I so wanted to call this post “The Dale Carnegie Asylum for aspiring writers”. I got that title from Carolyn See’s chapter “Do Some Magic” in her wonderful book, “Making a Literary Life“(which I cannot recommend enough if you are trying to make a literary life), however as it is part of the W.I.V series I felt obliged to stick to the established brand name. But, just so you know as you read this post that is what I am calling this post when I refer to it.
I thought as I have lately been dreaming of the Magic Kingdom and Magic Mountain that it might be a good time to get out my rabbits, scarves, sequins and top hat and do a little David Copperfield/Doug Henning magic. That said the only thing I can make disappear is a cookie and I can’t do a card trick… gosh, I can’t even shuffle cards. So instead I turned to Carolyn’s chapter,”Do Some Magic” in which she suggests many a magical suggestion for making a literary life that require neither scarves or rabbits.
Carolyn’s #1 magical suggestion for making literary magic is to do affirmations. As this is only suggestion one and I already have a bad attitude about her suggestions I am wondering if I should skip this chapter and move onto the next chapter, “Make rejection a process”. Nah, that title makes magic and affirmations sound like a day at the beach( keep in mind I hate going to the beach unless it is cold and rainy and overcast).
The only person I know who did affirmations every day of their life was my father. Every morning upon rising he would look into the mirror and say “You handsome devil.” The affirmations seemed to work for him. He stayed handsome and even when his looks faded people responded to him( when I say people read that as woman) as if he was Cary Grant and George Clooney rapped in a package of devilish goodness. Well, he did include the devil thing in the affirmation and I assure you that he had bad behavior down to a science. If there is a hell for selfishness, rakishness, philandering and bad parenting I assure you my father is the activity director in that department.
Other than my father I know no one who has successfully used affirmations. I do think I remember reading that it was a French psychologist, Émile Coué de Châtaigneraie, who was the founder of affirmations or what he called optimistic autosuggestion. It was a big shocking to learn that the Father of Positive Thinking is French. Are there others besides me who find this oozing optimism to seem just un-French? Sartre, Camus, existentialism, despair, and ennui or Barthes, Ponty, Saussure, Lacan, Derrida, Focault, Lyotard and structuralism, post-modernism and post-structuralism—these are the French philosophers and philosophies I know and love.
“The Coué method” according to Wikipedia, “centers on a routine repetition of this particular expression according to a specified ritual, in a given physical state, and in the absence of any sort of allied mental imagery, at the beginning and at the end of each day. Unlike a common held belief that a strong conscious will constitutes the best path to success, Coué maintained that curing some of our troubles requires a change in our unconscious thought, which can only be achieved by using our imagination. Although stressing that he was not primarily a healer but one who taught others to heal themselves, Coué claimed to have effected organic changes through autosuggestion.”
The affirmation that Emile suggested for his patients was “Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux“. In French it sounds cool. Well, to me everything sounds cool and glamorous in French even the most banal and boring things like “passez-moi la moutarde” sounds like an erotic and sensual invitation, that said I do enjoy a good mustard. However, in English, Coué’s mantra means “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”. Well, that just sounds plain cheesy to me and I don’t mean a lovely aged French cheese packed with delicious protein crystals but much more like an overly processed Velveeta. A French affirmation I might enjoy along with a glass of hearty Burgundy and a crusty bread is “Every day, in every way, I am getting closer and closer to death so I might as well enjoy life as much as I can and have some more wine and cheese and sex and cigarettes because I am going to be dead before I know it and then it will be too late.”
My literary life adviser, Carolyn See, makes a very good argument in her book for the need for affirmations. When you enter the literary world you will hear all kinds of personal attacks about how your writing isn’t good enough or it isn’t what they are looking for. You will also hear more globalized generalizations, such as:
” No one is publishing memoir”
“It is easier to get struck by lightning than it is to get a publishing deal in this economy.”
“Books are dead. You should just write a screenplay.”
