Yesterday was the Writer’s Day conference put on by the New Hampshire Writers Project (NHWP). It’s a great conference – a day full of intensive workshops and networking for writers and if you’re in the area when it runs, I highly recommend it.

One of the sessions I attended was run by Odds Bodkin. I knew this wasn’t going to be the typical writing workshop when he started playing the harp as I went in and took my seat. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone play a harp – let alone while they were running a writing workshop – so to say I was intrigued to see where this went would be an understatement).

Imagine, Don’t Create

Our harp-playing bard switched to a couple of guitars (yes, this guy comes to a conference with three guitars and a harp – he’s a class act, I must say). Using music and poetry, he guided us through a visualization exercise. We started in our bedroom, but the story morphed as Odds took us on a flight of fancy to a tropical island and back.

After the exercise, Odds asked how many of us created the experience versus how many imagined the experience. There is a difference, according to Odds: When you imagine the experience, you’re there, and the five senses come alive and you’re actually experiencing the event. When you create, you’re not really there, it’s like you’re a reporter and you’re explaining rather than experiencing.

I sat there as the workshop wound down and thought, damn, he’s right on the money. When I think back to the stories and scripts I’ve written that I consider good, I’ve always done it (mostly) from a place where the world fell away and I was there. I wasn’t creating the scene, I was experiencing it.

Good actors get this – it’s called getting into the moment for them, where they stop acting and they feel the real emotion. Call this good acting if you want, but there’s a better word for it: it’s real. The actors don’t seem like they’re acting because on some level they’re not. They’ve given themselves to the moment so completely it becomes real.

It makes me think of advice Miyamoto Mushashi gives in The Book Of Five Rings. Mushashi wrote his work as a guide on swordsmanship, but if you step back and think about his writing, it applies to so many other aspects of life. I’m paraphrasing here, but a core tenet of Mushashi’s teachings is to focus your energy one one thing, completely, and be the best you could possibly be in that moment. (It’s a short, widely available book these days – if you can get a copy I strongly suggest giving it a read)

What I’m trying to get at – and I know this is tough – is that to get to the really good stuff, the work that’s going to put you on the map – you need to work at it and push yourself. At times it’ll be painful, at times it won’t work and you’ll be frustrated. Hang in there, don’t give up and keep working.

Eventually you’ll get to a place where you aren’t watching, you’re experiencing. This is a very different way of writing and I can’t tell you how to get there, but trust me, you’ll know when you do. And once you do you’ll do anything to experience it again.

When you do – congratulations, you’ve got the spark.