+44 (0) 1727 843820 paul@impro.org.uk

You can divide the world into three types of writers – journalists, poets and diarists.

The journalist turns out articles to order, delivering exactly the specified number of words at the last minute provided by the deadline.

Expect no sentimentality from a journalist. By contrast, the poet is all sentimentality. They pay no heed to deadlines, responding only to inspiration. Like sculptors, they finely hone each piece within the borders of their chosen form – iambic pentameter, limerick or free verse.

Journalists and poets must publish their work to fully play their game. Diarists write for themselves, in any form they wish, though a daily or weekly deadline should be part of their routine.

Here’s a revealing writing activity I offer in workshops for people who want to be more creative, productive and improvisational.

Everyone settles themselves with pen and paper or keyboard and screen.

As I dictate, they write down the following:

‘When I feel that I’m right on the edge of my abilities, the way I respond is dot dot, dot…’

And I announce they have five minutes to write whatever comes to mind.

Now I don’t strictly hold five minutes. If people are still writing – and they often are – I let them continue. It can be a liberating experience of flow.

Next we compare notes, sometimes swapping papers with partners, then perhaps with volunteers reading aloud.

One big learning for people is that by getting on with it, (with a nod to the ‘Let Go’ principle of Applied Improvisation), they write extraordinary things that they hadn’t anticipated. In the moment, their creativity comes out, because they’ve been given a structure, permission and encouragement to do it.

Those who want to be creative writers now have a method for doing more creative writing. Plus, the content of their writing may include useful tips and insights into their own processes – leaning towards journalism, poetry or diarising.

The only measure here is each person’s perceived degree of success. The only possible way somebody can say that they failed would be if they’d written no words at all and were disappointed about that.

Activities in which everyone succeeds to some extent – because success is built into the activity – are characteristic of the Third Wave of improvisation. The Third Wave is improvisation that’s non-theatrical – no audience and no role-playing – and can be practised on your own, beyond a workshop setting.

So, which type of writer are you – journalist, poet or diarist?