The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics
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Friday, November 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo Tip #10: Creative Visualization for Writers

This tip may seem a little out there--which wouldn't be the first time, I guess--but nevertheless: Employing creative visualizations, holding certain pictures in your mind in order to achieve some specific outcome in the real world, can be of immense help in getting through a novel project.

This is something athletes and musicians already know, and that many use as part of their practice, most often in the form of mental rehearsal--imagining that you're acing a piano etude, or sinking a putt, or making a free throw, and then seeing that the mental practice has made a difference in the real-world performance. (Back when I played music, I'd often use creative visualization before a performance. But without realizing I was doing so, and in the opposite direction: I'd imagine that I'd fall apart up on stage, get completely flustered, and then, no surprise, that's exactly what I'd do. I finally realized what I was doing and knocked it off...but not before making some godawful racket.)

Now, you might think that creative visualization techniques wouldn't necessarily apply to writing as to other forms of performance--what good would it do to visualize yourself typing? make you a better typist?--but there are some creative visualizations you can use to help get you through a long project like a novel...and, more to the point, to help you more easily find and fall into the fictional world you're creating.

1. Visualize a completed manuscript. When you're at the beginning of a novel project, a completed manuscript often seems so far into the future as to be incomprehensible...but thinking of it as incomprehensible, as unlikely to materialize, is a good way of making sure that happens. So a simple visualization to start off with, and to return to, is a complete manuscript sitting on your desk. Don't just picture it in your head--though do look at it closely, at how pristine it is coming off the printer, how worn the edges get as you read through and mark it up--but imagine the tactile feel of it as you thumb the pages. Give yourself a paper cut with it. Bring it up to your "nose" and smell it. Shoo the mental cat away from it. It's not a unicorn or a yeti. It's doable and inevitable. (This is my feel-good tip, true...but this visualization has helped me immensely at times when a full three-hundred pages seemed impossible. Or even when the next page seemed impossible.)

2. Write back jacket copy. Imagining your back jacket copy--that succinct and seductive copy that turns a browser into a buyer--can help you keep the big picture in mind, the goal you're working toward. In fact, I'd even suggest trying your hand at back jacket copy...if you had to sum up your novel in a paragraph, in such a way that lures a reader in and gets to the heart of what your novel is about, how would you capture that in just a few lines? Doing so can help you see what it is you're really trying to achieve with the work...and can help you focus the work on what's important. (Don't feel like you've made a mistake if, halfway through the book, you realize your back jacket copy has changed and that you need to tweak it...your conception of the book should change over the course of the project. It should get sharper.)

3. Keep images around that inspire the work. I tend to work outside my home, so it's not like I carry around little pictures to tape up around my computer in the coffee shop. (I do keep images related to what I'm working on taped around my home computer.) But when I'm working on a long project, I keep wallpaper on my laptop that reminds me of the world I'm trying to create, which helps subtly inspire me or ground me in that world.

For example, when working on The Strikeout Artist--again, about Franz Kafka playing baseball in New York, 1912--I had several different wallpapers I used throughout: a picture of a large steamship coming into New York Harbor circa 1912. Sepia photos of old ballparks or players, or of the cities my ball club traveled to. Somewhere mid-novel I went to a steampunk illustration of a dirigible that looked like it was headed to Mars...similar to the images and effects in the classic silent film La Voyage dans la lune. There's not a trip to the moon in my novel, of course, nor spaceships...but something about the mood of the image seemed right. It was yet another tool I could use to get into the spirit of the world (similar to my earlier posts on using music to inspire the writing).

You can also create an image of your own that inspires you in some way. I did this, making an old-timey Franz Kafka baseball card which I used as my wallpaper during my victory lap in the book.

At the risk of looking like a huge dork--probably too late anyway--I'll share it:

This isn't going to win any Photoshop contests, which is fine, because I'm not entering any. But it certainly did inspire me to keep going, which is exactly what I needed it to do.

(Quick note: if you're making an image of your own, keep it simple and within your abilities. If it's day four of making your epic sigil, all that really means is it's four days since you've written a word.)

4. Keep photos of your writing heroes. We tend to think of those writers we admire as being untouchable...they never had to work at it or struggle, only to wave their hands and a book appeared. So it can be helpful--and motivational--to picture them as they actually were: slumped over their keyboards, sometimes struggling with the words, but sticking with it until they broke through and kept going. Like the rest of us. Keep this image in mind in the tough times, and even find a picture of some of your writing heroes to put up around you and inspire you that you're all in the same club. Try to avoid pictures of your heroes looking stern, like they're shaking their heads at you. Find pictures where the expression is hopeful, as if the writer is saying, "Let's get going, huh?" Possibly a picture of your author drunk.

However you use visualizations--as general motivation to keep going, as in visualizing your book out on a bookseller's shelf, or specifically to help you imagine the world or characters inside your novel--these can be a simple, effective method of getting into a mindset conducive to the process.

I can picture you nodding in agreement.

1 comment:

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