Immersive Writing

by Christina Lay

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This post was inspired by doing what I’m about to suggest you don’t do: that is, stop in the middle of your writing time in order to research something online. The ironic thing is, the research I stopped to do made me dwell on just why it’s not such a good idea (the stopping).

I decided I needed to look into hypnotism right now and find out what exactly a hypnotist does these days. I assumed there’s not a lot of pocket watch swinging at work, but I did find out that “ocular fixation” is still a common practice.   Fascinating as that is, it’s not what I’m here to talk about (see how pesky those interesting tidbits can be?)

What caught my attention was this bit, snipped from Wikipedia, on the topic of “hypnotizability”, which is a great word, by the way. Research done by Deirdre Barrett on the susceptibility of subjects to hypnotism suggest that ” Fantasizers score high on absorption scales, find it easy to block out real-world stimuli without hypnosis, spend much time daydreaming, report imaginary companions as a child and grew up with parents who encouraged imaginary play.”

In my opinion, fantasizer equals writer. The article goes on to talk about self-hypnosis and how those with a high hyponitizability score find self-hypnosis easy to perform. It dawned on me that what I do when I immerse myself in writing is very much like self-hypnosis.

Is this a good thing, you might ask? I believe so. When I achieve a state of full immersion, of dreaming the story, I reach that zone where “the story writes itself” or “the characters speak and I transcribe”. It’s the place where I can’t write fast enough to keep up with the words and images flowing out of my mind. This is writer nirvana.

I’ve had friends marvel at how fast and how much I can write in a sitting (let’s put quality aside for the moment, shall we?) I’m talking about a place where story rules. It isn’t easy to achieve or maintain, and it is exceedingly difficult to find the time to make it last as long as I’d like, but I thought I’d share a few of the things I do that help me self-hypnotize into a highly productive state. I’m sure you’ve heard these suggestions before, but maybe with the idea of reaching a semi-trance or meditative state, the suggestions will resonate in a different way. And as usual, this is me sharing my experience, not burdening you with a list of “shoulds”.

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  1. Write every day. Or as close to it as possible, even if it’s for only half an hour, or ten minutes. The idea is to keep the juice of the story flowing. When you’re working on a novel especially, you have many balls in the air. In order to keep each ball airborne, you can’t stop thinking about where each ball is. If you touch base with your story every day, I believe your subconscious works to keep the balls from dropping. So when you sit down, instead of starting from a place of inertia, trying to remember who did what last week, the long list of decisions you’ve made are still at your fingertips and ready to feed the day’s new decisions. It is much easier to maintain an internal consistency of character voice and motivation if you speak with your cast on a regular basis.
  2. Write at the same time and place. This is important for the idea of self-hypnosis. You are sending the message to your mind; now is the time when I write. This is the place where I sit for long periods and Dream. Get used to it. Your writing space is where you put aside all other concerns and focus lazer-like on your characters’ journey through imaginary space.
  3. Write in the morning. Walk straight from dream time to the computer, or notebook, detouring only to the coffee pot. Don’t open our email. Write. In this way you will capture the strange and unpredictable flow of your subconscious. I don’t tell my boss this, but I save my best mind for writing, which is my mind before it gets weighed down with the fuss and bother of daily life. Some people are night people, I know that, but if at all feasible, give first thing in the morning a shot. Even journaling before getting out of bed can give your creativity a boost.
  4. Don’t worry about the words. Now, before you stalk off in a huff, let me tell you one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever read. Natalie Goldberg said that writing is like sex—when in doubt, keep your hand moving. Now this is assuming you’ve done your homework, taken so many workshops you have CRAFT oozing out of your ears. You’ve listened to critiques, you’ve internalized the do’s and don’ts and now you’re off to the races. Keep writing and don’t fret over finding the exact right word. Instead of the dreaded internal editor, bring along your internal coach, the one telling you not to drop your left while you jab with the right. You know, your own little Burgess Meredith in the corner telling you not to use so many damn adjectives, or whatever. Listen to little Burgess, but don’t forget you’re in the ring. You’re telling the story now. You’re letting your characters speak. One of the worst pieces of writing advice I ever read (I forget who said it) was to write as if your editor was standing behind you, plucking pages from the typewriter the instant you were finished, and taking them off to the printer. Which means every line has to be perfect before you move on. That way, my friends, lies madness. Not to mention a blank page. Fix it in the rewrite.
  5. Do your research ahead of time, or outside of your immersive writing time. Oh, how I do love the big juicy world wide web. But we all know it’s a black hole of fabulousity and even when it’s not, tuning out in order to look up what that thingy on the whatsis was called in Great Britain during the Regency will break the spell, wake you up and the hypnotic state will be disrupted. Sure, you might find inspiration for a blog post, but what’s more important? Besides, it’s really a good idea to soak your brain in knowledge ahead of time. Research inspires as well as informs, and will enrich your story as you go, helping in the immersive process. Just underline the questionable bits and keep going.
  6. Write when you’re not writing. Tell yourself your story. Slide into the skin of your characters. Visualizing scenes from their point of view whenever you have the chance will aid you when it comes time to spell it out in words. Part of the writer’s agony is the fact that our words never quite live up to the story in our head, but the more we can really see, smell, hear and taste the world of our story the easier it will be to enter that world when we’re sitting at the keyboard. This is a good thing to do when you are performing mundane tasks, or just going to sleep. Be careful when driving, though.
  7. Defend your perimeter. No email. No stack of bills to pay. No compulsively checking your phone to see if New York has called. Now, this is not to say you should remain immobile for hours. Actually, moving is highly recommended for long haul writing sessions. Be careful what you choose to do however. I find walking the dog is a great way to do moving meditation. The dog walks me as I continue in a daydreamy space, nutty professor style. You know what it is you can do to move and be balanced without disrupting your train of thought overly much. Shower, do yoga, fold clothes, whatever, but know that you are still writing.
  8. Set your alarm. If this becomes affective for you, you will forget to go to work or feed the children, and misadventures will ensue.

 

One of the most important factors in all of this is time. The more breathing room you can give your writing, the more chance you have of reaching a fully immersed state. But don’t think you have to have hours. I’ve had hours, and it is wonderful, but when life goes sideways and I only have half an hour, I find I’ve trained my brain well enough that I can sit at the keyboard and, if I resist the email and the bills, I can slip write into a deep writing state and channel my characters enough to get down a page or two.

The best secret of all about being a tried and true fantasizer is that writing is fun. Yes, it really is. Give it a try, and watch the magic unfold.

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