4 Steps to use Imagery to Find Writing Success
This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss.
Hello, Wonderful Writers and welcome back to It’s a Writer thing! This is post 4 in my Writer’s Block mini-series [Here are part one, part two, and part three]. So far, we covered the importance of generating the WHYS of writing, how to generate ENTHUSIASM when the fire is dwindling, and how to generate JOY.
As promised, this time around, I’ll be discussing a visual imaging process.
Visual imagery has been recognized as a useful tool for decades. Psychotherapists teach visual imagery exercises to clients, professional athletes use it as part of their training, surgeons employ imagery to prep for procedures, and the list goes on. I once used it to prepare for a big talk I had to give. I first visited the space where the symposium would be taking place. I got up on the podium, looked out on the auditorium, and took a mental picture. Then, when I practiced my talk, I imagined I was standing at that spot. It helped immensely. I approached that day as though I’d already given tons of lectures from that stage, and in some ways I had! In my head.
Research demonstrates that by engaging in visual imagery, we activate neurons in our brains—the same ones that fire when we’re actually doing the activity we’re visualizing. On a neuronal level, parts of our brains interpret the images as real. In one remarkable study from the Cleveland Clinic, researchers found that by visualizing sets of biceps curls, subjects increased their strength. Their brains sent signals to their muscles even though they hadn’t lifted a single dumbbell. (This also means that I need to start visualizing myself doing squats…)By the way, this neuronal process is part of the reason reading is as powerful as it is.
What does this mean for us writers?
I bet we can come up with dozens of examples (and if you have any good ideas, PLEASE share them in the comments), but I’ll share one important one with you today. I want to share a process for using imagery to ENVISION POTENTIAL.
I started off by naming this “Re-envision Success,” but I realize that title wasn’t quite right. This is why. My most emotionally-powerful moments weren’t the “success” moments, not when I got my agent or book deal. They were when I had my first short story accepted, when I got the first voice mail from my agent (the call), when I found out I was selected for a competition much like PW, and when I had a full request from an agent back in my query days. They weren’t “you made it, girl!” moments. They were, “all the good things are possible” moments.
Why is potential so important? Potential is EVERYTHING. The blank page is potential. A brand new book, spine uncracked, is potential.
The same with that brand new journal or planner (I’m such a planner fiend). Every scene is potential. Every time we throw a submission or query out there, it’s potential. We do what we do because of the potential for it to result in success, for the joy of reaching our dreams. Losing the ability to see our potential is like cutting the power to a house. You can’t light anything up anymore.
If we cannot envision potential in our futures, then we’re an empty, dark house with no power. It’s cold, desolate, uninviting. Scary. It’s wasted potential.
I’ve experienced this particular barrier to my writing. It came at a time that was particularly stressful for me because several disappointments hit me, back-to-back. The result was, I found I had no motivation to sit down and work on my projects. I didn’t want to even think about writing or books or the publishing world. Then, one day, it hit me what was wrong: I’d stopped being able to see good things coming my way. The series of disappointments left me feeling like all future outcomes on my writing journey would be bad outcomes.
Once I realized what was wrong, I was able to fix it. Here’s what I did.
Your Action Steps
1. RECALL MOMENTS OF POTENTIAL.
We all have them even though we’re all at different places in our careers. For someone established, the moment might be a really great first review on a book or that moment when you learn that your editor was liking an idea. For someone just starting out, that moment might be a positive comment from a teacher or a critique partner. It might relate to outcomes or feedback OR it might be more linked to our own actions in writing, such as remembering the first time we hit the 1000 word count point or the 50K point. Another HUGE potential moment for me was the day I finished my first draft of my first book. That is still one of the most incredible days of my life.
You may even want to jot down a list of moments of potential to have on hand in case you’re struggling.
