Jonathan Fields

Tool For Writers: Attentional Training

I'm finishing up Uncertainty, the book by Jonathan Fields, and last Friday, after I wrote about Everystockphoto_172114_mprocess visualization, I promised a post with another tip that'll help with your creativity.  That tip is attentional training.

As mentioned earlier, Fields likes to give fancy names to things we've all heard of and are familiar with. 

Thus, attentional training = meditation. 

Or similar activities.  Or, as Fields puts in, "techniques that create certain psychological and physiological changes in your body and brain."  Like I said, meditation.

What captured my attention (hahaha, funny pun) was his discussion of active AT.  What, pray tell, is that?  He says "This is how the vast majoritiy of people get their AT in," and further, that many people engage in this kind of AT without even realizing it.  For instance, when you're painting, or playing music, or knitting, or engaged in sports.  The hallmarks of active AT are:

–a repetitive, deliberate activity that does not require constant attention (I'm way synopsizing here)

–an activity driven by novelty, speed or intense bursts of concentration.

I'm way good at the first kind of active AT, such as knitting or sewing or weeding, all that repetitive motion stuff.  And I've been advocating it as a route to creativity for years.  There's just something about the repeated motions that jars ideas loose from the brain.  I can't tell you how many times I've stood up from the computer, done for the day, and picked up my knitting, only to rush back to the computer because of the rush of images that suddenly flood my mind.  Other activities in this category are running and biking.

The other kind of AT that Fields discusses is mindfulness AT, things like meditation, in all its various forms (including zazen, insight, mantra, and so on).  Over the last few decades, there have been studies galore that sing the praises of meditation for its mindfulness properties.  Here's the deal about it: you do it just for the sake of doing it, but the benefits of it are legion.  Because the more you train yourself to sit in meditation and empty the brain, the easier it is to sit and focus on your writing.  And its good for your state of mind and your body as well, but who cares about that crap as long as it benefits the writing? 

I like meditation because it gives me a break from the ongoing and exhausting rushing craziness of my story.  Now, I'm the first to venerate the power of story, but when I'm caught up in my crappy story, the stuff I've told myself over and over again so many times I want to vomit, it doesn't feel very powerful or uplifting.  So getting a break from it is pretty wonderful.

And let me just offer up the single most important thing I've learned about meditation: even if you're lousy at it, however you're doing it helps.  I used to think that people who meditated didn't deal with the mind chatter that assails me.  But they do.  And that is why we meditate.  To quiet the mind chatter so that we can listen–and hear the still small voice within, or perhaps the voice of God, giving us marching orders.  The key is to keep at it.  Even when your mind chatter interrupts you a million times in the five minutes you've given yourself to meditate.  Even when you think its not helping.  Because it is.  And it gets easier. 

Do you practice meditation?  Or any kind of active AT?  How do you feel it benefits your writing?

***Another great way to foster creativity is to make a vision board for your book or writing project.  Download my free ebook to find out more, just fill out the form to the right of this post and you'll also receive a free subscription to my bi-weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer.

Photo by keithcr, from Everystockphoto.

Tools For Writers: Process Visualization

I'm almost finished reading Uncertainty, by Jonathan Fields.  The sub-title is: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance.  Make no mistake about it, this book is about creativity.  I'm gleaning some good stuff from it, and one reason I love it is that Fields mentions stuff I've been doing (and writing about) for years and gives them actual names.  That same propensity for naming and categorizing is actually probably my main dislike of the book, too, just because I tend to be a loosey-goosey type when it comes to creativity.  But that's a minor quibble.

I want to share a couple of these techniques with you, one today, and one on Monday. 

Today's technique is something Fields calls process visualization. 

Fields says that traditional visualization is not good for the early stages of a creative project because that's when there's a lot of uncertainty, and attempting to pull your brain into line at this point does more harm than good.  He calls this kind of traditional visualization outcome stimulation.  Its when you create a specific picture of an outcome in your brain and visualize it often.  Key word here is outcome.

But when you switch it up and focus on process visualization, crazy good things can happen, and this apparently has science to back it up.  What you do is visualize yourself writing.  (Or painting, or creating a business, whatever your creative idea is about.)  So, if you want to get up early and work on your Nanowrimo novel, you see yourself happily opening your eyes to the alarm, getting out of bed, grabbing your coffee, and getting right to work.  The words flow easily and well for you and you complete your quota and get on with your day.

I've actually done this off and on for years.  I remember reading about it in a book on writing (minus the fancy name) back when I struggled to have courage to put words on paper.  I tried it with success and have returned to it whenever I've had a difficult time motivating myself.  So I urge you to put it in your toolbox and consider pulling it out when need be.

A note about visualization in general: as you might have noticed, I offer a free Ebook on creating a vision board for your book.  (It is yours for the taking, all you have to do is fill out the form to the right.)  So you might be wondering how that jibes with the whole visualization thing.

The kind of visualizing Fields says he doesn't like is the type where you envision the finished project.  I think there's a place for that, definitely, and it thinking about having your novel done and in the bookstores can spur you on to get it done.  What I advocate in my Ebook, however, is using a vision board as a way to gather and coalesce ideas and images that will help you throughout the process of writing the book.  It is an process of opening up, not closing down.

So, tell me.  Do you ever use process visualization in your work?  With what results?

And by the way, don't forget my upcoming class on gathering ideas and using them to set goals.  Read more about it here.

PS.  Sorry for the lack of a photo.  I've been battling a headache all week and I just don't have it in me to go look for one.  Hey, here's an idea–you can visualize your own image to accompany the post!