Dare to be Boring

Learn who won The Artist’s Road creativity-book drawing at the bottom of this post.

“Dare to be boring. Dare to be obvious.”

That was writing advice I received Sunday from creativity consultant Kat Koppett. Kat led a workshop on improvisation and storytelling at the Creativity in Business Conference October 23rd in Georgetown, D.C, produced by Michelle James and The Center for Creative Emergence. That nugget from Kat came while she informed us how we should fill in the meat of our story spine, the heart of the story between the story’s catalyst and its climax.

I came across this funny guy on my cross-country U.S. road trip at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. I think he is performing improv, pretending he is a unicorn.

“What is obvious to you may be very significant to others,” she said. Here are two ways this is true:

  1. As a reader (or listener) is following your story, they develop certain expectations for what is coming. You may assume some “obvious” detail doesn’t need to be included, but if the reader is eagerly awaiting it and you do in fact provide it, the receipt can be very satisfying to the reader.
  2. That detail may seem obvious to you, but each of your readers (or listeners) brings a different background and way of thinking to your story, so it may not be obvious to them at all.

It should be clear that this advice fits into a larger framework, one every storyteller is taught from Day One: Know your audience. This is a key aspect of improv storytelling as well, it turns out. Kat says a skillful improv storyteller masters how to “build a story to give it meaning” and “gauge the audience to make the story relevant to them.”

Do you see parallels between improv and your own creative storytelling?

On a final note, it turns out that of the thirty or so people at Kat’s workshop, I was the one she brought up to improv with her. I have a fair amount of experience with storytelling but very little with formal improv. That said, I’ve been spinning blarney to my children their entire lives, so I hung in there as best I could. It was fun, in fact, and I might just take an improv class at some point.

Now to the winner of a free book on creativity. You’ll recall every commenter on the first-anniversary post of The Artist’s Road entered a drawing, and I generated the winning number using this site. The winner is Certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach Sue Mitchell. Congratulations, Sue!

21 thoughts on “Dare to be Boring

  1. Patrick, what a fun and helpful post. First of all, I want the bumper sticker:

    Dare to be boring!

    Secondly, I agree about that obvious piece that the writer might leave out that would delight the reader. I’ve seen that with writers who also think their own personal details are too boring to mention. For instance, writers who leave out all mention of where they live in their bios or personal assignments – even when it’s Tokyo or Romania! I’ve found that, no matter where writers live (except maybe Hollywood or New Orleans), they’ve been overexposed to their own turf and they think they have nothing interesting to say about it. But it’s exactly the chemistry between the writer and his/her own personal place in the world that makes it interesting to the reader.

    I would have loved to be there in the audience to see you doing improv! The idea of doing an improv class sounds fun. Though I have absolutely no performing skills, so I’d be very nervous about coming across as dull (haha . . . what was I just saying in my previous paragraph? ;~).

    Congrats to Sue on winning the creativity book!

    ~ Milli


  2. How lucky we are, Patrick, that you take the time to share so many gems from all the writing workshops and conferences you attend with us here via your blog.

    Love that reminder that what may seem obvious to us might be something very meaningful for our readers (so note to self: ease up on the self-censorship a little).

    By the way, I can ‘totally’ see you shining as an improv actor, especially if you would include Mr. Bacon as your sidekick. But isn’t ‘formal improv’ a bit of an oxymoron? 😀

    Whoo-hoo, Sue won the book!


    1. “But isn’t ‘formal improv’ a bit of an oxymoron?” Fantastic! A bit like “planned spontaneity,” I suppose. I learned from Kat that there are a lot of rules that ensure improv is coherent and entertaining, however, including the principle that you should build on the previous speaker with “Yes, and” statements — moving the story along rather than yanking it in an unrelated direction.

      I took a lot of notes at this conference, so I think we’ll see a few more posts out of it!


  3. Improv is a hoot! So glad you’re getting involved with that. I haven’t done that kind of thing since high school. Note to self: arrange for some impromptu improv whenever the opportunity strikes!

    Interesting about the rules of formal improv. I would love to hear more about that. I’m sure there are all kinds of lessons we can glean from them that would generalize to other art forms.

    Agree about stating the obvious. I think it can be done in a subtle way that doesn’t insult the reader if it was obvious to them. This isn’t something I’ve really thought much about, so I’ll be on the lookout for this in my reading and writing.

    THANK YOU for the book! I chose the Csikszentmihalyi book Creativity. (Finally learned how to pronounce his name about a year ago but still have to look up the spelling every time!)


    1. Congrats, Sue!

      Yes on Mihaly’s name, both pronunciation and spelling. Douglas Eby writes it’s pronounced “me-high-chick-sent-me-high,” which strikes me as a creative poem, or perhaps a Buddhist doan, an unanswerable puzzle to guide one’s life. 🙂


  4. I had never done improv when I took an intensive weekend on it at 2nd city in Chicago. Wow! The teacher was amazing; the students highly talented and ridiculous amounts of fun! More importantly, I took away these 2 nuggets which have served me well in life and creativity:
    * Go with what is given
    * When things aren’t going well, double your energy and recommit fully.

    Makes a huge difference!

    thanks for the post.


    1. How amazing to do it with 2nd City, which has produced most of the best SNL performers for decades. Recently a theatre I frequent in DC offered an improv class sponsored by Second City; I tried to sign up but it filled almost immediately.


  5. Darn it, Patrick.

    You’ve gone and inspired me to write another blog post. As you know, improvisation is hugely important to my creative life, but I don’t do much of what gets called “Improv”.
    But, rather than trying to write a treatise here, I’ll expoound on my blog soon – maybe even for tomorrow.



  6. Pingback: Wisdom for Writers From the World of Improv « Kate Arms-Roberts

    1. Kate Arms-Roberts

      I love that the whole quote from Keith Johnstone showed up on the trackback.
      When I went back to my copy of the book to get the quote for the article, I noticed that I had underlined the beginning and the end of the quote the first time I read it. Powerful stuff then, powerful stuff now.


  7. Funnily enough, I’ve never done much acting and certainly not any improv. But I’ve always thought there were many parallels between acting and writing, and practitioners of each might do well to study the other. Very cool post.


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  10. Pingback: Kate Arms-Roberts » Wisdom for Writers From the World of Improv

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  12. Pingback: Wisdom for Writers From the World of Improv | Kate Arms-Roberts

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