Heather here. Today I want to introduce you to one of our favorite tribe members, Vaughn Roycroft. Vaughn is one of the most supportive, humble, and talented writers I know and I was thrilled when he said yes to guest posting for us. If you haven’t visited his blog, you should. You’ll be blown away by his wisdom and insight. I hope this won’t be the only guest post he does for hugs and chocolate. 😉
Visualize Your Way to Success
Undaunted or Foolish? Writing a guest post for Hugs and Chocolate is a daunting prospect. If you’ve been here with any regularity, you know what I’m talking about. H&C is authored by six outrageously talented bloggers who routinely post knockout articles. Last Saturday, I allocated some time to ponder a topic for my post, and spent the morning perusing the site’s archives. The sole result of this exercise was a feeling of foolishness for having so blithely accepted their gracious invitation. What was I thinking?
Write What You Know, Dummy: So I thought to myself: “Self, write about what’s going on in your writerly life.” Which is revisions for book one of my trilogy (again/yet). With this in mind, I glanced back through the H&C site again to find… a virtual boatload of absolutely brilliant posts about the revision process. Seriously, if you’re revising, dig back through these archives. Great stuff awaits. Which was of absolutely no help to my search for a fresh topic.
I hate to admit it, but I gave up (for the moment). It was only Saturday; I still had a few days. And the other item on my docket felt more pressing. The prior day I’d finished my first-ever scene outline for my rewrite. It may seem strange to some that I would outline each scene for a nine year old project on about the seventh attempt at rewriting it. Long story, but suffice to say I’m a pantser who’s finally coming around to plotting. I’m working to adapt a rather long and complex work to the elements of story structure, and it’s really paying dividends.
In any case, with the help of a mentor, I finally had an idea for a new opening scene. My goal for last Saturday was to get a firm grasp on that opening scene—to envision it with the best possible clarity. As I made ready to do this, it dawned on me: This is what I’ll write about for H&C! My process for envisioning a new scene.
One Man’s Napping Is Another Man’s Writing Technique: That’s right, rather than writing this post, I set about making ready for a nap. But this wouldn’t be just any nap, and I knew it probably wouldn’t involve actual sleep. I was planning on Visualizing. It’s a technique I developed during the writing of my first draft. There have been many studies and articles done on the effect sleep and deep relaxation have on creativity, including here. I’m sure many of you have your own way to facilitate access to your creative mind, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, long showers, etcetera. And some of those work for me as well. But nothing puts me in a scene like a nice uninterrupted Visualizing session. So I thought I’d share my process.
Making Ready: If you want a good Visualizing session, it’s important to get yourself and your surroundings prepared. You have to find a time when you won’t be interrupted, and a place you know you will be at ease. You’re looking for what I call a TCS (Total Contented State). To get to a TCS, I try to adjust and control as many external variables as possible.
Last Saturday was a good example. I’d had my morning walk, my coffee, and an early breakfast of cereal with fruit. But it was getting to be late morning by the time I ditched writing this post for visualizing. It was time for Second Breakfast (remember, you’re shooting for TCS, and a grumbly stomach just won’t do—hobbits know a thing or two about TCS). So I set about making a batch of fresh salsa. I find the mechanical aspects of chopping and preparing a dish like salsa to be soothing and mind-clearing. Once the salsa was ready, I prepared a nice plate of huevos rancheros, made with farm-fresh eggs, melted Monterey Jack cheese and locally-produced chorizo. Topping it off with not only a heaping dose of fresh salsa, but a dollop of sour cream to boot, definitely helped to nudge me toward TCS.
Other Externals: A big one for me is temperature. And Saturday was delightful in Michigan—mid 70’s and low humidity—perfect for our sleeping porch (no need for A/C or blankets to achieve TCS). Other variables: Internet—caught up and shut down; Phone—off; Dog—business done and inside; Clothing—comfy tee shirt and shorts (Side-note: it was a bit too warm for socks, which would’ve made it perfect, but sometimes you have to make due). You get the idea. Control whatever you can to obtain TCS.
Only Readily Available Tools Required: Another important element of TCS is blocking distracting sound. Some days in my neighborhood are quiet enough that I can focus on the wind through the nearby pines as I drift toward slumber. This would definitely not be the case on a Saturday in August in a beachside community (nearby kids, dogs, lawn mowers, etc.). So an iPod and headphones were in order. Picking the right music here is vital. It has to fit the scene, and you don’t want to be startled by a jarring song change. My choice on Saturday was the new Dead Can Dance album—full of dark atmospherics, perfect for the scene I planned to Visualize.
Other Tools: Notebook and pencil, for immediate jotting of anything and everything that comes of the process; baseball cap or any hat with brim, for pulling down over the eyes; Big pillow for propping yourself into position for ease of writing; nearby beverage of your choice (I avoid alcohol for this process, as it tends to increase the soundness of sleep, defeating the purpose).
But Seriously Folks: In spite of my lightheartedness here, I really do believe this works. The goal is not a morning of gluttony followed by a slothful nap. In this case, gluttony and sloth have a purpose—finding your way to the deep end of the mental pool. Steven Pressfield had a great post the other day about finding your way past Resistance to your Deep Mind. This is a technique that actually works for me. Resistance is manifested in the waking self. The goal is not to actually sleep, but to get to the periphery of slumber, and to let go of everything that is day to day.
If I achieve it—getting as close to sleep as possible while still maintaining the vision of the setting and characters in question—I am there, in the scene, watching it play out against my closed eyelids. And much has come of it. Once I’ve Seen the scene this way, the memory of it often remains quite clear to me.
Epiphany Along the Periphery: Just for the record, Saturday’s session produced several insights, including a few snippets of dialog and an epiphany that ties to the introduction of my Story Question to the opening scene, for which I now have a finished draft. I actually Visualized my way to what I believe will be a successful scene.
How about you? I’d love to hear your techniques for getting to TCS, and for facilitating access to your creativity. Do you ever get epiphanies along the periphery of slumber?
In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, the pair grew tired of the hectic life of the business world. With the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.