Without a Net

A little while ago I was having a beer with a friend of mine and she was telling me about the improv class she just finished and she mentioned that among the exercises was one where you had no direction except to makes something up. No guidelines, no genre, no limits. And she found it strange that we humans had such a difficulty with such a thing. Here you can do anything you want and somehow that paralyzes you.

It reminded me of a book I had read years ago called Why We Buy by Paco Underhill. In the book he recounts studies that have found that if you give people a choice of three condiments to try, you have have a reasonable chance at making a sale. Give them a choice of 25 and you won’t sell a thing. I know that I have walked out of stores for those reason, or certainly have stuck with my ok product rather than bother seeking out a better one among hundreds. Life’s too short.

But why this problem with the blank page? My guess is that our brains are more problem solvers than inventors. We’ve always had to figure out how to get food, get shelter, get laid using the tools we have and the situation at hand. We’ve rarely been faced with nothing and had to make something of it.

4 comments on “Without a Net

  1. It probably has even deeper roots than hominids or primates. Birds flock to escape; a diving peregrine can home in on one bird with great accuracy. One might think that 100 birds would increase its chances 100 fold, but not so; it may easily be confused by the number of prey and miss entirely.

    Not unlike the overwhelming number of products.

    If you ever check out Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories the very first novel is set soon after prohibition ends, and he is deciding to stop buying from his bootlegger.

    He has his servant go out and procure all the available brands, to taste test, and complains of so many options, but is determined to be fair.

    It’s the kind of “too many options” trouble I’d enjoy taking a systematic approach to resolving. *wink*

  2. I think that you’re right… we’re not used to starting with a true clean slate. Sometimes we think we are doing that, really jumping off into space, but it just isn’t true.

  3. Here you can do anything you want and somehow that paralyzes you.

    I find this with my students. I tell them to write about whatever they want, and they sit and stare. I have to spoon-feed them a scenario to get a response.

  4. *wails* look at all this great writing!

    There’s no way I’ll be able to catch up here very quick. I’ll hafta make a date with your blog for when I have a free hour.

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