2. BUILD A RICH MENTAL IMAGE.
Really recreate it. Generate as much detail as you can. Don’t just focus on the visuals. Summon as much sensory detail as you can. Smell the environment (if that relates to your moment). Imagine the sounds you heard that day. If other people were involved, pull in memories of the conversations or roles they played.
The day I got my first ever story acceptance, we were doing holiday baking. The smell of kolachi filled the house (and probably my mouth), the Christmas lights were all lit on the tree, and holiday music played. Those sensory details will forever be tied up in my memory of that first YES.
3. FEEL IT.
Got your image? The next step is to let yourself feel the emotions you had in that moment. Let them fly. This one is the hardest to explain simply because we all feel our emotions differently, and each emotion can feel different during different situations. My excitement the day I got that first story accepted was WAY different than my excitement when I found a voice mail from my future agent on my cell phone. So, whatever the flavor for YOUR potential moment, try to go back and revisit that as deeply as possible.
4. COGNITIVE PROCESSING.
Now it’s time to process the event COGNITIVELY. To do this, ask yourself some questions. Here are a few examples:
What did that moment mean to you? What were your thoughts? How did that moment change your appraisal of yourself as a writer and what was possible for you? What great things did you imagine happening next? What did you feel empowered to tackle next? What, as a result of that potential-moment, did you try and achieve? What domino effect did that one moment have on your life? How might your life be different today if you never tried?
I know that I NEVER thought I could write a book, so when I remember the potential moment of finishing my first novel involves appraisals of this entire new world that was now in my grasp. I was a writer. Holy BLEEP! When I got the first yes, my appraisals were different. There was a sense of validation, a sense that some outside expert had told me that what I was doing was strong. I was on the right track. And, maybe, more YES’s waited for me in my future.
These emotions and thoughts are SO important. These are part of WHY we’re here to begin with.
5. REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT.
For optimal benefit, build a habit. Why wait to lose the mojo to re-envision potential when you can practice daily? The hardest part is building a habit and sticking with it. Daily visualization doesn’t need to take a long time. Literally, 60 seconds of practice can completely change your mood. It can give you that boost you need to sit down to your WIP with excitement. It can mean the difference between working and not working at all. And it costs you nothing but a little bit of time.
Maybe you’re not into daily meditative exercise. If so, then you can …
6. USE VISUALIZATION STRATEGICALLY.
The key is knowing your TRIGGERS for pulling out this process. What are good times to try this? When you’re avoiding your WIP. When you receive negative feedback from a CP or an agent. Or a rejection. If you have to scrap a project that’s just not working (though I have some thoughts on that for a future post). When you find yourself comparing your journey to someone else’s. (I have a hypothesis that jealousy comes when we get so bowled over by someone else’s success that we begin to lose sight of our own potential.) And so on and so on …
That’s it for this month. If you try out this process, let me know how it’s going in the comments. Next month, I’ll switch gears and talk about how to look out for the unhelpful thoughts in your head. Until then, remember, You can do it! You can write!
Check out Jessica’s other posts:
“Let’s Talk about Feedback”
“Seemingly Inconsequential Events”
“How Christopher Pike Saved Me From Drowning (Seriously)”
“Let’s Talk Some More About Feedback”
“Why Breaking into Publishing is Like Pac Man”
“Goals Vs. Outcomes”
“What Project Runway Taught Me about Being a Writer”
“The Many Faces of Critique Partners”
“My Process for Responding to Feedback”
“Harness The Power of Stimulus Control in your Writing”
“Turbo-Charge The Power of the Environment”
“It’s All About Control”
“Do Not Fear Rejection”
“Preparing for Pitch Wars”
“On Productivity and Finishing What You Started”
“On Plotters and Pantsers”
“Is THIS Why You Are Struggling to Finish that Book?”
“Why I Write”
“How I Write”
“Six Myths of Revision”
"Writer's Block: Part One"
"Writer's Block: Part Two"
"Writer's Block: Part Three"
"Writer's Block: Part Four"
Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand.