How the #1 Rule of Improv Can Help You Get Along with Your Inner Critic

Not to brag or anything, but I celebrated a pretty big achievement this week: I finished binge watching Jane the Virgin on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out, and I promise this article will be 100 percent spoiler free.

One of the most interesting things about the show (and there are many) is that the main character, Jane, is a writer, and throughout the series we get to watch her struggle (and succeed) to find her voice. In Season 4, Epsiode 12, thanks to a lukewarm review of her first novel, her inner critic gets the better of her and she hits a major writing wall.

When she talks to her father, a telenovela actor, he suggests she take an improv class to clear out the blocks and restart her creativity. 

You know I’m all for branching out to other mediums in an effort to overcome writer’s block, but the lesson Jane takes away from her foray into improv really stood out to me. “Yes, and” is the first rule of improv, and the basic idea is that, whatever your scene partner throws at you, you agree, and you add to it. You say “yes,” and you add an “and” to move the scene forward.

Comedy master Tina Fey explains it beautifully here.

Our heroine certainly isn't destined for Second City, but once she embraces the first rule of improv, she is able to harness her inner critic’s judgments and use them to help rather than hinder her writing.

Inner Critic: Don’t forget the reviewer said you used too many adjectives before.

Jane: Yes, andthis time I’m going to pare it down.

Inner Critic: And he said you shouldn’t be too removed from your subject.

Jane: Yes, and this time I’m drawing straight from my real life.

So next time you’ve hit a wall, next time your inner critic is telling you your writing is unoriginal, derivative, boring, or anything else, don’t just ignore her, and definitely don’t fold. Instead, see if you can use “Yes, and” to take that criticism and turn it into something productive.