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How to Blog In the Moment (or What Acting School Taught Me About Being a Better Blogger)

This guest post is by Tommy Walker of Inside The Mind

Editor’s note: We’ve broken ProBlogger’s ban on offensive language for this post, as we feel it’s necessary in this particular piece. If harsh language offends you, you may want to skip this one. 

 

In the Summer of 2005 I graduated from The New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts with a certificate in Film Acting.

Normally mentioning my training would be of no consequence, and to this point it’s been a loosely guarded secret; fearing you might confuse my degree with some glorified week long camp at your local community theater that said I was “certified” to act on camera, hurrr hurr.

No. My school was serious. I was one of 16,000 who auditioned, one of 154 accepted, and one of 60 who graduated.

The training was taxing. Twice a week we would access the kind of bared-soul vulnerability you feel after a long fight with your spouse—or the first time you undress in front of a crush.

The whole first year was about getting past the layers we use to defend ourselves. When someone says “F*ck you” for example, that has an impact, but you’ve trained yourself to not care. In reality, some part of you is bewildered. The school’s unofficial motto was “If we catch you acting, you suck.”

Every day was another exercise to achieve that emotional nakedness, but the most effective was also the most simple—Repetitions.

The Repetition exercise looks like this: you and a partner stand across from each other, gaze held, and wait until someone voices an observation. It’s not about who speaks first, or how clever the observation is, it just needs to be organic.

“You’re wearing a blue shirt.”
“I’m wearing a blue shirt.”
“You’re wearing a blue shirt.”

Our instructor, John Tyrell, was a first generation Meisner student. He sat at a small table at the corner of the stage watching the repetition move like a tennis match. He wore a black shirt with blue jeans. Outside of class, John was sweetest man you’d ever meet. But in class, he was always just this side of worn.  Maybe it was the cigarettes, maybe it was the burden of passing the teachings of one of the greatest acting instructors of our time, who knows?

He watched to make sure neither actor would sabotage The Moment. If we did, he would say “Bullshit!” throw his glasses onto the table, run a hand through his salt and pepper hair, then say, “Okay, look…

“Open. Vulnerable. Penetrable…

“There is never nothing going on. There is only this moment. This moment. This moment.” he’d say hitting his heart and tugging at an invisible thread.

“And it changes, one second to the next. It is not your responsibility to manipulate it, make love to it, or hold on to it, only to recognize it and let it work through you, then move on to the next.

Get out of your head! Again.”

Rookie actors live in their heads; they practice their looks and memorize scripts by reading aloud, training to say this line this way. They build the scene in their head, without regard for other actors or the director.

The outcome is inevitably the same; everyone plays their interpretation of the scene, missing moments, and delivering cardboard performances. It’s inauthentic, contrived, and a nightmare to watch.

What we learned through Repetition was to be open to the pure joy, uncontrolled laughter, and gut wrenching tears, or whatever else The Moment demanded. It was hyper-realism, volatile, and at times, terrifying.

But when it was done you’d take a breath, reset, and come back in two days.

For a year, unless you quit or were cut from the program.

Of course, as a blogger, and more specifically a blogger who talks about marketing, it can not be stated enough how relevant the “If we catch you acting, you suck.” mantra is.

See, like acting, blogging and marketing are meant to take the audience away and get them caught up in The Moment.

Bloggers like Jon Morrow and Derek Halpern understand this so well that it doesn’t matter if the article is 100 or 3,000 words, you’ll miss appointments to see how it ends.

Sure, a percentage can be attributed to talent, but if you asked either of them how they do it, I’m betting it would come down to repetition.

“If we catch you blogging, you suck.”

“If we catch you marketing, you suck.”

Sometimes I wish John Tyrell were a blogging coach.

If Meisner repetitions were meant to get us out of our heads; movement exercises were to get us out of our bodies.

Movement was primarily a weekly yoga practice, but the homework was to journal how random people carried themselves. In the next class, we would incorporate their physicality into our own bodies.

The major revelation was that taking on someone else’s physical characteristics meant your body would adopt the associated energy.

For example, rub your thumb repeatedly in circles around the outside of your knuckle on your index finger. Feel that? Do you feel anxious? Is your leg starting to bounce? It’s always a little bit different for everyone, but the principal remains: certain tics are triggered by emotion, but it’s possible to trigger an emotion by activating the tic.

