Because I live in the shadow of the eternal fear that I have nothing original to say, I did a quick Google search for “writing and self-hypnosis” before I wrote this post. I was surprised to find many, many web-sites hocking books and audio tapes and CDs, etc., all designed to help you use self-hypnosis to get past your writer’s block. While I certainly think there’s validity to this, I also think that we writers have been doing it on our own for a long time now. So here are my thoughts on self-hypnosis (for free!).
Let me start by saying that I do not believe in writers’ block. One of my first writing teachers, Maureen McHugh, gave me this brilliant piece of advice: “Writers’ block is not the feeling that you have nothing to write. It is the feeling that everything you write will be complete and utter shit. You have to give yourself permission to write some shit.” And I do. A lot.
When my students come to me and tell me that they’re blocked, I pass on Maureen’s advice. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes the student stares back at me with a look like a confused golden retriever. It is in these moments that I unleash the wisdom of self-hypnosis.
If you want to be a writer, half the battle is learning about your process and then exploiting that knowledge. I tend to work best when I have limited time. If I have the whole day to write, I feel too much pressure to use it all and end up doing nothing. But, if I only have forty-five minutes before I have to go to a meeting, I can almost always bang out 500 words. Now that I’m on fellowship and I have all the time in the world to write, I knew I was in danger of suffocating under all those hours. So I’ve built myself a limit. I go to my office from 12-2 every day and that’s when I write. It works great for me. And, on the occasions when I get swept up in what I’m doing, I write all night long.
Routine is a key part of self-hypnosis. Now, after several months of this routine, when I get into my office at 12, sit at my desk, and open my document, the words just come. This is because I’ve told my brain, “When I get in here, it’s time to work,” just like you tell your body, “When I get in bed, it’s time to sleep.” If you can’t write at the same time every day, try writing in the same place. If that’s not possible, there are other ways to trigger self-hypnosis. You can try always writing in the same sweatshirt or using a travel size bottle of perfume or cologne to create an olfactory trigger wherever you are. Some writers pair music with specific projects, switching from one playlist to another when they’re working on a story vs. a novel.
It also helps to keep track of your weird compulsions and use them to your advantage. For example, I have terrible vision, so I always set my screen to 166% zoom when I’m writing. But when I’m reading student work, I don’t do this. This way, just by looking different, my word documents themselves help trigger my productivity. Some writers only write on legal pads, or with certain pens, or while they’re drinking tea, or when they’re barefoot. Find whatever strange thing you’re already doing and make it work for you.
If this all sounds a little weird, that’s because it is. It totally is. But it also really works, especially if you often find yourself feeling blocked. If you have an example of self-hypnosis that works for you, leave it in the comments! Maybe it’ll help somebody else, too.