Sometimes, when we are wrestling with a big topic, it can be difficult to address it in a direct way. For example, I struggle with making time for my writing, as I wrote in a recent blog post. I addressed the problem directly there (and have implemented the strategies I mentioned) but sometimes it can also be helpful to address the problem in a more indirect way. With metaphor, for example. Before I explain further, I’m going to ask you to do this exercise[i] with me. I’ll share my example below, but please try to do the exercise yourself first.
If I said the word “writer,” what image comes to mind? What do you immediately think?
Try “my writing life.” What comes to mind when you say this word to yourself?
Write down whatever comes (an image, a color, a movie clip, anything at all,) then embellish it until it’s really vivid for you.
Consider what you wrote. What feeling does this image evoke? Write it here:
The image you came up with is your metaphor for “writer” or “writing life” or whatever word you used to evoke the image.
Now we are going to use the power of your brain to change your metaphor—and your life.
If your emotional response to your image is positive, think about what would make you have an even more positive response to the image. Change it any way you’d like. You’re making this up, so put whatever makes you happy into the image.
If your emotional response to your image is negative, think about how you could change the image to one that gives you a positive response.
Write down your new image here:_________________________________________________________
Now for my example:
When I considered the word “writer,” I immediately saw a (male) clerk sitting at a desk, writing by candlelight with a scratchy quill pen. There’s a Scrooge-looking character at the front of the room, wearing a monocle and squinting at a gold pocket watch, obviously waiting for the clerk to finish his work. The whole image is dark and dreary and I do not get a good feeling from it—in fact, it makes me feel defeated just looking at it.
So I’m going to change it.
After some experimentation, I came up with this image: There’s a giant writing desk underneath a baobab tree in a beautiful meadow with lush, green grass. There’s a woman in a lovely long dress that looks comfortable and soft. She’s writing with a fountain pen at the desk and the breeze is rustling the pages of her journal and the leaves on the tree. The sun is shining through the trees and I see the woman pause to think and look around at the beautiful landscape, then return to her writing. This image gives me a feeling of peace, joy, and relaxation. Just holding it in my mind calms me down.
That’s the last step of this exercise: Hold your new image in your mind and think about it for a few minutes each day. Maybe every time you get in the car or every time you brush your teeth.
Changing your metaphor changes your life: In this case, specifically your writing life.
I’ve used this tool many times on different areas of my life and it works. I believe it works because changing the image changes some neural pathway in my brain, but I can’t prove it.
Try it and let me know how it goes.
Diane MacKinnon: I’m a blogger, writer, and life coach. I’ve been working with this metaphor for a while now and I do find I’m more relaxed about my writing and getting more done. I’ve also implemented some very concrete strategies such as saying no to some requests for time that do not fit with my current priorities.