A confession: I have never done meditation, yoga, hypnosis, walking on hot coals or any other practices aimed at unleashing mental powers. I get my best ideas for writing while walking the dog. One of my Buddhist friends refers to this as my “walking meditation,” but it’s really more of a “stop, sniff, and pee” routine.
Yesterday, however, I stumbled onto something that made me realize I’ve been using creative visualization techniques all along.
What was that special “something?” Not a book of Buddhist philosophy or a Hindu guide to enlightenment. Nope, it was a New York Times magazine profile of Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City and six other novels that focus on beautiful women making gobs of money and having a lot of sex. (Truthfully, I’ve never read any of these novels, but I did indulge in watching the show with my daughters, if only to chortle over phrases like “I was emotionally slutty.”)
In her profile, Energizer Bunny Bushnell says, “…I always wanted to write novels. I think when I was 12, I started reading Evelyn Waugh, and I loved Evelyn Waugh so much, and I thought: This is how the world really is. If I could be Evelyn Waugh, then I would be happy.”
Since then, Bushnell has been writing, usually six hours a day. And there’s the key: Every successfully published writer I know started out as an inspired reader and visualized the rest.
At some point in our lives, writers realize that books are written by real people, and we began putting our pens to paper or our fingers on the keyboard. To keep ourselves going, we visualize our books on shelves, our bylines in magazines, and yes, movie adaptations of our books. I even had one friend who cut out a photograph of herself and pasted it onto a rave book review in a newspaper, then pinned that review above her desk to help herself imagine writing a book that would end up being published and widely applauded.
My true visualizations of the writing life began when I was house sitting for a professor in graduate school. It was a boring summer, so I spent a lot of time sitting on the deck and pretending to read. Really what I was doing—and yes, I admit this is creepy—was spying on the neighbor across the street. She was a fairly well-known writer and I admired her books. Every morning, her husband would go to work, her children went off to camps or wherever, and that woman brought her laptop out to the deck with a mug of coffee. She sat there for hours, frowning and chewing on pens and typing.
And I do mean hours. Sometimes, that woman sat there all day long, until her husband came home again, kissed her, went into the house to change his clothes, and came back out with a couple of glasses of wine. Then they’d sit on the porch and talk, drinks in hand, and I could tell the woman was happy because she’d spent the day thinking and writing, and now her family was home.
I wanted that life. I just didn’t know how badly at the time.
Fast forward to the present. I had various jobs, traveled, got married, had children and got divorced. I got married again, had one more child, and here I am now, writing for a living. And, every day, as soon as my husband leaves for work and the house is empty of children, I’m at my laptop, writing stories, essays, articles and, now, finally, novels. At the end of the day, my husband and I have wine and talk with each other and the children.
I have reached my goal. I am that woman on the deck with books of my own on the shelves and a loving family. But did I do this deliberately, using visualization techniques? Is it really possible to imagine what you want and get it?
I have come to believe that it is. People use creative visualization techniques to accomplish everything from small goals, like losing weight, to larger life aims, like advancing their careers. Those who do so successfully seem to agree on these three key points, which I think are germane for those of us who aspire to be published writers:
1. Creative visualizations are like mental rehearsals. You must visualize things consistently and often to perfect the visualization. People who want to succeed in landing a job, for instance, might imagine the details of walking into the office, offering a confident handshake, and summing up the highlights of their prior work experience over and over again before they perfect those actions and actually do those things on job interviews. Likewise, my mental rehearsals as a writer have often included imagining that I reach the end of an essay or a novel, writing query letters to agents, and, eventually, am called for radio interviews and book signings.
2. The best visualizations include lots of details. For instance, if you want to use this technique to lose weight, you have to picture what number you want to see on the scale tomorrow, the day after that, and next week. You also must imagine what you’ll eat at each meal, right down to how many carrots will be on your plate. As a writer, my visualization techniques have also been specific: I picture myself sitting down at the computer with a thermos of tea, wearing my comfy slippers, and that helps me do it every single day. During a busy period of freelance ghost writing with tense deadlines, for instance, I imagine that one hour after dinner where I’ll work on my novel by visualizing myself in pajamas and deep into Chapter Three, a cup of mint tea at my elbow, with maybe a square of dark chocolate as a treat. I can smell the mint when I imagine this.
3. Your visualization must include positive thinking. By this, I mean that you must believe in yourself. This is tough to do as a writer, because our lives are rich with rejections. But it really will work. Again, let’s look at the example of dieting, since that’s the one so many of us are familiar with: on the days we tell ourselves we’ll always be fat, we feel bad about ourselves and are more likely to break our diets or skip the gym. We have to convince ourselves that we are worthy of the time and energy it takes to care for our bodies if we’re going to maintain those resolutions to be fit and eat better. Similarly, if we believe we’ll never finish a novel, guess what? We never will. To be a published writer, you must tell yourself each day, over and over again, that novels are written one page at a time, or even one sentence at a time. If you’re writing even a few sentences a day, you are a writer, and you will reach your goal.
What about you? Any visualization techniques you’d like to share?