious on the spot, and the thought terrified me. When I (finally) dared to learn more about improv, I learned that improvisation was, in fact, terrifying, but not for the reasons I first believed. To improvise well, a player must let go and step into the unknown. In improv, we must listen to our fellow players, say yes to their ideas and add our own.

Improv taught me that play invites us to see past our masks and defenses to the truth of who we are. In spontaneous flashes, we tap into our intuition and discover that we know a lot more about the human experience than we might at first believe. Once I saw the transformative power of improvisation, I was hooked. I’ve been studying the art of improv ever since. 

This book flight offers a variety of perspectives on the art of improv. The four titles include activities, games, stories, and of course, wisdom from master teachers on the art of saying, “Yes, and …” While I love each of these books individually, I love the four together even more, because of the ways they spark up against and illuminate one another.

How to Improvise: A Book Flight

Improvisation for the Theatre by Viola Spolin

When I encountered Viola Spolin’s thinking, and then put those principles into practice while training at Piven Theatre Workshop, my trajectory as an artist transformed. Spolin taught me to stop trying and to start experiencing. She taught me the value of opening my hands and letting go, rather than insisting on controlling the creative process. Through her instruction, I learned that developing a player’s mindset takes practice, and that the time invested is entirely worthwhile. Improvisation for the Theatre contains a wealth of wisdom on the craft of creativity and the art of wholehearted living. No matter your art form, this book is a must-read (and re-read!)

Learn more here.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp

When I think of improvisation, my thoughts first go to acting games or quick-drafting exercises. Twyla Tharp offers an entirely different vantage point as she describes improvisation from a choreographer’s point of view. So much is the same, and yet, the slightly different perspective helps me see my own work in new light.

Learn more here.

How to Draw a Clam by Joy Sikorski

Filled with drawing prompts, adventure prompts, and games, this book is entirely unlike any book you’ve seen before. What struck me is how Joy Sikorski teaches the reader, without ever explicitly saying so, how to improvise your way through life. Flipping through this small book infuses my day with spontaneity and joy.

Learn more here.

Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren

Remember Pippi? When I thought about what fiction I wanted to include in the improvisation book flight, Pippi and her red braids came immediately to mind. This book is an excellent example of what it might look life to live a life filled with “yes, and …” thinking. When I find myself in need of a reminder to lighten up and be a little more adventurous, I tap into my inner Pippi Longstocking and dive exuberantly into my day.

Learn more here.

If you pick up the books in this flight, I’d love to hear what you think. Try out some of the improv activities, and let me know how they go. And please share your ideas for other titles that ought to be part of this flight. I’m always on the hunt for an excellent read. Tag me on Twitter or Instagram, and let’s chat. Happy reading!

Journey to Your Writer’s Heart: A Book Flight

Journey to Your Writer’s Heart: A Book Flight

From my MFA residencies and decades of SCBWI conferences, the largest takeaway has always been to write from my heart. Like most wisdom, this advice is simple but not easy. Sometimes, my subconscious battles me when I try to dip into a story that holds rich meaning for me. Other times, I think I’m writing from my heart, but I discover that I’ve been playing a game of smoke and mirrors. I’ve skirted around my heart, but I haven’t deeply connected.

The journey to find our artist’s heart is not a one-time ordeal. It’s a life journey, one that is traveled in multiple parts. The three titles I’ve chosen for this flight have served as companions to me on that journey, urging me on toward courage, and lighting my way in the dark. I highly recommend each individually. I also encourage you: consider reading the three as a flight, allowing their ideas and insights to illuminate one another.

Journey to Your Writer’s Heart: A Book Flight

 

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

 The fun in a book flight is not only each book on its own, but the way the books spark against one another, creating unexpected insights and urging your thinking “farther up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis might say.

Like many books, The Wanderer is a Hero’s Journey, which is part of what I love about it. Beyond that, I love how this coming-of-age story taps into the role memories play in our lives. It’s a lens that encourages me to look at my own life and the meaning I give to my own memories. When read back-to-back in this flight, the book becomes an even more illuminating metaphor, a map that guides me toward my writer’s heart. Learn more here.

The Hero is You by Kendra Levin

Longtime readers of the Writerly Play blog know that Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey has been a key lens to help me see my writing and also my writerly development. In The Hero is You, Levin looks at Campbell’s work in a different, but complementary way. She considers eight archetypes in the Hero’s Journey, and how these personas inform our work and lives.

It will likely not surprise you that I love this book. I love the big ideas explored, the questions asked, and the playful activities that invite my imagination to play. For me, play is the best way to head into the dark and face my fears. Surrounded by story, I tap into courage and momentum. This book will take you on a journey that will transform your writing and life. Learn more here.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Of the three titles in this flight, The Writer’s Life is the most dense. That said, it’s packed with insight that informs the writing craft and life. Once again, the subject is the Hero’s Journey. Vogler’s initial goal with the book was to “create a writer’s guide” to the Hero’s Journey. Along the way, he found the Hero’s Journey to be “nothing less than a handbook for life, a complete instruction manual into the art of being human.”

