Write in Your Own Handwriting

Coming into my own creativity as an improviser, I was given the same piece of advice again and again: don’t worry about finding your voice; a good improviser doesn’t have one.

My teacher and mentor, Katie Nunn, wrote just that on this blog three years ago:

[Improv] isn’t like other art forms; you do not need to brand yourself. Stop trying to find your voice. Serve the moment. Serve your ensemble. Sticking to one playing style is self-limiting and will quickly reach the point of diminishing returns. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. You can’t just be the straight man, or the clown, or the satirist, or the game guy.

Katie Nunn and John Langen being well rounded playing on Murder/Suicide

In that same article, she referenced a New Yorker profile of Key and Peele, in which Jordan Peele (who went on to direct Get Out) shared a similar perspective:

“The one thing that you don’t figure out as an improviser or a sketch performer is ‘What am I?”

Because improv happens in so many different spaces (noisy bar, theater, classroom), because you play so many different characters, because you perform with so many different people who have so many different strengths and weaknesses, the best improvisers don’t have a specific voice. Instead, they have a chameleon-like ability to become a different kind of improviser depending on the context. They can fill any role they need to.

My job as an ad copywriter is similar in that respect. I have different clients with different brand voices—the upscale California tourism destination doesn’t sound like the fast food restaurant. And while I can write in these different voices, that’s not to say any of them are my own voice or the voice I prefer to write in. That’s what this blog is for—and even that evolves and changes over time as I grow.

I’ve always seen this ability to shift and change, my lack of one singular voice, as a strength. I’ve always believed it’s best to push yourself, try new things, and expand your toolset. A lot of people agree (apparently), because this new video ribbing Wes Anderson for his repetitive style has already racked up over 1.5M views.

Wes Anderson does have a specific style in his writing, casting, and cinematography. And it’s easy to lampoon that style because he’s done it nearly to death. But at the same time, I like Wes Anderson’s films. A lot. I like that style, and so do the millions of indie directors he’s influenced with his work.

On his blog, Jason Kottke juxtaposed that video with a quote from Anderson’s 2012 Fresh Air interview. Rather than see his (over)use of that style as a weakness, Anderson sees it as a strong, conscious decision:

I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting. That’s just sort of my way.


That quote made me realize something.

Life is short. We’re here for a very limited time. And art—creating your art—makes life more meaningful. There are no achievements to earn or new levels to reach. There is no treasure chest that unlocks when you master multiple styles or when you push yourself to have many different voices. This is it. So why not do what you enjoy?

What I admire about Wes Anderson is that he makes the movies he wants to make, with the people he likes, the way he likes to make them. He doesn’t feel the need to write in anyone else’s handwriting but his own.

If that isn’t “living the dream,” I don’t know what is.

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Margot Escott April 9, 2018 Reply

Serve the moment – yes! Over the weekend I took a fantastic workshop with Dave Razowski and your blog echoes much of what he taught. Being genuine and in the moment and not worrying about what I am, but responding authentically to my scene partner. Every week I look forward to your blogs, Ben. Keep up the great work!

Ben Noble April 9, 2018 Reply

Thank you Margot!

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