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What Writer’s Block and Stage Fright Have In Common

Crumpled paper Stage light
Photo by pascalgenest

Photo by givepeasachance

From the outside, the writer pottering around the house while the laptop gathers dust, and the performer shaking with fear backstage might look very different. But having personally experienced both writer’s block and stage nerves, as well as coaching many writers and performers through them, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are basically the same thing.

To see what I mean, let’s take the idea of a block literally, and look at the phenomenon of board breaking by martial artists.

To see someone break a board, brick or concrete block with bare hands or feet looks amazing, but the evidence suggests that it’s a question of technique rather than magical powers. Given the proper training, anyone can learn to do it. In the Kung Fu Science project, kung fu expert Chris Crudelli teamed up with physicist Michelle Cain to investigate the physical forces at work.

On the Kung Fu Science website, Crudelli explains the key points of the technique of breaking boards, one of which is particularly relevant to creative blocks:

Speed and Point of Focus

‘The most important thing is to make sure the hand is moving fast enough when it hits the wood. Advice often given is to imagine that what you’re hitting is actually well behind the board. This ensures the hand doesn’t slow down before the point of impact. Confidence is also important here; you have to believe that your hand is going straight through the board, or you will naturally slow down to avoid hurting yourself.’

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Alan Yentob on Web 2.0

Apologies to anyone who, like me, spent the first 5 minutes of Imagine: The World Wide Web on Tuesday night watching something else on BBC2 instead of BBC1. When I realised my mistake and switched over I enjoyed the programme, although it didn’t come anywhere near the heights of The Ingenious Thomas Heatherwick. I think this was partly down to the familiarity of the subject matter – I already knew about most of the things it covered – blogging, YouTube, social media etc., whereas Heatherwick’s imagination was like something freshly landed from outer space. But if you haven’t spent much time on the internet recently it was probably a good general introduction to what’s going on the web at the moment.

The bit I found most interesting was the film director who does his casting by asking actors to submit videos of themselves reading his script. As he pointed out, this means the actors are more relaxed and often give a better performance. This also applies to the director himself, who can view the clips repeatedly, at leisure and make a more considered decision about who to invite to a face-to-face audition. He was impressed by the creativity of the actors, many of whom donned costumes and made mini movie-clips with their friends, instead of just reading the script to camera.

This seems to be part of a shift in hiring practices – instead of the old interview/audition/c.v./covering letter, applicants are using more initiative and creativity to demonstrate their skills. E.g. when Chemistry recently advertised some planning vacancies, they received “podcasts, business plans, dedicated websites, and brilliantly written emails” in response. (Found via Russell.) And in a lot of cases, it’s not an applicant-interviewer relationship at all, just people being engaged or deciding to collaborate on the basis of cool stuff they’ve created.