In this flight, the book provides a wider-angle view of what the Hero’s Journey is, how it works, and why it’s such a powerful tool in helping us craft our stories and our lives. Learn more here.

Cheers!

If you pick up the books in this flight, I’d love to hear what you think! Let me know what questions they bring to mind for you. And please share your ideas for other titles that ought to be part of this flight. I’m always on the hunt for an excellent read, particularly about the Hero’s Journey. Tag me on Twitter or Instagram, and let’s chat. Happy reading!

What I Learned from Madeleine – A Book Flight

What I Learned from Madeleine – A Book Flight

Speak with me for more than twenty minutes, and you’ll likely hear me quote Madeleine L’Engle. Sometimes you find that author, thinker, or artist that challenges and inspires you in all the right ways. For me, that person is Madeleine.

I’ve chosen four titles for this flight: a collection of quotes from Madeleine’s many speeches and books, a memoir, a work of literary fiction for adults, and a Newbery Honor book for youth readers. While I’ll be delighted if this collection sends you straight to the library to pick up a L’Engle title, I hope it also inspires you to read a flight of books by one of your author-mentors. Examining an artist’s work over a range of genres offers a rich thinking experience, and provides insight into that ever-elusive question: What makes up a writer’s voice?  As always, I wish you inspiration and joy as you savor your reading exploration.

What I Learned from Madeleine: A Book Flight

Herself by Madeleine L’Engle

“In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not only outside time, he is outside himself… A child playing a game, building a sand castle, painting a picture, is completely in what he is doing… So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating.”

Herself is my go-to book for words of wisdom about writing craft, and a writer’s life. Madeleine L’Engle said many times that she doesn’t teach writers to write. However, as Carole Chase writes in her introduction to the book, “As thousands of individuals who have say in her writing workshops and read her books over the past five decades will tell you, Madeleine may not teach people how to write but she certainly inspires them to unearth the writer within.” Whenever I need to dig deeper, stretch my courage, or be reminded why I write, I return to this book. Learn more here.

 

Two Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle

“What I must learn is to love with all of me, giving all of me, and yet remain whole in myself. Any other kind of love is too demanding of the other; it takes, rather than gives. To love so completely that you lose yourself in another person is not good. You are giving a weight, not the sense of lightness and light that loving someone should give.” 

As an artist, it can be easy to focus so much on a creation that I forget the most beautiful creation I’m making … my creative life. Two-Part Invention reminds me that our responsibility–and privilege–as artists is to live life meaningfully and with intention. While this book always makes me cry, it also brings me great joy. I read it regularly, because each time, it helps me become a better wife, friend, mentor, and writer.  Learn more here.

 

Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

 “We human beings grow through our failures, not our virtues.” 

While I loved reading this book the first time through as a reader, I have returned to it multiple times as a writer. It’s a masterclass in crafting complex relationships on the page through dialogue, backstory, and action. As with everything else Madeleine L’Engle wrote, this book strikes a resonant chord with me, waking me up to a more fully present way of moving through each day. With each scene, she reminds me of how valuable each moment of our lives are. Live as an artist, live with intention, live with laughter and joy. Learn more here.

 

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle

“If I’m confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I’ll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It’s not that they make me feel insignificant; it’s the very opposite; they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there’s meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless.” 

Madeleine L’Engle often spoke and wrote about her characters as though they weren’t made of imagination, ink, and paper, but as though they’d arrived in her life as living, breathing people. Her characters are complicated, creative, and dealing with life’s highs and lows. I love how L’Engle blends light with darkness, joy with pain, making each more distinct in her work. In this, as in all of her other books, I find myself feeling life more deeply when I view it through the lens of her words. Learn more here.

 

Share Your Favorites, Too!

If you pick up the books in this flight – whether for the first or (like me) the thirtieth time – I’d love to hear what thoughts they spark for you. If you have a favorite author who writes across genres, and who inspires you, please don’t hesitate to introduce me and the entire Writerly Play community! Tag me on Twitter or Instagram, and let’s chat. Happy reading!

Asking Better Questions – A Book Flight

Asking Better Questions – A Book Flight

In my creative development, I’ve circled back to the practice of asking questions a number of times: as an actor, a director, a writer, a teacher. No matter the hat I’m wearing, the quality of my questions fundamentally improves the quality of my work.

I’ve chosen four titles for this flight: a nonfiction guide for teachers, an illustrated work of nonfiction, a young adult novel, and a picture book. As ever, you’ll likely find that the titles listed here spark reading ideas of your own. Feel free to mix and match, swapping titles in and out. Above all, I wish you inspiration and joy as you savor the exploration.

