Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The "Writer's Eye"

I'm finishing up the second article in my Deep Prose series, this time tackling description and imagery. Stephen King has some amazing quotes on imagery, several of which are in the article, but one stood out to me in particular:

"Open your inner eye as wide as it will go and trust the reader will do the same."

This "inner eye" he's referring to I call the "writer's eye". It's the quasi-self-hypnotic state where the writer sees--really sees--what's happening in a scene before pen touches paper or fingertips fly across keys. It's the deep breathing, close your eyes, sit back in your chair kind of meditation that puzzles our families when they walk in the room and assume we're screwing off.

In high school, I did a research paper on self-hypnosis that's helped me more than just about any paper I can remember in college. When I have a bad headache or I'm caught without pain killers, I close my eyes and visualize the pain. The texture. Subtle changes in the color. How the shape changes and morphs with each passing second. The idea is simple. Focus so completely on something--this creative painting of pain--and you trick your mind into forgetting about the pain. Sound crazy? Try it next time--say a full five quiet minutes. It works.

Self-hypnosis used as a relaxation technique can also help writers access their "mind's eye". Using these techniques, the walls dissolve and your mind is fully transported to the place of the image you're creating. Sounds like writing, doesn't it? Two techniques:

1) Imagine you're alone in a large building on the tenth floor. The temperature on your skin is just right. Stretched out before you is an escalator, humming quietly. Beneath your toes, cool, slick marble that offsets the warm sunlight spilling over you from the ceiling atrium above. The walls are textured. A vibrant, red number "10" inside a large white circle is painted on the wall to indicate the floor. A potted fescue near the revolving banister tickles your knee. Did you see the ornate iron bench behind you? What about the black smudge on the pristine floor from someone who walked here before? Now, step onto the down escalator. It's moving at a comfortable speed. As you descend you see another lobby laid out in much the same way, this time with an orange number "9" painted on the wall. Is there another bench? How has the light changed on your shoulders? Step onto the next escalator and breeze downward to floor "8", each time noting how warm, abrasive textures and colors and details change to cool and relaxing. Maybe some of the floors have murals, each with an increasingly peaceful scene. This is your world. Paint it how you wish as you progress to the first floor. What's on that first floor, you ask? Your "writer's eye". The next scene of your story. Deep sleep (this works SO much better than counting sheep). This exercise should take about ten minutes to allow time to properly slow your heart rate, so spend some time on each floor.

2) Some people refer to the next exercise as your "happy place". This is no joke. You construct in your mind the most relaxing, peaceful place you can imagine. For some, it's in a lush forest near a waterfall pool. For some, it's a wide open, green meadow. Set rules. For me, there cannot be bugs (CPs--no laughing). The last thing I want is to be sitting near an enchanting waterfall and have a waterbug crawl over my fingertips. Rule number one: like the previous one, you must be alone. This is not the time for Oded Fehr to show you his rapture. Like a photographer capturing this place only you know about, for ten minutes enhance the image with details. The next time you return, the parameters will be set and relaxation will be easier to access. And in this place, you'll find your "mind's eye".

A few more tips about self-hypnosis: Make sure you're in a place you cannot be interrupted. We're doing deep relaxation and slowing the heartrate, so your husband walking in to ask you, "Where's the mustard?" could cause a bad start--for you (and him) :) It's important to know you're as alone in your physical environment as you are in your spiritual one. Also, no music. You don't want your mind to become dependant on hearing certain sounds to become relaxed. You want to be able to do these exercises anywhere, anytime.

Doesn't finding your "writer's eye" take longer to get a scene written? You bet. But the payoff is a deeper, richer environment for your character to play out his emotions and goals in.

Oh, and until then, check out Stephen King's article. It's as amazing as his prose.

Try one of these self-hypnosis techniques. Post here and let me know how it works for you.


Marilyn Brant said...

I haven't yet had a chance to try out one of the self-hypnosis techniques, but I'm looking forward to doing so next week when I begin my newest project (she said hopefully :).

I very much enjoyed your post, though, and really appreciated the link to King's article, which was wonderful, too!

Maureen McGowan said...

Great post! I need to do more of that...

Andrea Geist said...

I enjoyed your post but then I went off to check out Oded Fehr and got lost for a while. His hair is graying - even sexier than before. ;)

L.A. Mitchell said...

I have to confess I like Oded Fehr's long hair in "The Mummy" the best, but he says he likes his anonymity better now.

satyavrat said...

hey I am a writer too. I must confess, your article was an 'eye opener' for me. I would definitely try these techniques and I feel they would surely work. I have my own method of concentrating before writing anything. I go away to some place, secluded and deserted, maybe an abandoned shack or a wrecked or construction building and just sit there calm, doing nothing. After some moments, your mind starts to blank out of all the tensions and stress. You even forget why you were here. Then you start talking with yourself, knowing yourself better, knowing your innate qualities, your best capacities and then you will find out the route you need to take to write what you wanted.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Hi Satyavrat!
Welcome to the Vortex :) That's an interesting way to get to that "writer place"-heading to an abandoned building. I think I'd have trouble relaxing if I didn't feel safe, but it would be great to stir up the muse for a high-tension scene ;)

Thanks for stopping by.