Using Creative Trance To Write Visionary Fiction – Guest Post by Mary Mackey

Your unconscious is packed with ideas, metaphors, visions, plots, dreams, colors, characters, emotions—in short, everything you need to write a great visionary novel. But how do you get to it? How do you step out of the social agreement we call “reality,” and dip into this incredibly rich resource?

You could go to sleep and try to mine your dreams, but even if you dreamed an entire novel, the moment you woke up, you would forget most of it within seconds, because you hadn’t processed the ideas into your long term memory. Worse yet, when you dream, you are not in control, so you can’t do specific things like talk to one of your characters or work out a specific plot problem. Granted, some people manage lucid dreaming, but lucid dreaming is not a practical writing technique for a number of reasons. For example, you cannot always go to sleep when you need to.

The Development of Creative Trance

Many years ago, I started looking for a technique that would allow me to be asleep and awake at the same time. What I came up with, after much trial and error, was a form of creative trance that allows me to delve into my unconscious whenever I want to, get the material I need for my poems and novels, bring that material up to my waking reality, remember it, and write it down.

Developing this technique wasn’t easy. Besides relying on my own imagination, I drew on many sources such as self-hypnosis, theta cycle sessions, neurophysiology, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and the Surrealist technique of Automatic Writing. As you might expect, I had many failures, but in the end I came up with a deceptively simple technique, which has proved extremely effective. Since I taught myself how to use creative trance, I have written many novels, collections of poetry, and screenplays. Better yet, I have avoided writers block.

I’ve used my creative trance technique weekly, sometimes daily, for many years. As with all things that are visionary and out of the range of The-Village-Of-Bones-Low-Resordinary consciousness, it can’t be completely described in words, only experienced. So, since I cannot sit down with you and personally guide you through the process step by step, I am going to give you a chance to get a feel for it by taking you into the heart of my creative process as I worked on my most recent novel The Village of Bones.

The Village of Bones is Visionary Fiction, but even in my novels which are not visionary (such as my bestseller A Grand Passion, the story of three generations of women involved in ballet), I created most of the original storyline in a voluntarily induced creative trance.

Unlike A Grand Passion, The Village of Bones presented a special problem. On one hand, it was meticulously researched historical fiction firmly based on archaeological evidence, yet at the same time, it was set in Prehistoric Europe in Goddess-worshiping cultures that were filled with myths, visions, and prophecies.

With this contradiction in mind, I put my phone in Airplane Mode, sat down in a comfortable chair, picked up a pen (I find computers get in the way), opened my notebook, closed my eyes, took several deep breaths, and counted backwards to ten, imagining as I did so that I was walking down a flight of stairs. By the time I got to the bottom, I was in a light trance. The word “light” is important. I was neither awake nor asleep. Instead, I was poised on the threshold between my conscious mind and my unconscious mind, ready to move in either direction.

On this particular day, I had some work planned. Sabalah, my main character, was in big trouble. She was caught in a storm, her boat had turned over, and she was drowning. As she struggled to stay afloat, she was going to have a vision of the Sea Goddess that might or might not be a hallucination. There were no surviving statues of this particular Neolithic Sea Goddesses as far as I knew, so my task for this afternoon was to envision the Sea Goddess so I could describe her.

0mackey-r1-e033I started with the Goddess’ name which I had created the previous day: “Amonah, Amonah, Amonah,” I silently chanted. “Come to me.” A vague, shadowy form began to materialize behind my eyelids.

Before I go on, I want to be clear about what was happening. As I thought the word Amonah, I didn’t believe I was conjuring up a real spirit, channeling a mystical force, or having a religious experience. I believed, and still believe, that I was simply unlocking the resources of my own consciousness and my own imagination using the very practical tool of creative trance. I don’t claim to know where these visions come from, but I am convinced that under the right conditions, anyone can have them.

The form grew brighter and more distinct. I saw a woman walking toward me across the waves. Walking on water. Interesting. Since question/answer is the key to this technique, I settled down and began to ask myself questions.

“What color is her hair?” I asked myself. “Black, brown, blonde?” Suddenly the word “seaweed” came into my mind. Instantly, the woman’s hair turned green. “What kind of jewelry is she wearing? Diamonds, topaz, garnets?” No, she’s wearing pearls, and something else, something reddish, something like . . . coral!

