Yes….and: Lessons from Improv

When a new idea or concept comes to me, repetitively and from different people or from totally different directions, I pay attention. I’ve had that experience recently and I am so thankful to be reminded of something that I wanted to “hang on to”.

yes and

While at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, I attended a fun class called  Improv for Storytelling. The instructor, Dan Stabb, works in improv and he used techniques to free us from ourselves and move us into creativity. His class became so much more than that for me, however, as I listened and participated and took notes.

Dan led us through three exercises, partnering each of us with someone we didn’t know. In the first exercise, each person made a suggestion to their partner, such as “Let’s have Italian food for dinner.” No matter what was said, the partner answered, “No” and then made another suggestion, to which the first person answered no. We did this for several minutes, making suggestions and answering with no. What was immediately apparent was how the word no limits creativity and stops the flow of thoughts and words. No hits the reset button in the conversation, which then becomes stilted and awkward. We all quickly ran out of things to suggest.

Next, Dan had the first person make a suggestion, and this time, the partner answered, “Yes…but.” So the conversations went like this. “Let’s have Italian food for dinner.” “Yes…but, let’s have German food instead.” “Yes…but, I would rather get carry out anyway.” And on and on the conversation went, for several more minutes. We all agreed these experiences were better….and yet, using the word “but” negatively shifted the energy of the conversation, narrowed down the possibilities and still felt awkward.

Finally, we were instructed to make suggestions and this time, answer each suggestion with “Yes…and”. These conversations were so fun! They flowed, and creativity was encouraged. “Let’s have Italian food for dinner.” “Yes, and….let’s dress up in vintage clothing!” “Yes….and let’s invite all our friends to join us!” “Yes….and let’s go dancing after dinner and stay out all night!” The energy in the room expanded, along with the creativity, and laughter and excitement filled the room.

I was impressed with the exercise, and not just because it freed creativity and ideas. I saw the amazing potential for those two simple words….Yes, and….in regular conversations and in my own thinking process. And then, after I returned home, I promptly forgot about the improv class, until a couple of days ago. Scrolling through Facebook I came across an article about using those same two words when working with Alzheimer’s patients.

The piece was about drawing Alzheimer’s patients into conversation, rather than halting their words by saying “no” and trying to correct their perceptions. My heart is still tender toward those suffering with this disease, after watching the movie Still Alice. I was intrigued by the article. Rather than forcing someone who is losing memories, or reverting to an earlier time, to come back into reality, the author of the article suggested entering the patient’s reality instead, and gently leading her out. Or staying in her world with her and just enjoying the experience and the person. The doorway for this journey was using “Yes…and”.

A woman who is confused says, “I want to go home. My parents must be missing me.” (She IS home…and her parents have been dead for many years.) Correcting her statement only brings more confusion, because she doesn’t remember that she is in her home, with the man she has been married to for 55 years. In her mind, she is 16 years old. “Yes….and your parents know where you are. Tell me about your mom…tell me about your dad.” How much more kind, to enter into her reality, rather than trying to force her into mine.

The other application for “Yes…and” is to use the words during an argument. Imagine how that discussion would go if all parties answered each statement with, “Yes…and”. Using no….yes, but…or defending myself results in further argument rather than resolution. I intend to remember this, the next time I find myself wanting to take the defense. However, I had the opportunity to try the technique out when my mind strayed down a trail of thought this evening, as I was tackling the flower beds next to the house.

It is hard work, cleaning up these neglected beds and preparing them for re-planting. I began to berate myself….and then, I remembered. Here is how the internal conversation went: I should never have used the ground cloth…roots have grown through it and that makes removing it so difficult. Yes….and I’ve learned a lot about gardening in the past four years. Yes….and I can do this, a little at a time. Yes…and the finished garden border will be so beautiful. Yes…and I will enjoy it very much.

I kept working…and then, I hit a wall, becoming hot and physically exhausted with all the digging, pulling, and hoeing, and discouraged by the slow progress. When I inadvertently ended up with a face full of dirt, I considered scrapping the idea and letting grass grow in the beds, instead of flowers. Back to Yes…and. “This is too hard. Just let the grass grow and mow it. Yes…and that is one possible solution. Yes…and it is my decision.” I looked at the 35 flowering plants on the front porch, waiting to be transplanted into the ground. Yes….and I love the flowers. Yes…and I can take this project a step at a time. Yes…and the joy is in the journey.”

