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A Year of Blogging Elfishly

We call ourselves the blog elves and we have been blogging elfishly for a year, producing a new post each week. We didn’t think we could keep up the pace and part-way through we thought we might give up. About that time Guy attended a talk by VCU Artist in Residence Noah Scalin about what he learned about making creativity a practice through his Skull-a-Day project. Reinvigorated, we buckled down and in fact experienced much of the advice he offers in his strategies to make you a more creative leader called The Big Seven™.

Dream Small: Big Ideas and Big Goals can be daunting - or worse, completely paralyzing.

Lisa: In true improv style, we made this blog up as we went. At our first meeting, we each declared an angle we wanted to cover. Guy had recently completed his Adult 101 class and joined Minor League 2. He planned to write an ongoing Diary of an Improv Newbie, with posts based on chapters from Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. Virginia planned to write about using improv in a business setting, as well as to relate to family members with growing dementia. And I was going to make comparisons between writing and improv. To our credit, each of us hit on their theme at some point. But thankfully we went off script and had fun.

Virginia: Looking back, I can't believe we did it! This past year has seen so much happening in our lives, yet we coordinated a blog a week. Many weeks, it was no problem; other weeks it was a scramble. I'm glad we didn't focus too much, or put too much pressure on, the goal of one per week. I think we each had internalized a goal, but had not really externalized it. No one was going to blame each other if we missed a week. If we had done that, it all may have fallen apart.

Let Go of Perfection: Expecting immediate perfection prevents you from learning.

Guy: Starting out, I was pretty intimidated by Virginia’s and Lisa’s editing skills. They would hammer my early posts with edits and talk about Oxford commas. Commas all look the same to me. Pretty soon I came to understand they gave me so much feedback because they cared about making my posts shine just as they would a scene partner. After that, I would put more drafts out early to inject their genius sooner. That being said, Lisa said my On Fire post was perfect in its first draft. There was a big smile on my face as I made a check on my bucket list.

Lisa: One Thursday in April as my husband and I were packing for a weekend getaway, I checked in with Guy and Virginia. That’s when I realized we would be running Guy’s post about summer camps on Sunday evening. The very evening I’d be returning from my trip. I hadn’t even looked at the draft. In a panic, I started dashing off messages about how I’d try to look at the draft before we left. Maybe I’d even be home in time on Sunday, I suggested. Outside, my husband was loading the car. We’d be leaving any minute.

“Lisa, we got this. Go enjoy your weekend and ignore this chatter. If it ain't perfect…well tuff,” Guy messaged. [Ed. Yeah we know tuff is a rock, but we left it in as meta-imperfection ** Drops the Michael **]

“We can all probably use some practice at NOT being perfectionists,” Virginia chimed in.

And you know what? “Kindling Kids Future” was a brilliant, perfect post. The blog didn’t fall apart because I wasn’t able to help edit that week. My teammates had my back.

Virginia: I have to say, I have felt less than adequate reading Lisa and Guy ‘s pieces. They are brilliant! I am an engineer, not a writer. I’m a fairly good editor. And I have good ideas. I was intimidated at the beginning. Improv has helped me get over some of my perfectionist tendencies, thankfully. Otherwise, I may have missed out on this beautiful experience.

Embrace Limitations: Nothing great ever came from unlimited resources.

Lisa: In Guy’s September 10, 2017 piece titled "Diary of an Improv Newbie: Don't Prepare", he wrote about letting go and paying full attention to the improv game at hand. There were plenty of weeks we were unprepared to post something but we improvised that blog into reality. Sometimes we shamelessly begged fellow players to write posts for us, and we even got a ComedySportz Sacramento player to let us borrow a couple of his blog posts.

Virginia: This past year, I have been unable to participate as much as a player for various reasons. This blog was a way for me to stay connected to improv, my friends, laughter; a way to make sure that I didn't get so far away that I didn't go back. Life has been hectic, to say the least. I am very proud of what our little band of elves has accomplished. I feel like I have grown as an improviser through this process, even though I have unable to attend practice or perform as much as I'd like.

Cultivate The Unexpected: creative work requires new approaches and you have to be able to switch to different settings at a moment’s notice.

