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Practical Magic for Writers

Image by alicepopkorn [1]I am all for writers educating themselves on every aspect of the publishing business. Ditto (and double) that for the study of craft, learning how to put words, plots, characters, ideas together on the page. Together, business and craft can carry you a long way.

But you also need a little magic, some spiritual voodoo, some nourishment to encourage miracles, big and small, to keep you going when things get tough. When you’ve had another rejection on something you really, really, really thought was going to sell. When your agent fires you, or your imprint or publisher goes under. When you’ve been writing ten years and think maybe it’s time to give up.

I know some of you will dismiss this idea almost immediately, and what I would ask you is, “what does it hurt?”

What if it really could help?

In her excellent, mesmerizing, funny book Making a Literary Life [2], Carolyn See devotes an entire chapter to this idea. She writes:

“I hope I’m wrong, but I imagine that about 90 percent of the human race is snoozing along, just going through the motions. And 100 percent of us dull out some of the time. It takes miracles, white magic, wonders, to jug us from our slumber. What if we really were master of our mind and life? What if we are God-in-action? What would we write then?”

Science has been uncovering some astonishing things about the nature of physics, and some of it points strongly to the action of particles reacting to external belief. What if it really is true that your belief about your work and your goals is what will carry them forward to completion?

What if you really are in control? Not in a greedy, dominating, Darth Vader kind of way, but in a light-drenched, positive, Force-like sort of way?

Ready to try? Here are a few tools to get you going.

1. Affirmations.
I love affirmations, though I use them much less now than I once did. They are Practical Magic 101, a simple, straightforward way to begin thinking positively about your work and your goals. Affirmations are always expressed in the positive: I have all the time I need to accomplish my tasks. My dialogues are natural and engaging. I have a powerful sense of place. I easily find the right connections.

One of the original affirmation gurus was Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking [3]), who uses a Christian-based structure and affirmations straight out of the bible (“I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly”). You might also have heard of his more worldly counterpart, Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich). Current favorites are Abraham Hicks and Louise Hay.

The web is thick with affirmations—Google them and find a few that might work for you.

2. Visualizations.
Visualizations can take almost any form you might want to imagine, from meditations to treasure maps to collages. I love Creative Visualization [4] by Shakti Gawain for its variety of useful techniques. Others love The Secret, which seems to speak clearly to more practical types. There is an abundance exercise in Gawain that is very powerful for helping those who come from a “lack” perspective to recognize that we are all part of the flow of giving and receiving. It alone is worth the price of the book.

Treasure maps and collages are simply concrete methods of visualizing. The mighty collage of wealth as presented by The Secret is one form of this, but why not create one for your book? Things you would like to see happen to it? Maybe you want a photo of your ideal reader, or a handwritten letter from a fan or another writer. Maybe you want to visualize a book cover, and write reviews.

I’ve noticed that this seems to work a little better if I am not terribly specific. For several years, I kept focusing intently on the New York Times Bestseller list, but I honestly really didn’t believe it was possible. So instead of focusing on that single marker of success, I came up with some others: to have many printings of my book, to win awards and get good reviews and so much reader mail I would have trouble keeping up. All were things I could imagine. All went on various treasure maps. All eventually showed up in ways I found sometimes startling.

3. Worry Box or God Box. This is a place to let go of things that are standing between you and your ability to think positively. Worry about money, perhaps, or the need to have more time to write, or the cleverness to solve a difficult tangle. You simply write your concern on a piece of paper, fold it up, and put it in the box for the universe to address.

Another aspect of this is what Esther Hicks calls the Placemat Technique, which is especially helpful for those periods when you feel overwhelmed. She draws a line down the middle of a piece of paper (it started with a paper placemat at a diner), and writes on one side all the things she can address and plans to deal with. She writes everything else on the Universe’s side to take care of.

4. Gratitude lists.
Just like what it sounds like. Gratitude is a powerful force for reasons that I don’t even have to understand. Thankfulness for whatever IS seems to help release resistance and create more flow. I would find myself broke beyond all imagining and force myself to write lists of everything I could think of that I was grateful for. Socks. Dog food. Sunny skies. The cover of my new book. The song I was singing this morning. My good eyelashes. Running water.

Whatever. Then give something away—clothing or canned goods or money to a beggar or a charity, which is a symbol of trust in the abundance of the universe. Even if I didn’t break through the money block by suddenly winning the lottery or getting a royalty check in the mail, I always felt better, less tragic. Often, a solution would come to me as I wrote the list.

These days, I have a gratitude wall in my office, where I stick post-it notes and pictures, whatever I think of. (I notice a child has written, “your son” on a pink heart shaped post-it and stuck it to my wall.)

5. Community
Why not create a Law of Attraction or Power of Positive Thinking pact with a friend or two, just for a month, and see what happens? Each of you can keep a journal, and you keep each other thinking positively throughout the thirty days, then see how it’s going at the end of 30 days. Maybe you’ll want to keep going.

How do you feel about positive thinking? Does it irk you, or do you find it powerful? Do you have favorite tricks and techniques to share, or a story of positive thinking that worked for you?

About Barbara O'Neal [5]

Barbara O'Neal [6] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [7], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [8].