Back in the 1960s, basketball coaches learned that if a player imagined himself practicing free-throws over and over—it greatly raised the percentage of shots that the player made in real games. The brain actually “practices” the moves that the body must make in a precise order. This technique for perfecting performance has been shown to work for golfers, football players, fighters, and so on.
But what about writers?
A few days ago, I learned something that might be useful for you. My son has been working to help writers who have writer’s block, using neuro-linguistic programming and hypnotherapy, and he asked, “Have you ever tried timeline therapy?”
Well, to be honest, I didn’t even know what it was. So he performed a simple exercise that took perhaps fifteen minutes where we talked about my perceptions of the past, the present, and the future. As we got to talking about the future, he asked questions like, “Where do you see it in relationship to yourself? How bright is your future? Do you see it as movie clips, or as still shots?”
In other words, he forced me to focus on my future.
And I discovered something: I saw my future as something nebulous and cloudy, ill-defined.
Now, when I was young, I always had goals and ambitions. For example, when I began writing, I wrote with the idea of winning writing contests. I got excited about the idea of entering, and I would devise strategies for winning. As a result, I entered a lot of contests and won first place in most of the contests that I entered.
Now I have to make an admission. I “previsualized” winning. I would imagine how good it would feel to win, and sometimes even fantasize about how to spend the money. Then, I would think about the steps that I would need to take to win: considering what stories to write, how to write and polish them, even getting down to minor details, like what kind of paper to put the stories on, what kinds of fonts to use, and so on.
Yet I worried about the results. I was winning a lot of contests and it did launch my writing career, but I worried that it might lead to a fat head. So I quit . . . working so hard at it. I stopped “visualizing.”
In doing so, I think that I lost sight of my goals. You see, as writers, we always have another hill to climb. Maybe you have a short story to write, or a novel to finish. Perhaps you need to organize a book tour or figure out how to climb up on the bestseller charts. You might set economic goals . . . or try to win awards so that you can enlarge your platform.
I quit doing that. It may be that as I grow older, I’ve been conscious of the fact that I’m nearing my expiration date. My father died fairly young, and I’ve always figured that I couldn’t count on a long life. I have to admit, that in the past few years I haven’t thought much about my artistic future.
In any case, Forrest had me perform some exercises where I simply did a few things: envisioned a future, imagined that it was brighter and clearer, imagined myself reaching specific goals, and so on. By doing that, something fascinating happened. Suddenly I found that my entire orientation—my goals, ambitions, and expectations all fell into line, and I suddenly felt able to create that future. It was a powerful experience, given that it only took a few minutes.
So what about you? When you imagine your own writing future, is it dull and nebulous? Is it something that you take seriously? Or is it so bright that you have to wear shades? Do you wonder if you’ll ever get anything done, or do you see yourself finishing a book, hitting a bestseller list, accepting an award, or winning a movie contract?
Maybe it’s time to adjust the focus on your dreams.
For any of you who would like to try out timeline therapy or figure out how to beat your own writing blocks, Forrest is having a holiday special on counseling. If you sign up through the MyStoryDoctor site, you can get it for just $69 per hour until January 1. (Just let us know how many hours you want.) This is more than half off his normal price.