Often times as writers, we encounter moments when we begin to question our decision to write. We experience writer’s block or maybe even the general desire to just give up and take up a hobby that doesn’t require too much blood.
Yes, sometimes, writing feels like a long drawn out war and every battle just makes us feel like weary soldiers who think the fight isn’t worth it anymore.
But we writers all know that writing is always worth it. We just need to be reminded sometimes.
So last May 28th, 2011, I decided that the topic for our Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group would be about “Re-energizing Your Writing Passions”.
I’m going to share the transcript of our session.
You can do the exercises on your own and maybe come up with some new ideas to help you in your writing. Feel free to share these activities with other writer friends, just make sure you link it to this post so they too can go through the exercises.
RE-ENERGIZING YOUR WRITING PASSIONS
I. REFLECTION ON OUR CURRENT STATE
- Have you been writing lately? Why/Why not?
- How do you feel about your writing these days?
- What are some of the things that hinder you from writing?
- Why do you think we let these things hinder us from writing?
At the root of writer’s block is Fear.
Our fears hinder us from becoming the authors we want to become. In order find the energy to write, we must confront our subconscious fears and find ways to overcome them.
II. SOME OF THE COMMON FEARS OF WRITERS
1. The Fear of Failure or Rejection
We sometimes fear that we’re not good enough to call ourselves writers.
But we’ll never know if we don't try. Better to try and fail than to live the rest of our lives with an unfulfilled dream.
2. The Fear of Criticism.
Bad reviews or bad critiques always get us down. But we must remember that a bad review of our work has nothing to do with us as persons. Critiques and reviews, though they may lower our self-esteem at times, are only there to make us better writers.
3. The Fear of Offending.
Sometimes we unintentionally offend people with our writing. As writers we have the responsibility to be honest with our writing and to write about what we know. We can’t please everyone and if we try to do that in our writing, then we won’t end up writing the best work we’re capable of producing. Just look at all the books who made it to the Banned Listundefinedthese writers wrote from their hearts and minds and though some people might have found their works offensive, the rest of us certainly think these books are gems of literature.
4. The Fear of Becoming Empty.
Our writerly muse can be quite unpredictable. Naturally, as writers, we’re afraid that we’ll run out of stories to tell. But imagination is something we’re born with and there are always ways to spark our creativity.
5. The Fear of Success.
Performing in front of an audience is one of the most common fears. Sometimes, as writers we are required not only to share our work but to read it out loud or to promote it even. Success is something we shouldn’t fear, but something we should embrace.
- How do we overcome our writing fears?
- First, we must admit to having them, and we must figure out what we are afraid of.
- We must name our fears. Naming our fears gives us power over them.
Activity: Naming Our Fears
Write down your writing fears. It could be one word, one sentence or more. Actually, the more specific you are the better.
Now that we’ve named our fears, the next step is to find ways to overcome them.
III. COMBATING OUR FEARS THROUGH THE POWER OF THOUGHT
Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese doctor and researcher, made an astonishing discovery about water, which he documented photographically. Using a very powerful microscope in a very cold room along with high-speed photography, Dr. Emoto discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward them.
He put stickers with words like love and appreciation or “you make me sick” on different bottles. He photographed the water before and after the stickers were placed. It didn’t matter whether the person placing the stickers understood the words. The words affected the water crystal, whether they were written in Japanese or German.
Water from clear springs and water that had been exposed to loving words showed brilliant, complex, and colorful snowflake patterns.
Polluted water, or water exposed to negative thoughts, formed incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colors.
"YOU MAKE ME SICK"
This experiment shows the power of thought on water.
- Up to 60% of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70% water. About 83% of our blood is water, which helps digest our food, transport waste, and control body temperature.
- With this much water inside of us, imagine just how much our thoughts affect the water inside our bodies.
Changing The Way We Think
- We must change our negative thoughts into positive ones.
- We must change our fears of writing into the joys of writing.
- We must turn that writer’s block into a glob of clay and mold it into something else.
- We must look for things that inspire us to write, instead of things that hinder us from writing.
- Why does writing make us happy? What are the joys of writing?
Look at the writing fears your wrote.
How do you turn this negative fear into a positive joy?
