Writing a Book on Improv

Good improv doesn’t start at the beginning. It starts in the middle of the scene. The middle of the action. We don’t say “here is Arthur. Arthur wakes up and makes coffee. Arthur then goes and sees a bulldozer outside his house.”

Sure, this works for a piece of literature (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) where characters and story evolves over time. But in improv we would start with Arthur already laying in front of the bulldozer. He then rationalizes his motivations through the scene, discovering as we go along.

Martin Freeman portraying Arthur Dent, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 2005

Just the same as starting Arthur’s story in the middle, I was hesitant sharing my exploration into a book on improvisation until I was in the middle.

Where I Started

This journey started in 2016 when UX Research was published through O’Reilly Media. A single chapter focusses on improvisation as a tool during research and I felt it wasn’t enough. Weeks after publishing, I still had the bug to expand this content. Brad offered me an alternative: let’s explore collaboration as a whole. We set out on what became a thought experiment. What would a book look like if we didn’t know what we were going to write? Let’s interview folks who collaborate across a number of industries and through research and synthesis, distill the “Secret Sauce” to collaboration. Nearly two years later through life, schedules, and a number of other factors, this didn’t get off the ground.

And still, I had that itch for a book on improv. So in October 2018 I started writing again. And I shared the idea with friends who supported me and pushed me towards self publishing.

And here we are.

The manuscript is written. I need to edit the crap out of it. I need to craft the illustrations and organize the videos to accompany the various exercises. I need to lay out the book. But the hard part, getting the thoughts out of my head, is mostly complete.

I want to start sharing the ideas as the final formal comes together. Hence this blog, this website, and this post.

Why should you bother?

The book isn’t meant to teach anyone to perform, or be funny, or to do improvisation. It is meant as a way to provide lenses from theater and performing that can support ourselves and our teams in the collaborative environments we find ourselves in.

This book is a passion project. All the media and content is collected from over a decade of practicing the craft in one form or another. I mean for this to be a growing repository of my knowledge. And hopefully others can take something from it.

I hope if you pick up this book you can take something away to bring to your teams, your projects. Improv, like product design, is not one size fits all. I hope you can take what I’ve shared here and adapt it, change it, and continue to share it in your own way.

Thank you.

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