In improv comedy…
The saying is “Yes, and…”
That’s the phrase good improv performers are taught to use when they hear an idea.
“Yes, and...” is important on stage because to find the best ideas, improvisers must always be adding.
The saying is “No, but...”
That’s the phrase good writers use when they think of an idea.
“No, but...” is important on paper because to find the best ideas, writers must always be subtracting.
And it’s better to subtract from a big pile of ideas than a small one...
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Quality creative comes from quantity.
Meaning, don’t start with 3 or 4 ideas. That number won’t give you enough slack and you’ll be forced to settle on something mediocre. Instead, start with 15 or 25 or 40 ideas, then pare down.
Oh, and always expect to cut seemingly good ideas — ones you actually like!
That’s how you’ll know you’re doing it right.
That’s how you’ll make true progress.
Kill your darlings.
Cutting an idea you like is “killing a darling.”
It’s a painful exercise, yes. But it’s also the most effective way to find the best ideas, which is important because…
“Only by producing the best ideas can you ever hope to succeed in the Attention Economy,” writes Scott Dikkers, founder of The Onion.
That’s why writers must take the “No, but…” approach after brainstorming headlines and subheads, openers and closers, subject lines and calls-to-action.
As in “No to these 9, but I like this 1...“ or “None of these are good enough, but let’s keep trying...”
“An important practice at The Onion was volume,” Dikkers writes.
(He’s also The Onion’s longest-serving editor.)
This is his explanation why. It changed the way I think about ideation:
“I knew from my own experience that over 95 percent of anyone’s ideas are garbage. In order to get the best ideas out of anyone, that person had to generate a lot of ideas. All writers brought 15 - 20 ideas in total, sometimes hundreds of ideas would be read at every Onion writers’ meeting. At the end of the meeting, only a handful of jokes would be moved to the short list, where they might still be cut later by an editor.”
Scott Dikkers, Outrageous Marketing
Notice how Scott said, “95 percent of anyone’s ideas are garbage…”
Dozens of world-class writers work at The Onion, yet only a small fraction of their ideas turn into articles.
The vast majority never see the light of day.
But that’s writing.
That’s the work, so to speak.
It’s about putting down the best words you can, then saying “No, but...” — and killing your darlings one by one.
It’s important that you know that.