I’m afraid of being rejected by an agent.
I’m excited to be accepted by the perfect agent.
Practical Ways to Inspire Ourselves to Write
1. Re-read our favorite books/ the book that made you want to write.
2. Read new books in the genre we’re writing in.
3. Read inspirational writing quotes
4. Find a good visual motivator and paste it to your screen/ wall.
5. Buy some office supplies or a new journal that you’ll actually write in
6. Start a new journal
IV. THE POWER OF VISUALIZATION
From an article by resilience coach Angie Le Van
Mental practice can get you closer to where you want to be in life, and it can prepare you for success!
Let’s take the case of Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist who spent 9 years in prison in the USSR after being accused of spying for US.
While in solitary confinement, he played himself in mental chess, saying: “I might as well use the opportunity to become the world champion!”
In 1996, Sharansky beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov!
- A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.
- In some cases, research has revealed that mental practicies are almost as effective as true physical practice, and doing both is more effective than doing either alone.
- Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, compared “people who went to the gym with people who carried out virtual workouts in their heads”. He found that a 30% muscle increase in the group who went to the gym. However, the group of participants who conducted mental exercises of the weight training increased muscle strength by almost half as much (13.5%). This average remained for 3 months following the mental training.
- Noted as one form of mental rehearsal, visualization has been popular since the Soviets started using it back in the 1970s to compete in sports.
- Nowadays many athletes employ this technique - Tiger Woods who has been using it since his pre-teen years.
- Seasoned athletes use vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of the entire performance, engaging all their senses in their mental rehearsal, and they combine their knowledge of the sports venue with mental rehearsal.
- Brain studies reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory.
- So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow – all relevant to achieving your best life!
- Study results highlight the strength of the mind-body connection, or in other words the link between thoughts and behaviors – a very important connection for achieving your best life.
- To see is to believe – to see something clearly in your mind is to believe it’s possible. Once you believe it’s possible, your mind finds a way to make it so.
Writer’s Mental Training
- We writers, above anyone else, need to train our minds. Why? We use our minds for 90% of our work.
- Research, reading, plotting, creating stories, writing – all depend on our brain. Stephen Hawking, scientist, and said to be the most intelligent man in the planet, is severely disabled by a motor neurone disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- He has lost the ability to use his arms, legs and his voice, and yet he has managed to write several best selling books such as A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design and even two children’s books co-written with his eldest Lucy, called George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt and George’s Secret Key to the Universe.
- He proves that even without the use of our limbs or our voices, we can still be writersundefinedbecause all our stories come from only two places---our hearts and our minds.
So How Do We Train our Brain?
- Earlier, I mentioned the study that stated that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. This means that when we imagine ourselves playing basketball, the neurons in our brain that fire when we actually play basketball are firing when we just think about playing.
- In writing terms, when we imagine achieving a writing goal, such as finishing a manuscript, the neurons in our brain fire as if we were actually finishing a manuscript.
- I also mentioned earlier that this study highlights the mind-body connection. There is a link between our thoughts and our behaviors.
- When your mind has a subtle memory of how to solve a particular problem, or achieve a particular goal, it will be easier for it to translate these thoughts into physical solutions.
What Are Some Visualization Exercises We Can Do to Achieve Our Writing Dreams
1. We need to establish our goals. Sure we all want to get published, but do we want a two-book deal? A Series deal? A book deal worth millions? We have to be specificundefinedand honest about our goals.
- Sometimes, when you’re trying to solve a particular problemundefinedwhether writing related or notundefinedyou spend hours working it out, but find no solution. A friend advises you to “sleep on it” and you do. You wake up the next morning, and you have the answer.
- In sleep, our minds still continue to work while our body rests.
- Our subconscious minds cannot find ways for us to achieve our goals unless we’ve told it exactly the kind of goals we want.
2. It’s not enough to think about these writing goals. We must also write them down. If you were here during our Rewriting the Manuscript Session, then you might have heard about this study.
In 1964, all members of the Harvard Business School graduating class stated that they have, at graduation, clear goals that they want to accomplish in life. Among them, 5% took the time to write it down on paper. In 1984, a follow up study was done and it was discovered that 95% of those who wrote down their goals were able to achieve them within 20 years. Among the “lazy” majority, only 5% of them were able to reach their expected goals.