Of course, we all have our tics (the example is mine) so for the exercise to be effective, it’s best to abandon your own physical tensions and become a blank slate.

To do this, we’d stand in alignment, in a neutral stance that allows the skeleton to support itself, free of its defenses from the world. For example, shifting weight to one leg, or pushing your pelvis, neck, or shoulders forward, or curling into your own back. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds.

As an actor, it’s your job to become other people. How can you be believable as someone else if you don’t learn to first abandon yourself?

“Listen and respond. Listen and respond,” John would say, hitting his chest.

At the surface, this might seem like something one could incorporate into their routine after reading it in a book, or blog post. (Wouldn’t this make for a nice tips and tricks article?) But this couldn’t be any further from the truth. There was a reason we did these repetitions twice a week, every week for ten months. There was a reason more than half of the students were cut.

Repetition until it is etched into your bones is exhausting. Maintaining total mind body vulnerability while being told, “That’s bullshit!” wears you down.

Accessing The Moment at will doesn’t take weeks, or months, but years of constant dedication to the craft. You certainly don’t get there by reading a blog post or two.

I’m not just talking about acting. Whatever you consider your art, you have your own version of the Repetition exercise. If you’re lucky, eventually The Moment comes with less resistance, but it’s just a sign to dig deeper. Your willingness to do so is what really determines whether this is something you want to do.

Of the 60 that graduated, I can think of two—maybe three—who have pursued their career as actors. One did Burger King commercial and has been on Bravo. Another was in that Wendy’s Frosty Posse commercial. But that’s it.

The rest have gone on, like myself, to start families or businesses. One classmate is finding celebrity in the world of hairdressing (I’m happy to say he cut my hair more than once). Yet, everyone seems perfectly content with their path, even if we all said at one point, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything but acting! Acting is my life.” [Barf.]

My point is: saying you’re dedicated and being dedicated are two different things. It takes repetition and vulnerability like we’ve talked about, but it also means doing it full force, even if it risks finding out you don’t love it quite as much as you thought.

My classmates who work now don’t do it by sitting in coffee shops waiting to “get discovered,” but by sending out endless headshots and resumes, going on calls and facing constant rejection.

Once you’ve found The Moment, you must do the equivalent. This means sending endless emails asking for guest posts, and sharing your most intimate work with people you don’t know understanding full well they’re probably going to shoot you down.

The world is made people hoping to make it big without damaging their precious egos. They’re afraid of letting go of the “what it would be like” mindset and refuse to surrender themselves.

If you want to make magic, you can’t be one of them. You must expose your vulnerability and do so repeatedly. The Moment is magic, and the only way to harness its power is to let go entirely.

It won’t be easy, but don’t you owe yourself to yourself to try?

Tommy Walker is host of “Inside The Mind” a video show that aims to flip the world of online marketing on it’s head. He has been described as having an “infectious creative energy that is as rare as it is refreshing.” Currently he is guest posting on every popular site known to man in order to raise $100,000 in 30 days in an experiment in crowd funding designed to make online marketing accessible and fun to learn.
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Comments

  1. Dave Rowley says:

    Hi Tommy,

    Well, your theater training sounds like a brutal process! But it fits in well with blogging. If there’s one occupation that, like acting, requires you to front up over and over in an authentic way, it’s blogging.

    “If we catch you blogging, you suck” and “Listen and respond. Listen and respond.” are the two nuggets that really sunk in for me. Particularly the second, what a great blogging ‘mantra’ to use as a guiding principle.

    • Tommy Walker says:

      It WAS brutal, but I’m forever grateful because that level of dedication to a craft is something that I have always carried with everything else I’ve done.

      We had one teacher who said “You don’t have to always perform at your high bar, that’s impossible. Instead you want to make sure that your low bar has to be better than the other guy on his best day.”

      I liked that one a lot :-)

  2. Justin Mazza says:

    Hi Tommy,
    So true my friend. The most shared content on my blog are about topics that are way outside the box. Posts about the Moon Being A Deathstar or about Reptilian Entities controlling mankind from the lower fourth dimension gets a ton of traffic to my site.

