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Editorial

Insane Choice, Sane Output

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Insane Choice, Sane Output
Now, I'm no expert, but I have this theory about being professionally creative—which is how I define those of us who make our living by doing things like writing and acting (those are the two careers I've had, so I'm writing about what I know here). I think most humans have at least one talent, and they usually find ways to express it just for the fun of it. But some of us decide to make a buck off of ours, and that's a different deal. We can't wait for the mood to strike or inspiration to kick in, because we have deadlines and opening nights. We have to figure out how to rev up our imaginations on command. We learn to push our own psychological buttons so we can tap into our emotions on command too. It's a slightly weird skill set—okay, it's nuts—but it's my contention that once you master it, you can take on a bunch of different creative disciplines.

All the techniques I learned as an actor help me as a writer. I get inside the heads of my characters by identifying with them and seeing the world from their points of view. I never judge them, because that's the first rule of Acting 101. I motivate them by making sure I know what they want, and I let them go after it. Sometimes the storyteller in me needs a character to do something that the actor knows is totally wrong for the character. The actor always wins, because I know that characters have to be true to themselves or I won't believe in them anymore. And if I don't believe in them, neither will the readers of the book or the audience. I've got to buy the make-believe first. Believing is serious business for me. So I have to find another way around the plot point.

I write my dialogue with my actor's ear too. It's really important to me to feel like I could say any of the lines I give my characters. There are times when that gets rough—because I want to get certain information out, but it isn't appropriate for just anyone on the canvas to tell it. When I hit one of those tangles, that's when I start walking around the house, bumping into walls and talking to myself. The dogs really hate it when I do that. They worry about the kibble source drying up if one of their humans seems to be out of control.

But all those techniques are specific tricks of the trade that I've transferred from one gig to another. I think what I really bring to writing is more abstract. It's years of channeling my memories and emotions into a pretend world and doing it on command. And while I know that playing with imaginary friends is not the usual way for a grown woman to earn her paycheck—and, frankly, there have been many times when the word "paycheck" was a huge overstatement—I think by this point it's in my DNA. Or maybe I'm just addicted to it. Either way, it's fine with me because, with all the craziness, I really love doing this. Still. And I have a suspicion that most people who made the same insane choice I did would agree with me.

Louise Shaffer is the author of "Serendipity," "Family Acts," "The Ladies of Garrison Gardens," and "The Three Miss Margarets." A graduate of Yale Drama School, she has written for television and has appeared on Broadway, in TV movies, and on daytime dramas, earning an Emmy for her work on "Ryan's Hope." Her latest novel, "Looking for a Love Story," goes on sale this week.

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