“What color are her eyes?” For a moment her eyes shifted back and forth between brown and green. Then, suddenly they glowed. “Skin color?” All colors. No colors. She’s a Goddess. She is all of us. “What’s she wearing?” Not skinny jeans for sure. (Odd thoughts sometimes interrupt the flow of the trance). Long dress. Yes. She’s wearing a long dress. Wave-like. Blue of course, like the sea. “What does she smell like? Wind, salt, kelp?” Like flowers. She smells like flowers. “What kind of flowers?” Roses. “How much does she weigh?” She weighs nothing. She’s a spirit.

For a long time, I sat there asking specific questions and waiting for answers most of which came in the form of wordless images. For some reason, I never could figure out how tall She was. My unconscious wouldn’t give that one up. But by now the Sea Goddess Amonah looked real to me. I could see Her distinctly right down to the coral rings on Her toes.

Slowly I began to count backwards from ten to one, moving out of the trance as I climbed back up the stairs toward waking consciousness. On every step, I paused and made myself visualize Amonah again, and I commanded myself: “Remember. Remember.”

This final command to “remember,” is perhaps the most important part of a creative trance. If I couldn’t carry a complete image of Amonah back into the waking world, I’d have to start all over again.

When I got to ten, I opened my eyes just wide enough to see my notebook. Grabbing my pen before the last bits of trance faded away, I quickly wrote everything down paying no attention to grammar, spelling, or logic. I even wrote down the silly bit about the skinny jeans.

The Results of Creative Trance 

The result was not something I could use immediately. What you get out of your own unconscious is raw material. After creativity comes craft. So over the course of the next year, I polished this description of Amonah. Now I worked wide-awake, using all the techniques of novel-writing that I had learned over the years. I read the passage out loud over and over again. Searched for better words. Took out commas and put them in again. Here is the result:

A woman emerged from the wall of crashing waves and walked across the sea toward Sabalah. Sabalah abruptly stopped crying and stared at the woman, stunned. This was impossible! . . .The woman kept walking, stepping over the waves as if they were furrows in a field of wheat. Her flowing dress was blue as a summer sea; her hair long and green, twined with seaweed and pearls. Her skin was dark and light at the same time, her eyes so bright, they glowed like the last flash of the sun when it falls into the sea at midsummer. . . . A sweet scent suddenly filled the air like the perfume of roses blown across water.

 “Don’t be afraid,” the woman said. “I am Amonah, Goddess of the Sea, and water is my path. I can walk above or beneath it as I wish.”

 Sitting down beside Sabalah, Amonah let Her feet dangle in the water. They were bare except for toe rings of rose-colored coral. She must have weighed nothing, because the end of the mast didn’t tilt the way it would have it a flesh-and-blood human being had sat there.

How to Use Creative Trance

The Village of Bones was formed from scores of similar visions, as were all the poems I wrote that year, and even part of one of the screenplays which I co-wrote with director Renée de Palma.

Using creative trance is a gentle, pleasant way to create the raw materials for a work of fiction. It is not like meditation because your goal is not transcendence. It is not like many forms of self-hypnosis because you are not trying to lose weight, stop smoking, or change your behavior in any way. It is not like prayer, because you are not seeking a closer relationship with God. Creative trance is a tool, a key if you will, that lets you unlock the riches you already have stored in your own unconscious.

Yet its power should not be underestimated. So let me leave you with a warning: If you decide to go deeply into your own unconscious, you have to be ready to deal with what you find there. Creative trance is not therapy. If you are upset, unhappy, depressed, or anxious, wait until you 0mackey-r1-e001have a calm mind and specific writing goals and can set firm limits on what you will accept from your unconscious.

When you are in a creative trance, you should always be in control. If your Goddess appears before you with a hairdo made of snakes, you should be able to instantly turn those vipers into cobwebs and seaweed. Nothing you experience should harm you, scare you, or make you uncomfortable for more than a few seconds. A creative trance should be enjoyable from start to finish.

In The Village of Bones, the Goddess Earth gives Her people six commandments. The First Commandment is: “Live together in love and harmony.” The Sixth is: “Enjoy yourselves, for your joy is pleasing to Her.”

 

Resources:

  • Syllabi for courses in Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Women’s Visionary Film can be found on Mary Mackey’s Educators Page at http://marymackey.com
  • To get the latest news about Mary Mackey, Women’s Visionary Fiction and The Village of Bones, click here.

