Don’t panic. The writing world as you’ve known it is not ending. Pencils, paper and keyboards will be around for ages to come, but today I want to pull aside the curtain on a writing tool you’ve probably used forever, but never thought about: virtual writing.
I can’t remember the first time I heard of the study where a coach divided basketball players into three groups, but I think it was at least twenty-five years ago. He had one group practice shooting 100 baskets a day for a period of time. Another group didn't touch a ball, but visualized sinking 100 perfect baskets, and a third group did neither. It was no surprise that the performance of the last group suffered, but it was a surprise that the players who simply visualized did better than those who threw balls.
In Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, author Sharon Begley details numerous similar studies neuroscientists have conducted to further explore this phenomenon. The evidence is conclusive: merely visualizing actions strengthens motor skills. (Don’t get the idea you can train for a marathon while you lie on a couch visualizing. These results addressed dexterity, not strength or endurance.)
As I stood in the shower recently, I was cogitating evocative ways of describing a certain memory. I wanted to go beyond the standard, “It smelled delicious.” I wanted to convey the sense of intense delight and wonder the remembered fragrance induced. In one sense the shower was limiting, because I didn’t have thesaurus.com available to pave the way, but in another it was liberating. I was freed from the need for speed I generally feel as I sit at my keyboard. There was no need to “write it and be done.”
My monkey mind soon leapt into the fray, reminding me of a joke that includes the line “everything makes me think about women.” I realized that I could substitute writing for women. Everything makes me think about writing and how to best convey an experience or impression in words.
Then my monkey swung off to the next branch: honing wording in the shower is the writer’s equivalent of visualizing a perfect basket. Score one for the monkey!
Finally, my monkey handed me a banana that I share here with you: many aspiring (lifestory) writers, for one reason or another, feel guilty or stressed about not writing more often or every day. If you are one of these people, give yourself a break. Instead of beating yourself up about being too busy to write, or whatever the case may be, do a little virtual writing. Visualize a specific aspect of a memory and think about how to word it. Let your own monkey out to play and see what new story ideas come to mind. Explore an area where your writing is blocked and visualize the tip of a pen sliding the knot open.
When you come up with a specific phrase, story idea or other resolution, jot a reminder down at the earliest opportunity so you won’t forget it later. (I hope you have an index card handy!) Remember, you are not abandoning actual writing, you are adding virtual practice to enhance your physical performance.
I have a strong hunch that once you play around with some virtual writing practice, your fingers will soon be itching to pick up a pencil or touch the keyboard to produce some actual words.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal