When No is a Beautiful Word

by Naomi Kinsman

As an improviser, I've been trained in the art of saying "yes, and ..." If you've taken acting classes (most of us have at one time or another) you have seen the power of "yes, and ..." and the disaster of no.

No blocks.
No embarrasses.
No shuts people down.
No stops the scene.

One doesn't even have to say "no" to bring the full power of "no" into a scene. A dismissive look, a side-step that ignores what has been offered, or a snarky comment can all dissolve a possibility into a dead end.

So, no is obviously a bad word, correct? All evidence points that way, yes, but ...

Gretchen Rubin points out that the opposite of a great truth is also true. I believe her claim is true in many cases, and particularly when it comes to yes and no.

Yes is a powerful word. With yes comes possibility and options and movement.

However, no is a powerful word too. With no comes focus and decision and the ability to stop and take stock.

As a writer, learning to say yes was absolutely essential to my growth. Now, after an extended season of growth, I'm finding that resisting my immediate yes is also important. Yes has started to lose some of its oomph. I say "yes," but I really mean "I'm not sure," or "I hope I can," and my forward momentum doesn't have its original spark. Now, "no" is my more powerful word. When I say "no" to opportunities or to ideas, a little more wind stays in my sails. The wind doesn't take long to collect, and soon I've built up the oomph for a real yes, a yes with strength and enthusiasm.

Yes to the offers and ideas that fit.
No to the ones that distract.
Yes to my dreams and goals.
No to the desire to make everyone happy all the time.
Yes to communicating kindly, honestly, and up front rather than stringing people along.
No to allowing requests from others to become my daily to-do list.

In order for my yes to have strength, my no must be strong too.
No is a beautiful word.


  1. There's a place for both in our writing and in life. Thanks for the lovely reminder Naomi!

  2. Lovely post! It sometimes helps me to remember that every "no" contains within itself a "yes" and vice versa: "yes" to this means "no" to everything else that I might have put in its place; "no" to this opens up space for alternative opportunities for a yes to something else.


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