BIO:

MaryMackey8791LoResWEB(1)Mary Mackey, D. writes novels, poetry, and film scripts. A Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Sacramento, she is the author of fourteen novels and seven collections of poetry including Sugar Zone, winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. Garrison Keillor has featured her poetry four times on The Writer’s Almanac. Her novels have made The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists and been translated into twelve languages. Her visionary novel The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale is a prequel to the three novels in her best-selling Earthsong Series (The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring). Mary welcomes your questions and comments at www.marymackey.com where, you can sample her work, read her interview series People Who Make Books Happen, learn more tricks for avoiding Writers Block, and sign up to get the latest news about her fiction and poetry. You can also Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @MMackeyAuthor. Mary’s literary papers are archived at the Sophia Smith Special Collections Library at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

 

 

 

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21 Responses to Using Creative Trance To Write Visionary Fiction – Guest Post by Mary Mackey

  1. tuilorraine says:

    First, I adored the opening statement including the description of ‘the social agreement we call “reality,”
    Next I couldn’t believe this arrived on this day when I’d written what I’d written. It was not something that I found in a creative trance of my own, although I think I have often used creative trance via mediation almost unwittingly.
    I wrote a description of a human character using creative trance herself. Apologies for first-draftiness – it was only written today. As follows:
    “Hinewai climbed onto the rocks and stood with deep water flowing beside her feet, on the western side of the cove. Again, she focused on her own breathing until all thoughts were stilled. It was a kind of wakeful sleep. Sleep without dreams, but not without music.
    Out to sea, Ururangi’s pod was passing. Among the musical thoughtstreams over the sea that morning, he recognised one that came out from the land.
    He left the pod and came to Hinewai alone, arriving just as the song was finishing. His body glided in the water before her, its hourglass markings perfectly drawn, its flukes and fins a poetry of form, but Hinewai’s eyes were closed. Ururangi cruised back and forth, sometimes circling the rock. Was this woman asleep? If so it was more like dolphin sleep than normal human sleep. Water gurgled against the rocks at her feet, and a soft wind breathed in the trees behind. He thought of his grandmother using sleep to try to reach the humans. He planted a connection into her mind as he would with another dolphin he wished to talk to. Energy surged along the connection.
    ‘Talk to me,’ prayed Hinewai from deep in the stillness of her chosen state.
    A silent chord came from the ocean into her mind, made by instruments that could not exist. So brief, it came and went while she breathed just once. It raised the tiny hairs on her forearms and sent a pulse of golden light through her aura. Ururangi saw that change of light and so did Azariel and all his angels and I.

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  2. tuilorraine says:

    Anyway, I checked out “Village of Bones” and had to buy it when I found the woman paddling over the sea, just as my own does to get to the cove where she enters her creative trance.

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  3. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    Interesting. Thank you. With me, this often comes through meditation, or through my thoughts just wandering in a basically meditational state. Except I don’t generally ask questions, so the revelations that often follow often carry me into other books (I tend to write several very different novels simultaneously) and ideas I was not expecting.

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  4. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    Or into Facebook posts that have no particular applicability in my own life, but which appear to someone in another part of the world just at the moment she desperately needs to read them. Opening to unseen guiding others, or in your case to your own personal guiding flow can help in so many ways.

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  5. What a good idea. I’m stuck, mostly because I’m too busy, which keeps me in my focused left brain. Sounds like something to develop.

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  6. Thanks for this, Mary. Way back in 2012, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post on my website about how blow drying my hair distracted my monkey brain long enough for my unconscious to break through. “Maybe it’s the combination of white noise in my ears and warm air on my scalp,” I wrote. On a more serious note, I add 3-mile walks and pre-and-post-dream states to my list of ways to bypass the monkey brain and enter the “creative trance” you describe above. I’m anxious to try your technique of delving into the unconscious. I like the way you take some of the mystery out of the process, making it accessible to all by saying, ” I didn’t believe I was conjuring up a real spirit, channeling a mystical force, or having a religious experience (that’s a relief!). I believed, and still believe, that I was simply unlocking the resources of my own consciousness and my own imagination using the very practical tool of creative trance. I don’t claim to know where these visions come from, but I am convinced that under the right conditions, anyone can have them.” And, “Creative trance is a tool, a key if you will, that lets you unlock the riches you already have stored in your own unconscious.” You also add such an important reminder: “After creativity comes craft.”

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    • Walking also works well for me. Got some of my best ideas while hiking or walking. And the amazing aspect is that the ideas are so strong when they come in that I never forget them. It’s as if they’re permanently recorded in my brain.