Lisa: For the last post of 2017, Guy wrote an off-the-wall author bio line, different from the standard but dull tagline stating how long I had been a CSz player. And we went with it. From then on, we looked forward to wacky bios.

Virginia: Guy’s surprise taglines became my favorite part of the process; I think we look forward to receiving our wacky bios every week now. It's a good incentive to publish blogs.

Guy: Sometimes inspiration came from the most unexpected places. I had gotten into the habit of basing my post on some bit of science tangentially related to improv. With CJ Bergin’s piece, I made the title a play on an old 80’s movie but then felt compelled to follow up with another play on the words based on the title of that movie’s sequel. Sort of like a suggestion from a Loyal Fan.

Expand Your Defaults: Creative work requires new approaches and you have to be able to switch to different settings at a moment’s notice.

Guy: Sometimes I started out with what I thought was an easy winner of an idea. Like the Halloween Spooktacular. I thought I’d watch the show and do a field report. But no solid idea came out. Sunday rolled around and I had committed to deliver so I tried writing a poem. Not my specialty but sometimes the pressure to meet the weekly deadline was just what was needed to force me to try something different.

Virginia: I thought from the beginning, I would focus more on improv and business; my first outline for the year included several quotes for which I had about 800 words come to mind instantly. The blogs wrote themselves. And some of the first did follow this outline, but then inspiration began to flow in from everywhere. Places that could not have been anticipated. I still have the outline, and a list of ideas that popped into my head that I have not pursued yet. You may see them yet one day.

You Can’t Do It Alone: Work has never been a solo process; it’s always been collaborative.

Lisa: In Virginia’s May 6, 2018, piece called Spotlight on Teamwork, she compared the unfolding of an onstage comedy moment to an ember that bursts into laughter when fellow players go with it. And that’s what we did with each other’s ideas. One of us would say something like, “So, I read a quote about persistence versus talent and I want to write about the times I felt like quitting improv because I wasn’t talented.” And the others would foster that idea with encouraging suggestions and practical prompts until it became a fully-formed piece.

Virginia: I found that my writing process for this blog was fostered greatly by our group discussions on Facebook Messenger. My ideas simmer in the back of my head as I go through daily life; I don't usually put pencil to paper until I've fully thought through the outline of the piece. For these blogs, I discussed my ideas with my fellow elves once I felt I had an idea with potential. The conversations that ensued varied from “amazing, run with it!” to these wonderful discussions that helped grow the idea in a most wonderful way.

Guy: We may have been the editing crew but if you look through the body of work there were contributions from all over that has given the blog its diversity. Christine Walters posted on her work in applied improv and the work around improv for caregivers of dementia patients. Rachel Garmon gave insights into the challenges of working with kids on the autism spectrum.

Inspiration is Everywhere: By taking some small actions, you can generate creative momentum out of anything you encounter.

Lisa: This blog has been about so much more than the posts we publish every Sunday. It’s about the group discussions we carried on via Facebook Messenger. Under the pretext of discussing what to feature on the blog each week, we cultivated teamwork, moral support, and inside jokes. We gave each other pep talks and laughed at the challenges of our self-imposed weekly deadlines.

Virginia: For me, inspiration came from home life, work life, book titles, famous quotes, bits of conversations overheard . . . Realizing “yes, and” has permeated my life and made improvements to many things without being purposeful about it. Inspiration for my last piece, "The Diffi-Cult", I realized that “yes, and” had helped me deal with difficult people over the past three years of practicing improv, without trying. What if I started trying? Could it help me even more if I become purposeful about it?

Guy: A lot can happen in a year and some of the challenges are embedded in the blog. Like Virginia working through the challenges of caring for loved ones at home while dealing with the challenges of work life. Lisa learned she would be moving west and her journey from her take on New Year Resolutions to landing with a new improv crew in Oklahoma can be found in an unplanned story arc of her 2018 posts.

And now a final elf chorus…

It has been our elfish pleasure,

To deliver each word measured,

About our beloved ComedySportz®,

And life, with all its warts,

Although we’ll still be about,

For now, Blog Elves over and out.

Virginia Epperly, Lisa Swope, and Guy Winterbotham have had each others’ blogging backs since forever.

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