On stage, when an actor forgets their lines they must improvise in order to keep the dialogue and story moving. In live theatre, there’s no opportunity to go back and start again – actors must do their level best to carry on in spite of forgotten lines, costume mishaps and missing sound cues.
Writer’s also need to develop the skill of improvisation but in a slightly different manner. Much like an actor that must be prepared for anything that can happen on stage, writers must always be prepared to seize inspiration, at any moment, at any time. I have developed a habit of carrying a notebook and a pen in my bag for just such moments, but there are times when I am unable to access my notebook and must be ready to improvise in order to catch my ideas.
I was travelling on an airplane recently, and we encountered some turbulence. I had been happily typing away on my tablet, but then came the announcement for table trays to be returned to their upright positions and seatbelts securely fashioned. I reluctantly put my tablet away, and patiently waited to get through the turbulence. It was at this shaky and ill-timed moment that a tremendous idea came to me – one that would make or break the current article I was writing. I had to get it down, and so I grabbed the first thing that was available for me to write on – the airline’s disposable bag, with a lovely pictograph of a person suffering from airline sickness. I scribbled down my thoughts on both sides of that bag and was even offered an extra one from another passenger in the seat next to me (conveniently, my better half), and I even think the stewardess sitting across from me, who was fascinated by my writing frenzy in a moment of unpredictability, was ready to offer me another one.
Here are some items I have written on in a desperate moment:
A paper cup
A gum wrapper (a big challenge)
A work document (not highly recommended)
A transit ticket (over the small print)
These are just a few examples of what I like to call “necessary improvisation” for writers.
Regardless of what happens on stage, the actors’ adage is always “the show must go on” – and in the writing world, so must our words.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.