I am grateful for this technique, for Dan who introduced it to me, and for the Facebook article that reminded me that I wanted to further explore this idea. I was able to see this evening how even in an argument with myself, using Yes…and led me, gently, where I most wanted to go, without self reproach. That is the true beauty of Yes…and. It shifts the energy, expands and opens, instead of constricting and closing down. I don’t want to close. I want to be open. Yes…and a wonderfully simple yet effective way to do that has been given to me, from the world of improv.

yes and lessons from improv

Journey 167: Ahas from the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

I’ve had a couple of days to mull over my amazing experience at PWC. I’ve carried those ahas with me and unpacked them several times to look them over. Today I’ve had the opportunity to share with people about what I learned. This evening it felt like the perfect time to post some of those vital lessons.

philly trip writers conference

Take aways from the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference:

  • First lesson, bring business cards. I was asked many times for a card. We remember who we connected with by exchanging biz cards. I didn’t even have any real estate cards with me. Next conference I attend I will take a stack of business cards with me. Positive note…I brought business cards home from people I met, and I wrote out my number and email address for those who asked for the info.
  • Query, proposal, book. As a non-fiction writer I learned, STOP WRITING THE BOOK. Instead, write a great query letter, a powerful proposal, and only after receiving a book contract, write the book.
  • Move past my comfort zone. I had no intention of meeting with a literary agent because I didn’t feel ready to pitch a book idea. Thanks to my friend Lu Ann, I made that appointment and pitched an idea. No matter what the outcome, I decided this was going to be a great experience for me and to just go with it and have fun. It was a great experience and the outcome was amazing.
  • Write consistently and often. Dreaming of writing, thinking about writing, intending to write…won’t get a book written. To become a writer, one must write.
  • Blogs are important. I confess I was nervous about being a blogger, as I thought bloggers might be considered the obnoxious stepchildren of writers. I attended a social media class that blew that idea away and I jotted down so many great tips for improving my blog’s visibility. First change….Google search doesn’t like cutesy titles! Clarity is better than cleverness when it comes to blog titles.
  • Help is okay. I brought home a great book called “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published”. Packed with helpful content, this easy to use book is my new best friend.
  • Talk to everyone. I met poets and sci-fi writers, authors penning memoirs and other bloggers, essay writers and writers of children’s books, published authors and those who want to be. Everyone was encouraging, helpful, and sincere.
  • Do the class assignments and be willing to share. I appreciated the immediate response and feedback to my sample proposal.

I have had much to think about since PWC. That open door that I walked through became a pivotal experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by the creative energy of so many writers. The instruction I received continues to shine a bright light on the path I am treading, guiding me along the unfamiliar terrain. What an amazing journey. Stay tuned.

pwc take aways

Journey 164: Philadelphia Writers Conference

The oldest writers’ conference in the US, Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, PWC henceforth, was established in 1949 and continues to serve as a place for writers to learn and connect, be encouraged and inspired. Day two of PWC was very full and rich and it was my focus today, with a brief time out for a lovely excursion into Old Town.  

Lu Ann’s class on non-fiction writing was up first. She began her teaching time by having each of us blow bubbles! What a brilliant way to tap into our creativity. Lu Ann reminded us that we must approach writing with passion and play with it, enjoying the process. Having fun, loving what we are doing, opens doors and connects us with others. I KNOW this to be true. 

Lu Ann is skillfully teaching us to write powerful proposals and query letters. Knowing what I am compelled to write, doing my research to define my market and my competition, and sharing why I am uniquely qualified to write my book are all essential components. 

Tom McAllister continued in the memoir class, instructing us on essay and memoir writing. I’ve realized from his class that I am drawn to writing essays, which are short non-fiction pieces that both dramatize and create reflection. We learned about being specific in what we are writing about and when to narrow in on a subject and when to broaden the view. Tom has an engaging teaching style and speaks rapidly, which is essential since he has so much to share. 

The social media class has been a surprise! Don Lafferty  is extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of online marketing via websites and social networks like Facebook. While his class doesn’t teach about writing, it DOES instruct writers about reaching their intended audience, which is crucial for all authors no matter their chosen genre. 

I have learned so much about how Google works and what  I can change in my WordPress blog to increase my chances of appearing higher on the first page of a Google search. Don is sharing invaluable info, and he does so with skill and humor. 

After my last class, and with a couple of hours before the banquet this evening, Lu Ann and I headed out into the city to explore. To my delight, we took a horse drawn carriage ride through Old City and Society Hill. Pat the driver and Spot the horse made quite a team. What a beautiful ride through charming neighborhoods steeped in history. 

I saw the home of James & Dolly Madison, Washington Square, Ben Franklin’s Printing Shop and wonderfully restored Georgian townhouses built in the 1700’s. Pat told us stories, accompanied by the steady clip clop of Spot’s hooves. 

Back at the conference center, we had time for a cold drink before  dinner and the keynote speaker. Joining us was poet and instructor Anna M. Evans. I’ve loved meeting so many writers. Anna, originally from England, has published a couple of books of poetry, so far. Her most recent book, “Sisters & Courtesans”, is a delightful and scandalous collection of poems that highlights different women throughout history. When Anna recited one of her poems spontaneously for us, in her lovely accent, we laughed and whooped with approval. I promptly bought her book. Check out her blog here and enjoy!

The day concluded with a formal sit down dinner, shared with wonderfully open, creative souls. Everyone is so sincere, so encouraging. Keynote speaker Stephen Fried shared from his life journey as an investigative journalist, non-fiction author and adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. 


Using personal experiences and humor Stephen presented his perspectives on what a writer’s life looks like and the nature of writing today. He has published many articles, essays and books on a wide range of topics. With droll realism he warned that the writing life isn’t what one expects it to be, yet he spoke with great passion regarding  writing about the things that capture your interest and heart. 

