Saturday, 1 May 2010


I first experienced an ‘inspired visualization’ in the home of a Druid Priestess. There were twelve or so of us sprawled out on her carpet. I laid my jumper over my eyes and listened to her seductive voice describe an imaginary landscape, telling us to smell the scents and look around us. She called this ‘using our psychic eyes’, which, apparently, were open behind our closed lids.

At first, thoughts kept getting in the way… do I look a prat lying here…is my bag of Chorizos good enough for the communal table? Bit-by-bit, I began seeing things that felt very real. I could feel the grass beneath bare feet, hear a skylark singing. Her voice faded away, and it was up to me what happened next. It was, in fact, just like plotting a story.

Visualization is used regularly as a therapeutic tool to help people with difficulties, and within various spiritual paths to explore the subconscious, and…whether they know it or not…by most writers. A mild trance state takes you from one world (physical, concrete) into another (spirit-based and ethereal).

Trance states are not all that rare. The rhythmic waves that are the electrical impulses of our brains beat at various speeds. When we are alert and about our daily business, they’re fast-paced. When deeply asleep, they slow dramatically. But as writers, we can tap into the cycles that lie between sleep and alertness, when the waves slow to an Alpha rhythm.

It’s that common experience in the supermarket. Tin of beans in hand, our minds soar off somewhere. When a passing friend calls our name, we don’t hear them, and if they tap our shoulders, we jump, hopefully without dropping the beans on their foot. Writers can take advantage of ‘losing of yourself’. In this slower state of thinking, the relaxed, twilight world of the trance, vivid imagery flashes into the mind’s eye.

Like most other writers, I’m fascinated by how plots, characters and entire scenes arrive from nowhere, and recognize that the act of physical writing is merely the setting down of the words and pictures that have already appeared in our imaginations - whether that happened moments, weeks or years before we write. But the guided visualization in the house of the Druid made me ask, what is our imagination? What happens when we visit the world of ‘story’ – when characters stand gazing out from headlands, the salt spray on their lips, despite the fact we’re actually doing the washing up?

Enhancing this imaginative process enables the writing to become sharper, more ‘present’, more melodic. Settings have colour, taste, smell and the subtlest background sounds all built in. The techniques are simple, but need clear instructions to help their effectiveness.

Deliberately entering an imagined world begins by finding a quiet place. The journey into a ‘story’ starts with gentle breathing and waiting for the thoughts that drift, unbidden, through your mind to become focused.

Imagine, for instance, turning the pages of a book. To find your story, keep gently turning pages, moving along until you’ve left the physical realm outside your body behind and are actually inside your own head. Allow the experience to take shape in anyway it likes – words, pictures, symbols, dance, feelings. Don’t worry if you fall asleep – take advantage of those ‘drifting’ moments that are even deeper than the Alpha brain wave state.

If your writing relates to a particular world, you may like to play music that will summon up the appropriate image, but keep the noise level down and avoid song – the words will overtake your own internal dreaming.

Place your notebook and pen by your, and, as soon as you are back, write down everything you experienced. This is the most important part of the exercise. Write immediately, using a freewriting technique, not stopping to correct your work. Describe in detail whatever comes to you.

When you’re stuck for something to write, visualization will send you in search of childhood memories or forgotten moments of passion. If you’re stuck at a point in a story, you can seek the clues to the puzzles of your plot. You can become your character’s therapist, or watch them choose what they wear, eat, drive. You will soon find that your mind is full of startling revelations and things jump out at you and demand to be written down.

Imagination is where your writing begins – using this ‘visualization’ technique, you can enter it and roam around it at will. Writing will spill out. You’ll never be afraid of the ‘blank page’ again…you’ll be writing directly from your own inspiration.

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