Why Too Much of a Good Thing is No Good
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, this newsletter has—once again—become a weekly affair. Hopefully, you see that as a welcome change.
In part, I’ve switched back because I’m finding this new format easier and more fun to write. But there is another reason; a few weeks ago, I got an email from a newer reader. In it, he said, “I don’t think I understand as a reader what the interval is for your newsletter. I am missing anticipation because I don’t know when to expect it.”
That comment surprised me; I always thought I’d been pretty upfront about my writing schedule, both on my website and in emails. So I either wasn’t being as clear as I thought, or the time intervals between newsletters were long enough that he’d forget they were coming.
In another way, though, that comment was hiding a compliment—he obviously enjoyed my emails enough to want to know when they were coming. And remembering “every Monday” is obviously easier than having to do the math and remember whether or not it’s an on or off week.
Some readers, though, may not see this as a welcome change. We all get a lot of email, and if mine is not a high priority, it just adds to the backlog. It creates stress.
Even if some readers love getting this newsletter every other week, they might find the weekly schedule oppressive. And still there are others who like the weekly rhythm but would unsubscribe if I switched to daily publishing. Getting more of what they love may, ironically, diminish their love for my work.
Just this month, I had to unsubscribe from a weekly podcast that had slowly morphed from a forty minute show to an hour and a twenty minute show. And I’m thinking about unfollowing a blogger who’s recently moved from a weekly article to a three-times-a-week schedule. I like his writing, but it’s just too much. It’s not what I originally signed up for.
It’s awesome if you have the ability to create more. It’s even better if that work is good. And it’s great (and often enjoyable) if you can do it in a way that respects your reader’s time (e.g. shorter if more frequent). But you don’t want to overdo it. You’ve set expectations and your audience—at least some portion of it—is going to resist the change, even if they love your work. So before you start doing more, make sure your audience thinks more is better, not a burden.
After teaching Level 1 for eight weeks, I noticed two things. First, many of the students were naturally talented. Second, that their talent manifested itself in a specific character choice rather than through versatility or range.
There was one student who always played this hilarious guy with an Australian accent and limbs that moved independently of one another. There was another guy who played these over-the-top old ladies. On the second week, these characters were hilarious. But by the eighth week, they’d started to lose some of their luster. What was once funny and unexpected had become tired and predictable.
Throughout my improv career, I’ve struggled with versatility as well. There was a period in which I often portrayed an extreme version of myself—painfully shy and inconsolably anxious—traits I exhibit but to a much lesser degree. It was fun for me to play and for the audience to watch…until it wasn’t.
I realized I’d hit a rut. Something needed to change. So I promised to let that character go for a while, and instead, I’d challenge myself by making wacky choices—playing inanimate objects or animals. For a while, that too was fun and unexpected. But eventually, the idea of “making the wacky choice” became, in itself, predictable, boring, and harmful to my scene work. I wasn’t able to connect with other improvisers on an emotional level because I never allowed myself to play a vulnerable human character. It’s hard to do deep scene work as a cat.
Ultimately, it was a quote from Asaf Ronan, author of Directing Improv, that snapped me out of my funk:
“Any asset valuable to improvisation can also be used in a detrimental way”
I realized that either choice—playing myself or playing a cat—could be a good choice. But if overdone, if done excessively, if accepted as the the only choice, it would hurt—not help—my improvisation.
If you want to learn how to do something, anything, it’s never been easier. If you’re interested in writing a book (for example), there are so many resources online that you’d die before reading them all. And there are so many tips, tricks, and tactics around—many conflicting—that the more you read or research, the harder it is to actually start.
A little information is good. A lot of information is paralyzing.
If you’re interested in tackling a new project, odds are you already have enough information to get started. Don’t overdo it with information. Don’t binge-learn. What you’ll discover by trying something new—even if you fail—is one hundred times more valuable than anything you’ll find in yet another book, podcast, blog post, or video.
Three Things is about creativity, improv, and inspiration. If you enjoyed this week’s letter, you can sign up to get them delivered to your inbox each week by digital carrier pigeon.