“Ride the waves,” he told us, “don’t resist them.” Which echoes my sentiments about life, and my current journey. It’s a mighty big wave I’ve caught, and with shaky but determined legs, I’m prepared to do just that. It’s going to be an amazingly spectacular ride!


Journey 163: A Taste of Philadelphia


What a full and delightful day, in Philadelphia, PA! Day one of the writers conference brought opportunities to learn from and meet with amazing writers and literary agents. Opening speaker Sara Shepard, author of the young adult series Pretty Little Liars, started us off with high energy and a peek inside her prolific writing career. 


Classes followed, which I selected from the non-fiction path: Writing Your Non-Fiction Book with my mentor/friend and hostess for the weekend Lu Ann Cahn, Memoir Writing with Tom McAllister, Social Media with Don Lafferty and Improv Writing with Dan Stabb. I gained knowledge from each instructor and enjoyed the interactions within the classes. More on PWC 2015 as the conference progresses. 
During the lunch break Lu Ann took me to the Reading Terminal Market, housed within the old train terminal. On my flight into Philly, the passenger next to me suggested I visit here for a snapshot of what Philadelphia is all about. What an amazing place!


The moment we walked through the door, tantalizing aromas from a variety of food vendors drew us deeper into the massive building. Booth after booth offered all kinds of wares. Bakeries, restaurants and confectioners vied with meat and fish markets, fresh produce, bulk herbs, flowers and gift items. The place had the bustle and noise of a thriving market and throngs of people crowded the aisles. 
Lu Ann suggested an authentic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich for lunch. We tried the Ben Franklin Cheesesteak, which includes cream cheese, and it was so delicious! We splurged on dessert and sampled freshly prepared, hand rolled donuts from Beiler’s. Incredible! The BEST donuts I’ve ever eaten. The salted caramel was melt-in-your-mouth goodness

After the conference concluded for the day, Lu Ann and I met her sweet husband, Phil, and we walked downtown Philly. Such gorgeous old buildings, imbued with history. I gawked like the tourist that I am. I saw the liberty bell, and Independence Hall where our nation’s forefathers debated the constitution. 

The narrow cobblestone streets, the old brick buildings, the statues, all lend antiquity and charm to this bustling city. Ben Franklin is buried in a cemetery nearby. And the Delaware River flows under a beautiful suspension bridge. Forty miles up that river, General Washington crossed. I’m enjoying viewing these places where our country’s history was forged. 

For dinner I enjoyed another first. Phil and Lu Ann took me to their favorite Vietnamese restaurant in China Town. I had the house special, a delectable bowl of meats, vegetables and a spring roll over noodles. 

What an incredible day of learning and experiencing new things! I’m working on writing assignments this evening and anticipating an eventful day two of PWC.  And I believe we are returning to Reading Market for lunch. Tomorrow we are sampling authentic Italian cuisine!


Journey 161: Trip to Philly

philly trip

Ask any realtor. If you want an increase in business, just plan a trip out of town! That’s certainly held true for me. I’ve had this trip planned since January, when my mentor and friend, Lu Ann Cahn came to Joplin. Lu Ann’s book, “I Dare Me” was the inspiration for my year of firsts in 2014. What an honor and privilege to meet her when she stopped in Joplin so that we could do a first, or dare, together. After we served lunch at Watered Gardens, a ministry in Joplin that feeds and shelters the homeless, Lu Ann and I had a late lunch together, and she invited me to Philedelphia to attend the nation’s oldest writer’s conference.

In the spirit of doing new things and journeying far this year, I said yes! The next five days will be full of adventures: first time to fly out of Joplin’s new airport, first trip to Philedelphia, first time to attend a writer’s conference and what a fun time I will have as Lu Ann’s house guest. This personable, lively woman continues to be such an inspiration to me!

philly trip Lu Ann

The Philedelphia Writer’s Conference was established in 1949. The founders were guided by the belief that writers gain from fellowship with other writers and from constructive professional help. The first writer’s conference in Philly hosted four workshops, a banquet and an evening speaker over two days and has grown to offer 14 workshops, four seminars, manuscript rap sessions, a Friday roundtable forum, speakers and the annual Saturday night banquet with keynote speaker. I am so excited to experience this conference, and revel in the creative energy that is sure to be surrounding the event.

Tonight, after the obligatory run to Walmart for necessities for the trip, I am putting offers together, finishing up laundry, hauling out my carry on suitcase and reading an article that is part of an assignment for one of my classes. And, I am full of gratitude…to Lu Ann for cheering me on and inviting me to visit her in Philly, for Greg who surprised me with a card that was encouraging and contained extra cash for the trip, and for you all, my readers, who have journeyed with me along the way, some for the entire 525 days (so far) as I have honed my writing skills and fallen in love with the craft, and others who have joined in at various points along the path, walking alongside, offering words of praise, hope and love. Thank you, from my overflowing heart.

I am full of anticipation and joy as this amazing trip is unfolding. To quote my favorite Hobbit, “I am going on an adventure!” I’ll post next from Philadelphia!

philly trip writers conference