How To Ask Better Questions: A Book Flight

Asking Better Questions by Norah Morgan and Juliana Saxton

I couldn’t put a book flight together on the topic of questions without including this title. Beyond being completely on the nose, it’s one of my favorite books. I had the privilege of hearing Juliana Saxton speak about this book at a theatre conference. What struck me immediately was the complexity of questions. Many of us go through life tossing questions around without giving them a second thought, but it turns out that questions significantly impact the quality of our thinking, our experiences, and our creative work. If taking care with the questions I ask myself and others can change the quality of my life, I, for one, don’t want to be cavalier about them.

This slim volume packs a punch on each page, inviting us to consider the power of our words, and how those words guide us toward outcomes. Whether you use this book to boost your skills as a discussion facilitator for others, or to improve the quality of discussion inside your own mind, it is sure to be a transformative read. Learn more here.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

Where Asking Better Questions asks us to think in concrete ways about our questions, Sophie’s World provides an abstract lens. While reading this novel, my questions bubble up unbidden. Rather than thinking about them, I simmer in them. When I take my morning run, they perch on my shoulders and invite me to pay closer attention.

I love the juxtaposition of Sophie’s World and Asking Better Questions, because together, they provide me with a mixture of practical tools and creative ones, providing me with structure alongside the freedom to play. Learn more here.

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

I don’t always include a picture book in my book flights. However, after the two dense books above, I wanted to offer a book with breathing room, too. While the art of questions is, of course, about thinking deeply, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, often simple questions can be the most transformative of all. Learn more here.

The Illustrated Guide to Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi

Illustrated by Alexandro Giraldo

One hasn’t fully considered the art of asking questions without also considering logic. This fun-to-read, illustrated guide is one of my favorite thinking tools. I find myself laughing at my fuzzy thinking, probing for true logic, and uncovering fresh clarity. I love how the playful visual style invites my less critical self out to play. That’s important when diving into logic. Approached with too much gravity, I think I’d beat myself up rather than play my way to new insights. This book is a gem.  Learn more here.

If you pick up the books in this flight, I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know what questions they bring to mind for you. And please share your ideas for other titles that ought to be part of this flight. I’m always on the hunt for an excellent read. Tag me on Twitter or Instagram, and let’s chat. Happy reading!

How to Develop as an Artist: A Book Flight

Whether you’re a writer, visual artist, actor, director, or artist in any other creative medium, how might you build a mindset that helps you develop as an artist?
Like any question worthy of a book flight, this line of inquiry has layers and complexity. What can we learn about an artist’s mindset from history, kidlit, and memoir?
 
I’ve chosen three titles for this flight. You’ll likely find that the titles listed here spark reading ideas of your own. Feel free to mix and match, swapping titles in and out. Above all, I wish you inspiration and joy as you savor the exploration.
 

How to Develop as an Artist-A Book Flight

How To Develop as an Artist: A Book Flight

 
“Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures,” Vincent tells his brother Theo, as he fills canvas after canvas, pursuing his dream. Or possibly it would be more accurate to say that he is pursuing his identity. He also says, “I keep making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.”
 
In this deeply researched and beautifully crafted work of YA narrative nonfiction, Deborah Heiligman draws us into the world of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo. Throughout the book, I was reminded that artists are people, flawed, passionate, driven people. I was reminded that becoming an artist isn’t (as we so often try to convince ourselves in our competitive world) a win-or-lose game, but rather a choice we make on a daily basis. Despite how we feel, our circumstances, our successes or our failures, we can always make the choice to create.
 
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
 
The imagery in this graphic novel takes my breath away. The spreads are varied, full of tone and contrast, and they flow seamlessly between emotional metaphor and real-world scenes. Our heroine, Paige, is in the process of meeting herself on the pages of her sketchbook. As she learns to see the world with artist’s eyes, she also helps me see my own world with a little more depth.
 
She and Vincent are artists of vastly different scope and background. Yet in their points of connection, I see interesting patterns. What can their determination, their disappointments, and their growing awareness teach me about my own process of becoming an artist?
 
 
I would never have picked up this memoir if my best friend, Emily, hadn’t placed it in my hands. We were on a trip to that most beloved of bookstores, Powells. As it was, I flipped through, wondering what a book about woodcarving might have in it for me. However, from the first line, I was mesmerized. For one thing, Esterly is an incredible writer. For another, he is the kind of passionate artist that I long to be.
 
Within this book’s pages, you’ll learn about history, about the art of woodcarving, and about a certain kind of mindful attention that makes creative work meaningful. A quote from the book, to give you an idea of the treat you’re in for: “It struck me that this {woodcarving] was like being a writer, staring down at a blank piece of paper, pen in hand. In front of you the same smooth vacant surface waits, and within you the same nervous mustering of resolve, the same sense that the first stroke is important and a bad start might be ruinous.”
 
 
If you pick up the books in this flight, I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know what questions they bring to mind for you. And please share your ideas for other titles that ought to be part of this flight. I’m always on the hunt for an excellent read.
 
Comment below, or tag me on Facebook or Instagram. Happy reading!