Carolyn suggests using affirmations to counter all the stinking thinking that exists about the literary world. “It’s nice to reassure your timid, frightened brain that you deserve the very best and now it is the time for it.” A few of the affirmations she uses to do so are:
“I am a powerful, loving and creative being, and I can handle it, and I can have anything I want.” Part one I will agree with. Part two is true. Part three is a little much for me to take. Anything? If only it were true.
“I deserve the very best, and now is the time for it.” Ooh, deserve. That is a word I could write a 3000 word post on. But, if the best is coming now would be a really good time for it to arrive.
“My ideas come faster than I can write them and they are all good.” That is a nice one. I do have a lot of ideas and I do think they are pretty good(even if I am the only one who thinks so). Happily, I can write them all down so I don’t think I need this affirmation.
“Everything turns out for me more exquisitely than I ever planned.” No, no, no. Not so true for me. I am pleased as punch that this is true for Carolyn but it is not true for me.
There are several affirmations that Carolyn has in the book that are particularly for writers that do not seem as challenging for my inner skeptic to take. For example, “Up until now, I couldn’t do dialogue, but now I love it! I can’t wait to type quotation marks and see what my characters have to say” or “Up until now, I had some trouble with plot, but now it is my greatest strength. I’m a fiend for plot!” Even though I never see myself writing fiction I do like the idea of autosuggesting my way into getting good at dialogue.
Let me admit here and now that I am not much for magical thinking. I am sure I could benefit from taking Carolyn’s advice on this subject. She, after all, is a very successful writer and I am not, so who am I to scoff at a magical suggestion that has worked for her. But, I am just too much of a realist to believe that affirmations can do much more than self sooth. And, if they are too big and too optimistic like “My income increases daily whether I’m working, playing or sleeping” I just can’t do anything but laugh at them and then my mind immediately starts to freak out and brings forth all the evidence how that isn’t true and how I better get off my a** and g
et to work.
Carolyn does offer this important disclaimer: “Does this magic “work”? Again, I don’t know. I do know it takes you out of this world and into the mystical one, where life is fun and anything can happen; where, when you drive your car, you can say out loud,”I feel like a success; I am a success.” and see what will happen next, wait for your life to unfold with a sense of pleasure and surprise.” Next time I am in my car I will take Carolyn’s advice and see where it takes me.
And, if I was going to move into the mystical world( no packing is required, just a huge leap of faith and an abandonment of my core beliefs) my affirmation would be: “Everyday I make huge piles of money for writing my blog and everyday I am discovered by a big literary agent who loves me and my writing and, everyday and every way, huge publishing houses offer me huge amounts of money to publish my book and, everyday and every way, my book is a huge best seller and it is sold for huge amounts of money to be turned into a huge and wildly successful film and, everyday and every way, I can eat all the cheese, chocolate and bread I want and it just makes me skinnier, prettier and younger.” Or, if you prefer it in French, it goes a little something like this( blame Babelfish if the translation makes no sense): Journalier je fais les piles de l’argent énormes pour écrire mon blog et journalier je suis découvert par un grand agent littéraire qui m’aime et mon écriture et maisons énormes journalières et de chaque édition de manière m’offrent des montants considérables d’argent pour éditer mon livre et journalier et chaque manière mon livre est un best-seller énorme et il est vendu pour des montants considérables d’argent à transformer en énorme et d’une manière extravagante film et journalier réussi et je peux manger de tous les fromage, chocolat et pain que je veux et il me rend juste plus maigre, plus joli et plus jeune.
I admit that my father’s affirmation was more succinct than mine and Carolyn’s are slightly more modest but if “I am a powerful, loving and creative being…and I can have anything I want” then this affirmation ought to work just fine. I’ll let you know how it works out.
p.s. Carolyn See’s daughter is Lisa See. Lisa’s latest book, Shanghai Girls: A Novel is the 45th most popular book at Amazon.com. I wonder what affirmations she did?