Got writer’s block? Get positive.
We’ve all heard about affirmations and the power of positive thinking, but I bet you didn’t know that using “Yes” words can help with your writing!
It’s true. If you’re struggling with a scene, putting affirmative words into the dialogue will loosen everything up — you, your characters and the plot. It works like grease in a lock and it’s one of my secret weapons.
This idea is based on one of the fundamental principles of improvisation. It’s called the “Yes, and.” Beginning improvisers often want to say no in a scene. They want to stop the scene so they can get their footing. Instead, they are instructed to say “Yes” to whatever idea has just been made in the scene, and then to add to it, by tacking on the word, “And” and going from there. It’s one of the most difficult habits to train, but brilliant improvisers make an art out of the “Yes, and.”
This same desire to slow and stop a scene experienced by a beginning improviser can make us writers choke up as well. If we are anxious about the scene we’re writing, or even if we’re just having a bad day, we can transfer that attitude to our characters.
Often what’s needed is to let go a bit. And there’s nothing that helps to unclench tight creative muscles than the word, “yes.”
Here is a writing exercise to try out when you’re feeling stuck. I got the idea for this from the book Master Lists For Writers. (For you teachers out there, this book is my secret weapon for inventing new writing prompts.)
This writing exercise takes 2 minutes of prep, then write on it for 5-10 minutes, though, of course, if you really get fired up… say yes to yourself and keep going!
- Print out this PDF of positive words and phrases.
- Cut it into individual slips of paper so that there is one word or phrase per slip.
- Scramble the slips up.
- Write a scene with two characters. Each line of dialogue must begin with the words on one of your slips of paper.
- You don’t need to use all of them and you can re-use one if you need it more than once.
I did this exercise with the small writer’s group I run here in Nyack. Just for fun, here’s the one I wrote, using this prompt:
At The Bank
Shelly: Oh my goodness, Gretchen, is that you?
Gretchen: All right. Wasn’t expecting this—
Shelly: Hooray! So great to see you, honey. I’ve missed you!
Gretchen: Wow. Okay. Look, please empty your drawer into this duffel bag.
Shelly: Damn straight I will. I been worried sick about you ever since Mr. Grayson fired you. He’s a son of a bitch.
Gretchen: Amen to that. Hurry up with the twenties.
Shelly: I love it. Didn’t I tell you needed a little change up? I love this career for you. Did you dye your hair, like, for a disguise.
Gretchen: Affirmative. Can you please hurry up?
Shelly: Yee-haw! Little Gretchen Witznowski, bein’ blonde and robbin’ a bank!
Gretchen: Okay. Okay. Hand over the bag.
Shelly: Sounds good, honey. I didn’t put in any ink pods or nothin’.
Gretchen: Excellent. Don’t call the cops.
Shelly: Sounds good!
Gretchen: Cool! Lay on the ground and count to 1000.
Shelly: All-righty! Come back soon!
If you try this prompt, email me with the results. I can’t provide feedback, but I’d love to read your work!
All right, friends! That’s it for this month’s newsletter.