    The “safe” and boring posts get very little attention compared to my paranormal post.

  3. really nice analagy between acting and blogging there. I particularly enjoyed when you compared blogging to an art form because it is in a very real way. Posts dancing with marketing and just a dash of social media :)

    • Tommy Walker says:

      Really as content creators, aren’t we all “acting” in a way. If the screen you’re reading this on also shows things like hulu shows or awesome videos on youtube, don’t we owe it to ourselves to create at a higher standard?

  4. Love this post! I’ve been taking improv classes and we do some of the same exercises. They’re always saying, “Get out of your head!” And you’re so right – marketing and blogging start with the emotions and the gut, not the head. Thanks for sharing!

    • Tommy Walker says:

      You’re very welcome!

      And it’s cool that you’re taking improv. I believe, especially in this space, improv can be one of the most useful practices you could have. How well it works in online customer service in particular.

      Really, I’d add that to your professional resume if you haven’t already.

      Employers might look at you funny for it at first, but when you explain just how valuable it is, it will blow their minds :-)

  5. I majored in musical theater — before changing my major to business. Now one of my kids is majoring in musical theater with another on the way. Working actors, we’ll see what sticks.

    Interesting post and points. But you know what? I’ve never once has someone drop an f-bomb on me in person. Anonymously in blogging, yea. But never in person.

    • Tommy Walker says:

      You are a very lucky lady. I would love to drive on the roads you drive on :-P

      Seriously though, I think one of the biggest mistakes I made as a working actor was understanding that it too is a business. Your kid is very lucky to have you with perspectives on both sides!

  6. Kevin says:

    This post brought me back to when I was going to school to be a trumpet player. My program wasn’t nearly as prestigious or intense as yours, but all performing arts have a lot of things in common.

    Bare your soul. Repetition and practice. Constant performing.

    Also the hustle and the constant rejection if you want to make it.

    You also mentioned getting outside your head. It is an amazing feeling that few people understand. If you can get outside your head and remove that barrier between yourself and your art, you’ve finally reached musician (or actor) nirvana.

    I have yet to duplicate that in my writing. By using the techniques that made me a good musician I hope to get there.

    • Tommy Walker says:

      There’s a line from a movie, “Man on Fire” I think, where one of the supporting characters says, ” A man can make an art out of anything, and he’s about to make his masterpiece.”

      I think that’s very true, and I think that performance arts are vital not just to a persons business, but to their soul.

      With writing, this was one of many guest posts that I am publishing this month, and just like those Repetitions, there were plenty of times that I found I was in my head with it. This article in particular was difficult to write, because I was trying to evoke the imagery of what it was like to be in that room.

      If you want to be a better writer, put yourself through the exercise of describing what it was like that first moment you got out of your head with the trumpet. What freedom? What connection you had by expressing what it was truly like to be you, through music. How did your emotion of that day pour itself through your trumpet?

      That’s all any of this is really. It doesn’t matter if it’s acting, trumpeting, or writing. We’re just trying to express something that can’t be described logically.

      Bare your soul through your words, and see how those lessons translate. I can’t even begin to describe how freeing of a feeling it is.

  7. Samuel says:

    Repetition is the key to success!

    I love the story you have told.

    Success does weed out the weak and please do not be part of the weak!

    Samuel Pustea

    Internet Dreams

  8. Chiranjeev says:

    Tommy,
    Nice to read you Story… especially last lines. To get success one’s must do repeatedly. Nice comparison blogging to art.

  9. Great read! That was fantastic! Reminds me of auditioning for a jazz ensemble in school and the instructor berated the rest of the group when I came in, sang my heart out, and nailed it. I remember the words to this day…”This girl has only been here 5 minutes and she hit it bang on, the rest of you have been doing this for a week and have no clue.” Looking back, I know she was trying to motivate them and teach them to be “in the moment”. It’s crazy how soon we forget about being in the moment and just drone on ignoring things around us. To leave any kind of legaacy you have to let go and show a piece of yourself to others, that’s passion.
    Thanks for the great post!

  10. Amazing article. Thank you so much for sharing your personal journey. I never thought of the parallels between acting training and blogging but absolutely they are there! Very cool.