Saturday, August 19, 2006

More Focusing Strategies from the Pros

Last week, I posted a list of strange things writers do to get themselves writing. Well, this morning, I ran across a few more for the list (subscription required for full story, scroll down to "Why I Write"):

"Emile Zola pulled the shades and composed by artificial light. Francis Bacon, we are told, knelt each day before creating his greatest works. Martin Luther could not write unless his dog was lying at his feet, while Ben Jonson needed to hear his cat purring. Marcel Proust sealed out the world by lining the walls of his study with cork. Gertrude Stein and Raymond Carver wrote in their cars, while Edmond Rostand preferred to write in his bathtub. Emily Dickinson hardly ever left her home and garden. Wallace Stevens composed poetry while walking to and from work each day at a Hartford insurance company. Alexander Pope and Jean Racine could not write without first declaiming at the top of their voices. Jack Kerouac began each night of writing by kneeling in prayer and composing by candlelight."

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Blogger Jonathan Menon said...

Hi Rebecca,

I am glad that you are back from your challenging few months (the book and personal things that you wrote about here) and posting again.

These focusing strategies remind me of Anthony Robbins's material on managing internal personal states. Some years ago I bought his Personal Power CD program and there is a segment where he discusses helping former basketball star Isaiah Thomas with his jump shots.

He was able to help Isaiah dramatically increase the number of shots he could sink by designing a pre-planned mental state modeled on the way he feels when he produces consistently accurate shots. He then mentally associated a body motion and a distinctive sound (in Isaiah's case a low "boom") to this prepared inner state as triggers. By using them, the athlete can replicate that state on demand, every time he aims the ball. With a few simple techniques, Robbins teaches people how to do this and increase their performance substantially.

This subject is also analyzed with more depth and rigour by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Whenever I hear about some of the convoluted strategies that some writers use to keep writing, I often wonder whether any of them consciously use this kind of deliberate modeling action, or if most of their routines have come about just through hit and miss.

Do you know of any writers who do this consciously, that is, who can enter on demand an inner mental state that is conducive to writing, by executing their own pre-planned psychological triggers?

10:48 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Skloot said...

Interesting you should mention Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi and Flow ... I spent much of last week reading his work for a story I'm doing, and will be interviewing him soon.

And yes, I do know writers who use these "pre-planned psychological triggers" you're talking about ... just the other day, I was interviewing Pierce J. Howard, author of The Owner's Manual for The Brain: He has a specific hat he puts on when he's writing -- when the hat's on, he's not allowed to do anything else (and no one's allowed to talk to him). But more than that, he lights a candle on his desk ... from the moment he lights that candle to the moment he blows it out, he can't leave his desk. In part, it's a psychological trigger -- you write when the candle is burning -- but it's also practical: If he can't blow the candle out until he's done writing, he also can't leave his writing room, because that's dangerous -- an unattended candle could make his room, and all his work, go up in flames. I think that's a great trick, though it wouldn't work on me ... I live in NYC, which means I can see my desk from anywhere in my apartment.

1:01 PM  

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