One of the best things I’ve done for myself as a writer and speaker is study improv. Not stand-up comedy—think of the short-form improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? There’s also another kind, long-form, that I’ve studied this year. Long-form improv particularly lends itself well to novel writing as it deals in characters, relationships, and scenes. Any form of improv will help your writing, though, because of the specific way it forces your brain to work. Why is that?
The first thing you learn in improv is that you always say, “Yes, and…” You are not allowed to say no to ideas. You agree to the idea and add onto it.
Imagine you step on stage and you’re thinking you’re going to be an astronaut on Mars. But another person steps on to be your scene partner and tells you that you’re a cowboy on a ranch. You don’t say, “No, we’re actually on Mars, duh.” You change gears and accept their idea, then add your own. “Yes, and we’ve been stranded here for thirty years!”
How often do we “say yes” while we write? Too often, we censor ourselves. “Got to stick to my outline!” we mutter during the first draft. “That’s no good. I suck. This is terrible!” I’m sure we’ve all had those feelings as we try to pound out some words onto a blank screen.
Instead, trust your subconscious mind. Say “yes, and…” and let yourself take the risk. Write what comes to mind without censoring yourself. Let your mind build on your first idea, and keep adding.
But how do you flex that subconscious mind muscle so it becomes second nature? How do you “get out of your head” and stop doubting yourself? [Read more…]