Making it up as you go

After I got laid off, I decided not to get another job. I just…didn’t want one. Simple as that. I decided to work on my own, from my couch. As a natural introvert, I was in heaven. 

And yet—it became clear I had to get out of the house. So I signed up for an improv acting class, which I’d always been meaning to do. 

You know how it works: You’re thrown into a scene with a partner with little more than a suggestion (“banana,” “circus,” “houseplant”) and…go! 

You don’t strategize. You simply start peeling an imaginary banana. You make it up as you go. It’s one part terrifying, one part mortifying, but five parts fun, so the ratio works.

Another thing you don’t do in improv class? Introduce yourself, spout your resume, talk about your big goals or your background. So, in the spirit of improv, you don’t have a lot to go on. 

We bonded fast in that room. Why? Because we were busy making something, instead of comparing ourselves. It’s been eight years since that first class—I took them for two more years with that same group—and I count them among my closest friends. 

I’ve long known that my friendships are no extra curricular activity; they are a critical part of who I am as a person, and how connected I feel to the world. 

And while research on relationships has long focused on family and romantic partnerships, scientists are starting to look at friendship a lot differently. 

A new book about the science of friendship reveals that friends aren’t just a “nice to have,” but play a critical biological role, too.

Science journalist Lydia Denworth, a woman I’ve gotten to know and work with over the past few years, has just released a breakthrough book that will change the way we see friendship. 

In Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, she investigates the biological and evolutionary foundations to friendship, diving into the literature and her own life in an accessible way, and it’s fascinating. 

Lydia, in fact, was one of the people who participated in The Intensive last fall, a three-day writing retreat I run designed to tap your creative genius. Just like in improv, we don’t announce our resumes; we dive in and start making and sharing right away—which goes a long way to turning strangers into friends very quickly. 

Lydia, by her own admission, had doubts when she first walked into that room full of strangers. But she left with 9 people she now counts as friends. And I count her as one of mine, too.

In fact, one of the people at The Intensive is hosting a book launch party for Lydia next week! And of course, we will all be there. 

…As for improv? I never had designs on “being” an improv actor. But I learned a TON from doing it, and still use it.

What improv teaches you in approaching a stage, I have found useful in approaching the page. You need less in the way of plans, and more in the way of trust—which, as a matter of fact, is true for friendships, too.

You’d be surprised at what can happen when you follow your creative impulse. 

Where is that impulse taking you today? 


P.S. Hey, curious about how I teach writing? Check out 30 Days on the Page. It’s 30 days of guided prompts (seriously, you just show up and write, like spa for your brain) with me. And it’s just $1/day. Don’t wait!