I recently received an email with a question from a student. The student felt that he was more comfortable on the analytical side of things, and wanted to know what he could do to strengthen his imagination, or make himself feel more comfortable using it.
I thought it was a great question, and I came up with some recommendations. I thought I would share the recommendations that I offered him here:
One thing I can recommend is a book called Playmaking. I encountered it one summer in New Haven. I was working with something called the Dwight-Edgwood Project , which in turn was based on the 52nd Street Project in New York. These projects involved mentoring kids in playwriting, so that they wrote 5 minute plays which were then directed in and acted by adults. There probably is a version of it here in LA, it has been replicated widely. Getting involved in that, and working with the kids, would probably be in itself a great way to awaken the imagination. But the book Playmaking is a handbook for the mentors, who were theater professionals of all stripes, not just writers. The book contains simple exercises to help students learn the basic concepts of dramatic narratives and get their imaginations going at the same time. I think the kid-orientation of it is very helpful for all of us serious adults as well.
Another thing that comes to mind is Miranda July’s website http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com/ It’s got lots of challenges or prompts for creative exploration that are more geared to grown-ups. They don’t accept submissions to the website of the projects anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still do the challenges.
You may have heard of the book The Artist’s Way. I can’t really recommend it all that highly though. I tried it for a while, and didn’t really feel that anything was unlocked, but maybe if I had stayed with it something might have. My cousin is a writer and filmmaker and swears by it.
Although I am a bit skeptical about the improv-teaching industry here in town, I do think an improv class can be a great thing to do if you can find a good class. I went to a free workshop with a teacher named Bill Chait, just to see how he ran it as a marketing event, and was quite impressed with his insights and exercises.
Finally, I think taking a class in an art form that is not interpretive but essentially creative in nature, such as fiction-writing or painting or songwriting, can be very helpful. I think actors don’t do enough of this. Writers are told often to take acting classes, but I think it works the other way as well. An actor who understands firsthand what the decisions are that go into writing will look at a text with different eyes than one who doesn’t have that angle. Of course, you would want to get into a class that wasn’t too much about generic conventions (as many screenwriting classes are, alas), but rather about bringing your vision into being.
Obviously, there are other ways as well, but these were what first came to my mind.