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    • Mary Mackey says:

      “After creative comes craft” should be a motto for all of us, Margaret. And your hairdryer story is not that farfetched. I came up with the plot of my best-seling novel while standing in the shower. The feeling of the water hitting my head put me into a trance-like state and pow! it came to me in a few moments. I don’t think we should ever underestimate the power of gentle distraction.

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  7. Lovely. Thank you, Jodine. What she calls a trance, I call the “zone.” My experience is a little different in that I actually tend to take on the persona in my imagination, I get inside them and walk through the scenes.

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  8. I love this piece! You’ve described something I almost take for granted in my writing process, and provided some additional techniques along the way. Zone, trance, however it’s described, this space is the where the muse speaks. It’s where passion bubbles. Creativity, then craft – yes!!! Probably, above everything, this is why I am so drawn to VFA.

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  9. “Your unconscious is packed with ideas, metaphors, visions, plots, dreams, colors, characters, emotions—in short, everything you need to write a great visionary novel. But how do you get to it? How do you step out of the social agreement we call “reality,” and dip into this incredibly rich resource?”

    Love your opening, which connect to a lot of what Joseph Campbell said about archetypes. I use meditation to create my art, which I don’t see any different from your creative trance. It all depends on how I decide to venture into my subconscious. I pose a question before I detach and then I simply observe until images present themselves. Sometimes I’ll hear a phrase. It’s both amazing and humbling to see that by detaching from our outer selves we can find deeper meaning in the answers we seek, both in art and in life.

    What’s interesting is I use the same technique in my everyday life to find answers to outer conflicts. I still use it to this day, so there is definitely a parallel between fiction and real life for me. One aspect offers creative images and phrases in which to craft my story and the other offers creative solutions to dealing with how I live and function in the world. This detachment also freed me from dogmatism, which led to me getting along better with others, replacing judgment with compassion, believing in myself, and having the strength to stand by my conviction. For me, my ability to maneuver through outer conflict without compromising my ideals is tantamount to getting an honest story. It’s all a matter of balance. Great post!

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    • Mary Mackey says:

      Thanks, Eleni. I also meditate (every morning), but the kind of meditation I do forbids you from trying to do any kind of work or trying to solve problems while meditating. That’s one of the reasons I developed my trance technique.

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  10. Mary, This is a wonderful article as well as a great reminder to tap into those creative, trance, meditative – whatever one prefers to call them – zones to inspire and inform their writing. I appreciate your practical steps in describing your Trance Technique, Mary.
    For the first time ever, I have recently felt a lull in my wellspring of creativity so I am inspired to use these sort of practices to revitalize my writing. Timely!

    And I agree – creativity, then craft. This is so important in any genre, but especially our VF where we seem to have to prove ourselves above and beyond to gain credibility in the publishing world.

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    • Mary Mackey says:

      I believe that Visionary Fiction is the most important fiction of our era because it cuts away from the ordinary and the expected and brings us new ideas, new possibilities, new hope.

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  11. tuilorraine says:

    Eleni’s mentions she receives inspiration while walking. Me too. It might be on foot or on my bike, especially while riding in our beautiful native forest. Unlike Eleni, I need to record it quickly as sometimes other ideas come along too quickly and push the first ones away. My memory is clearly less efficient than hers. I’ve learnt to carry pencil and paper in my bike pack. 🙂

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  12. Mary some of us are always in a trance and want some kind of trance awakening and that would interest me how to get out of trance dance etc Elizabeth Martina Bishop

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    • Mary Mackey says:

      Hi, Elizabeth, you have just asked a crucial question. Thank you for it. If a person feels she or he is always in a trance, I think it would be unwise to try my Trance Technique. It’s important to go from fully awake in the agreed on social reality to trance and then back to the fully awake social reality.

      The best ways I know to come out of my kind of trance (and your kind may differ) is to do something very rational and slightly boring. Attempting to balance your checkbook can snap you out of almost any creative mood as can calling up tech support and enduring the endless process of having someone guide you through a computer problem. In other words, engaging the rational part of your mind in a way that demands your attention may work.

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      • tuilorraine says:

        Oh Mary! I spent three days of last week having tech support guide me through computer problems! Sometimes for hours on end.They were working remotely inside my computer at times, You certainly go into a trance after a while, but it is not a creative trance. 🙂
        At least I wound up with some amazing new software – the full Adobe Creative Cloud – software that might even help the folks who run this website some day. I know have a lot of useful web graphical horsepower.

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