Saturday, September 24, 2011

Change of Seasons--Visioning Time for Your Book?

Today it is wet outside, the start of our fall rains.  Everything looks saturated with September sun and now the moisture of this gentle rain, and it's a good day for sitting still. Something I don't do very often, but which my books crave at this time of year, as the heat of summer downshifts into colder weather.

Today I'm giving myself the gift of visioning.  Simply listening, and waiting.  Visioning brings
the overview that all books need from time to time.  It's the difference between fixing my eyes on the road and how fast I'm traveling, and looking more wholistically at a map of the country.

Visioning is slow sport, the opposite of fast-paced summer and its nonstop activity.  Even though fall has its own frenetic pace--in our household, a back-to-school flurry, a usual upsurge in work, and new classes to teach--it has a sense of settling in, as we prepare for the change that winter brings.  I find it a natural cycle to re-evaluate my book project, bring more consciousness to my daily writing.  I may bring out my storyboard again, take time to organize files and piles, or freewrite about why I'm writing this book in the first place.

Visioning, to me, means letting go that pushing energy, and allowing bigger views to filter in.  They often bring new ideas and insights, a welcome creativity and renewal.

The See-Saw Balance of Visioning and Will
I need willpower, as many of us do, to actually write.  Especially when I'm working on a book, will helps me get myself in the chair each day, open files on my computer, pick up my pen and writer's notebook.  Will allows me to produce the pages.  Even when my heart isn't really in it, I use my will to sit and write.  Because, as we all know, writing isn't always a blissful journey; there's hard work involved and often discomfort as we face ourselves or our skill limitations.  And there's the constant companionship of our personal Inner Critic, nagging that we're not doing something perfectly.  So will serves us well, to keep the writing practice alive.

Visioning rides at the other end of the see-saw of a writer's good habits.  It has a different type of energy, but it's equally valuable.  Visioning gives us the ongoing "big picture" when we get too focused on the tiny veins on the leaves of the trees (those who love editing more than writing will identify with this!).  Visioning demands dreaminess, opening up the part of us that doesn't know the answers.  It's an activity of quiet listening versus busy production.

When I think of how I learned the value of visioning, I recall a book called The Artist's Way.  It was very popular years ago, still is.  The author, Julia Cameron, really hit a nerve with us creative folks.  Her premise was that we could get unstuck via two simple activities:  morning pages, or three pages of longhand writing to unload thoughts and concerns and make way for creative insights, and the Artist's Date.

Artist's Dates were much, much harder for me.  They required that we go somewhere new, solo, and experience the unexpected. I loved morning pages, and I have shelves of journals to prove it.  But I failed miserably on Artist's Dates.

I'm quite disciplined and get a lot of good feelings out of producing, but back then I could never justify the non-goal of hours extracted from a busy life--especially alone!  If I invited a friend, it would at least fill up my derelict social life.  But Cameron specified that we were supposed to do Artist's Dates by ourselves, because social chatter would dilute the ideas and insights that could come to us during the experience.

Once I began to try Artist's Dates, I learned she was right.  Although I always had difficulty justifying the time, I always loved the experiences.  They relaxed me, slowed me down, made me stop and listen.  It was an early form of visioning, and when I began to study book-writing, I learned it had trained me for the visioning activities that book writers required.

Why Vision?
Some book writers start with an initial vision for their books.  They see the book as a whole, the story intact and vibrant.  The mission of the book realized.  Most of us don't.  Most of us see pieces and produce the book that way, either via an outline or via my preferred method, "islands" of writing that come out randomly and are sequenced later.

Either way, the vision has to be revisited frequently during the book's development.  Are you still writing the book you started out with?  Has your nonfiction story suddenly become a memoir, or vice versa?  How has the vision changed?

Visions always change, I find.  As we grow, they must.  We really don't create something that goes deep enough to touch readers, make them tell their friends and family and writing group, even change lives if we're really lucky, without growth during the process.

So visions change as the book evolves. For my novel Qualities of Light, I started with a vision of unexpected romance between two friends during a traumatic summer. As the book evolved, as more characters got developed, the book's vision changed into the deeper healing of a whole family. Both stories made it into the final book. I like to think the pauses I took, the visioning I did, helped them weave together into a whole.

When You Know You Need Visioning Time
When do you take time for visioning?  I usually need a vision session whenever I lose my sense of the book as a whole. It requires a large exhale, to let the pushing mind empty.  Then the writer's deeper attention is freed up.

I usually don't accept the need for visioning time until I'm maxed. Yesterday it hit me as a wave of sheer exhaustion: I needed visioning time like oxygen. I'm very happy about all that's happened in my current draft, but the pushing it's required has stressed me way beyond my comfort zone.

Sometimes I need to get so stressed with my project that I have to let go.  I'm stuck, there's no more I can do myself.  I make time to listen, then it comes.  I suddenly get a picture, a new idea, a wholeness. As my pushing self lets go of all the efforts, creative ideas come fast. Ideas to solve the dilemmas I've been struggling with.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise:  Planning for Visioning
Take advantage of the change of seasons to set up a visioning time for your writing project this week. Maybe you've noticed the difficulty in talking yourself into this need--and the effect of dried up writing that comes when you don't have an overview of your project? And maybe you've noticed the serendipity that comes through, the originality, when you let yourself stop pushing and start visioning?

1.  Take your solo self and your writing notebook someplace for an hour, an afternoon, a morning or a day.

2.  Let yourself look at changing leaves or mountains or the ocean. Sketch, doodle, or write what comes. Take notes. Maybe you'll get the overview of vision, worth gold to the book writer.

3.  Then write down what you'd really like from the project you're working on. What vision do you have for it? Why are you doing it, really?