The writing life is not an easy one, not at any stage of the game (sorry if you thought it was going to get better when you sold a book/sold ten books/got a starred review/went on tour/won an award/etc). Choosing to spend your life in the arts, any of the arts, means you have to bring your armor with you and defend against not only your own doubts, worries, and misgivings, but the messages from society that can undermine your efforts.
When I was a young writer, trying to stay true to my dream of publication in the face of the disbelief of everyone around me, fear and doubt were the biggest boulders in my path. My family and friends did not know any writers and thought it was cheeky, to say the least, that I fancied myself talented or smart or whatever enough to make that happen.
Like many of you, I had to face the external voices with a heart that was often pretty sure they were right. Who DID I think I was to reach for this wildly improbably thing, that I should be a published writer?
The tools in my arsenal were fairly small. I had my love of the process—by the time I began to pursue publication seriously, I’d written five novels and I knew I could actually finish. That’s not small. I also knew I enjoyed the process. And, judging by my teachers and the small body of readers I’d allowed to see the work, I owned some ability to string words together.
Still. It took four years to find my voice and find the right direction for my work, and during that time, my courage flagged, over and over. I had no money, two very little boys, and this crazy dream. How to hang on?
During this period, someone gave me a book that introduced me to the idea of visualization and positive thinking. It seemed ridiculous, honestly, that it could work, but I needed some way to keep believing, so I tried it. Lots of different kinds of positive thinking and visualizations and affirmations. My husband thought I was crazy. My grandmother, good Southern Baptist, thought it was probably a sin.
And yet, you know, it kind of….worked. Visualizations eased my worry and let me work more efficiently. Affirmations helped me understand my fears and what caused them, and how to address them. A couple of tricks really improved my skills in certain areas.
Focus is a powerful thing. It can change things. For example, I struggled a lot with dialogue. I just couldn’t understand how to get I on the page in a believable way. It seemed stilted and weird no matter how I practiced.
To counter that belief that my dialogue was terrible, I used a trick in one of the books I liked. I taped myself reciting an affirmation, “My dialogue sings with authenticity.” (Okay, I know. I was twenty-four.) Then I listened to that recording on headphones on the theory that our brains believe our own voices more easily that they believe external voices.
I know. Weird.
But you know, again, it worked. My dialogues improved markedly. Was it the affirmation? Probably not, exactly. It was more that I gave myself permission to relax and let the dialogues flow naturally. The affirmation removed the block of fear that was actually in my way.
I practiced many forms of positive thinking during this period, using exercises from everyone from Norman Vincent Peale to Shakti Gawain. When I found myself discouraged over how many rejections I was getting in the mail, I realized that I had created a folder to hold my rejection letters, but I had not created one for acceptance letters. The rejection folder was red, so I found a green one (for “go”), labeled it “Acceptances,” and placed it in the very, very front of my file drawer. It wasn’t long before I actually did get an acceptance—via phone call, which is how it happens, mostly, but it was still great.
What I created by making that folder was my own sense of possibility that I could sell something, that I would be successful. As Peale was fond of saying, “you get what you expect.”
As time went by, I found I needed other visualizations and affirmations. Money is often very up and down in the writing game. I’ve created many visualizations that helped me in this area, but this one is very easy: imagine that money is up to your knees, wherever you go. You have to wade through an ocean of money whenever you walk, and if you need some, reach down and pick it up.
Try it, right now, even if you think it’s silly. Close your eyes and see money filling the room up to your knees, right where you are.
Feels good, doesn’t it?
Below are some other exercises you can try. Again, you might not believe in positive thinking. You might think Law of Attraction (the current incarnation of something Norman Vincent Peale preached in the 60s, Gawain in the 80s), is a load of crap. But it can’t hurt to give a technique or two a try, right? At the worst, maybe you’ll ease some despair or worry or fear for a few minutes.
Also, I want to point out that writers are really, really, really good at visualization. What do you think a scene is? A book? All of it is very complicated visualization, creating something out of nothing. We know how to do this.
One of the things that’s hard for many to believe is that writing is not a zero-sum game. There is plenty for all of us. I can be a success, and you can be a success, and your old enemy from high school who got everything you wanted can also be a success. There is plenty of money and plenty of success and plenty of accolades and publishing contracts to go around. (For one thing you and I want to be writers, but we are a very small minority of the population.)
Shakti Gawain offered a mediation in which you are to imagine you’re going around the world, visiting various places, and everywhere you go, you are collecting gifts and love. I loved the idea of this, but I got stuck on it every time.
As a working class kid, the idea of abundance was hard for me to get my mind around. Clearly there wasn’t enough to go around, right? Because I had not always had enough.
But I really wanted to do the exercise. It felt good and I could sense that it would unblock something that was stuck in my thinking, in my sense of being worth of this dream of writing. When I thought about it for awhile, I realized that I was thinking about all the other people who didn’t have enough and it was hard for me to accept so many gifts if other people were suffering.
I made a small adjustment in the visualization—I accepted the gifts and feasted at each stop, but at the next one, I gave everything away and accepted the new gifts. It gave me a solid sense of the idea that I am exchanging the energy of my creativity, which I do with great love, for the abundance that others have to offer.
An affirmation is simply a positive statement that helps shift your attention from what is not working to what it would be like if it did. The example of my dialogue affirmation illustrates the principle. You can write them ten times, or say them aloud, or even do the taping method I used.
Some affirmations you might use are:
I have all that I need to accomplish everything I want
I have all the time I need to meet all my goals.
My writing easily finds its most receptive audience (editor, agent).
I attract teachers, support and good will to help me accomplish my goals
Ideas and words flow from me easily in whatever amount of time I have.
Everything is how it should be right now
All is well, all is well, all is well.
Visualization is a subject I could write about for many pages, but a few ideas to try are:
Imagine yourself accepting the phone call from an agent or editor. What will he say? What will you say in return? Imagine it as clearly as possible, with lots of detail.
Draw or paint a picture of your book cover, complete with title and quotes from authors you admire.
Type up a bestseller list with your name on it, along with the names of other writers who regularly make that list.
Print out a page from one of the online retailers showing the most popular books in your category or genre, then paste a new printout of your book and name and details over one of the others. (You can’t nullify the other writer, don’t worry about that.)
At one time, I wanted a RITA award more than world peace. I loved the beautiful statue, I loved that other writers judged the books, and I loved the idea of going up on stage to accept the award. I imagined this in great detail, many times. I’m not going to say how many RITAs I’ve won, but you can look it up if you like.
I’m going to leave you with a few links to explore the topic some more. In the comments, please share your experiences, pro and con, with positive thinking, and if you have an affirmation or exercise you love, please share it with the rest of us.
Now, go forth and prosper!
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