An earlier study in Yale University also had similar results. This time, only 3% of the 1953 graduating class made written goals. Twenty years after, in 1973, it was found out that this 3% of Yale graduates were able to accomplish more goals than the rest of the other 97% combined.
Amazing isn’t it? But let’s try to enumerate some possible and more rational explanations for these results.
What happens when you write down your goals?
- It becomes a written contract to yourself which usually sparks a personal motivation to achieve them.
- It makes you define clearly what your goals are. Writing them down encourages you to state what you want in greater detail.
- It frees your mind of perpetually thinking and “remembering” your goals.
- It stimulates creativity and motivates you to think about the next step.
Activity: Write down your top 5 Writing Goals
Examples: find an agent, get a series deal, become a bestselling author, get a big enough advance to quit your job and just write, sell a million copies, win the Newberry award, be featured on a talk show, etc, use your author popularity to do speaking engagements, etc.
Activity: The Movie in Our Minds.
Which among the writing goals you’ve listed would you say is proof that you’ve made it as an author?
Ex. Winning a Newberry? Signing thousands of books in one sitting? Going on a trip and finding someone reading your book?
Close your eyes. Hold a mental picture of this moment in time, as if it were occurring to you right at this moment. Imagine the scene in much detail. Engage as many of the five senses as you can in your visualization. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment? Eliminate any doubts that come to you.
3. Visualize the pinnacle of your writing career. Remember the image you just saw in your mind. You must play this scene in your mind again and again. Hold the scene right before you sleep at night. While you sleep, your mind makes connections about your last thought at night. While your body is resting, your mind is working on ways for you to make that scene come true.
Variation of this Visualization Exercise:
- Visualize every step of your writing career. For example, if you are still in the process of writing your manuscript, your most immediate goal would be to finish editing it.
- Visualize achieving this writing goal. Be very specific about every detail of this ”movie in your mind”. Imagine raising your arms in victory, or laughing in delight, or calling a friend and telling her all about how you finally finished your novel.
- This power of visualization also works when you want to solve a storyline problem. Imagine yourself finding a way to work out the kink in your plot line before you fall asleep. Chances are you’ll have a good idea of how to when you wake up the next morning.
4. Do something physical to further promote that vision in your mind.
No matter where I go, whenever I pass by a bookstore, I go inside and I head straight for the middle grade section. I make a space for my book.
- The mind body connection is not a one way street. Just as our minds influence the way our body moves, so too do our bodies influence the way our mind works.
- The act of making a space for our book teaches our mind to expect things.
Now, What other physical things can you do to promote this vision of writing success?
- When asked about what you do. Introduce yourself as a writer.
- Attend book signings, especially of your favorite authors. Listen to these authors speak. List down the things you like about their presentation and think about how you would present the topic if you were the author.
- Imagine what your book is going to look like. Create your own book covers, or ask the help of a friend who is good with art, to help you create your book cover.
- Create a writing signatureundefinedone that you will use when you start signing those books during those book tours.
- Imagine that you’ve already been published, and that you’ve been invited to do a talk and book signingundefinedwhether its at a school, or at a bookstore. Talk aloud about your book, or your writing journey, or how you came up with your story idea.
V. GETTING SOME WRITING INSPIRATION
We’ve now faced our fears. We know how to overcome them.
We’ve written down our goals and etched the mental picture of us achieving them firmly in our minds.
The next step is to find the writing inspiration to actually achieve these goals.
Before we become bestselling authors, we must send our manuscripts out. But before we can even do that, we must make sure we finish these manuscripts.
I want to share some writing exercises that are bound to give you tons of creative ideas.
1. POEM FISHING
2. SCENE IT
3. WORD ALCHEMY
HANDOUT: 31 Ways to Gain Writing Inspiration by Leo Babauta
Here’s a handout. This guy has compiled several ways to gain writing inspiration. Let’s go over them very quickly.
Today we named our writing fears, and found out ways to overcome it using the power of thought and several mental exercises. We also discovered or re-discovered some activities to help us gain some writing inspiration.