The writer’s trance is notoriously illusive, but you can enhance your ability to enter that state of conscious at will. Here’s what works for me and the students in my Enter the Flow classes.
Inner Improv Your Way Into the Writer’s Flow
Spend 10 minutes or so in your usual meditation practice to move into a relaxed trance state. Let your own personality, thoughts and concerns fade for the time.
*For memoir writers, “characters” means the people in your memoir including your narrator self. You imagine yourself as you the person you were at a different time and place.
This scene may or may not be end up in the manuscript you’ll write, but you can trust that it is part of the story you need to tell yourself to discover what story you’ll tell readers.
You may start with an idea of which character’s shoes you want to step into during the trance, but stay open to the possibility that your unconscious may lead you into a different character.
Chances are you are not going to fall immediately into a waking dream where a mental movie plays in your mind with Imax 3d soundscape and CGI effects. You’re doing improv in your imagination. Silently, lying on a mat or sitting in a chair, eyes closed, letting your imagination run.
Don’t worry if it seems not much is happening at first. The tiniest of details, which make no immediate sense, will lead you where you need to go.
From the Tiniest Grain of Sand, Your Imagination Creates a Beach
One of the principles of improv is that you never have nothing. Whatever sense impression you have, give that to the character. Your back aches from lying on the floor doing this silly improv-meditation thing? Great! Your character has a back ache. You’re feeling impatient that this improv-meditation is not working for you? Great! Your character is impatient because something is not working for her/him/you.
The “uber principle of improv” is to always say “Yes, and…” On stage, this means whatever your fellow improv actors say or do, you accept wholeheartedly without editing, censoring or judging. And you add to whatever your colleagues give you. You intensify it, expand it, stretch it or twist it.
In the writer’s trance, “Yes, and…” means you accept without judgment whatever tiny sense impression comes to you in the darkness behind your eyelids and build on it.
Okay, now you’re your character wearing boots and walking on concrete somewhere. The “Yes” part of “Yes, and…” is that you continue to walk in your imagination. The “and” part of “Yes, and…” is observing what else you see, hear or smell.
Maybe you get one more clue. Maybe you’re walking on a road. So what’s on the side of the road? Maybe it’s a piece of paper, a faded envelope. What’s inside the envelope? Maybe it’s motorcycle helmet. What color is it? How heavy is it? Is there anything underneath it?
Keep Saying “Yes, and…”
- Are you (as your character) standing, sitting, lying down or moving?
- What are you standing, sitting or lying on? A piece of furniture, a floor, the ground?
- What is the texture of that surface? What does it feel like?
- What time is it? What season is it?
- What’s the quality of the light?
- What’s the temperature and humidity?
- Is the air fresh or stale?
- What do you smell?
- What do you hear?
- What was the last thing you tasted?
- What do you see?
- In this moment and in this place, what do you want? What keeps you from having what you want? What will you do about this unmet desire?
Stay Curious, Stay Open
Improv meditation is not the time to judge or evaluate. This is your imagination, anything can happen.
Don’t worry that what your imagination gives you won’t be original enough. Every idea is cliché. And any cliché can become unique and significant when you add specific details.
For now, you’re just exploring possibilities. Don’t worry about making sense of the impressions you get in improv meditation (aka writer’s trance, dreamstorming, creative flow). Making it work comes much later, when you draft and later still when you revise.
When a scene seems complete in your imagination, open your eyes and make very brief notes. Robert Olen Butler advises in From Where You Dream:
“You’re going to write… six or eight or ten words, not many more, that represent a potential scene. Just identifiers of scenes. Don’t hesitate to put something down, as long as it’s coming with a sensual hook… Do not trust a scene that presents itself as an idea.” (p. 88)
You close your eyes and return to the trance to explore another scene until you feel done with the writer’s trance for the day.
Remember the power of not writing right away. For book-length prose, it will take months to improv and imagine all the possible scenes that make up the story you need to know before you can choose which scenes will convey that story to your readers.