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Takeaways from Jenna Fischer’s The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide

In case you couldn’t tell from my other posts (The Top Five Acting Books That You Need to Read), I often glean a ton of useful information from my dedicated reading habits into the craft of acting.

Sometimes this might mean practical tips on auditioning or getting into character, while other times it might be a more general sense of inspiration from reading about another actor’s life.

I recently read a book that neatly fits into both of those categories, part guidebook and part memoir: The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer, who is probably best known as Pam from The Office.

Her path to getting that iconic role was a long and circuitous one, full of all kinds of setbacks, rejections and periods of real doubt.

Her task in writing The Actor’s Life was to create the sort of handbook that she wished she had read earlier in her career, one written by, as the book copy puts it, “an established actor who could educate her about the business, manage her expectations, and reassure her in those moments of despair.”

The combination of Fischer’s descriptions of her own lived experience and her advice to aspiring actors is quite helpful throughout.

Here are some of the main things that I took away from reading the book:

— Fischer gives a really strong overview of what an actor’s life is actually like and provides an excellent set of brief advice to her younger self as she does it:

“ 1) Give yourself permission to be an actor. Don’t apologize for being weird. Live an unashamed artistic life.

2) Create your own work.

3) Never give up.”

Those should be daily mantras for every one of us who has struggled with doubt and despair as we’ve tried to make our way as actors!

— She also gives readers some really useful strategic tips for auditioning:

“ 1) Memorize the first three lines of the scene so that you don’t have to look down at your page.

2) Pick one place to have a strong, specific, nonverbal reaction to what the other person is saying.”

That advice seems deceptively simple, but I think that it’s a pretty solid!

By focusing on mastering those essential tips, your mind will then have plenty of open space to deal with other aspects of your audition process.

— The book is a really fun read

— conversational, informative and just pleasurably easy

— but it’s especially fun if you listen to the audio book, as you’ll hear actors from The Office make cameos in the spoken text.

— It might seem obvious, but it’s important to remember: Jenna Fischer wasn’t famous... until she was famous.

In other words, she went through many, many years as a struggling actor before she made her big break in The Office. It’s always humbling to tell yourself that this is true of (almost) all working actors.

— Fischer recommends the book The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition, the popular guidebook about creativity, spirituality and nurturing your inner artist.

I’m still in the middle of reading it, but so far, it’s really excellent.

Here’s her vivid description of the book, which prompted me to go out and buy it:

"I didn't come to these life-changing ideas all by myself. I was lucky enough to find a book called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. The Artist's Way is a twelve-week, self-led creativity seminar in the form of a book. Almost every aspiring actor I know eventually finds The Artist's Way. But while many people start the book, few actually finish. It took me two tries. It's challenging. Each week you read a new chapter and confront the obstacles that are blocking you from moving forward as an artist. The greatest thing about the book is that its active. its a workbook. You aren't just reading about how to be creative; you are actually being creative, writing and performing and finding new ways to express yourself. In my case, it was The Artist's Way that got me to create my magic show and start drawing. And, by the end of the twelve weeks, I had written a treatment for a movie that I later filmed with my friends. If you ever find yourself uncontrollably sobbing in a Pottery Barn (or Create and Barrel), go buy The Artist's Way."

Have you read The Actor’s Life?

What did you think?

Are there any other books that have inspired your work as a creative person?

Let me know!

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