Monday, December 28, 2015

A Guest Post With Lawrence M. Schoen

I'd like to welcome Lawrence M. Schoen to the blog. His latest novel, Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, is coming out this week from Tor. From Amazon and Barnes & Noble: The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten.

Lawrence is a psychologist, an authority on the Klingon language, and a hypnotherapist. I asked him to write up a little something about how hypnotherapy can help authors. When I was pregnant with my son, I used self-hypnosis to cope with anxiety and with pain during labor. One of the interesting side benefits was how, while I was pregnant, my writing productivity suddenly increased. I realized it was due to my practicing hypnosis every time I sat down to write. It helped me focus, and it helped that pesky internal editor take a hike. But don't take my word for it. Here's Lawrence, discussing how hypnosis works and what it can do for writers:

Hypnosis and Writing

Okay, so the first thing you need to know is that if you're like 99% of the world, everything you think you know about hypnosis is flat out wrong. It's not exotic. It's not mind control. It's not difficult to do. It's involves a perfectly natural phenomenon that occurs to each of us in one form or another nearly every single day. And yes, everyone can be hypnotized.

Hypnosis involves easing someone into a particular altered state of consciousness, commonly know as a “trance.” A trance is simply a dissociation of your conscious awareness from your immediate environment. Every time you’ve been immersed in a good book, or lost track of the movie theatre around you when caught up watching a film, you’ve been in a state of trance. It happens when you’re waiting for the elevator door to open and when you’re driving that familiar route home from work at the end of the day. Your conscious awareness goes somewhere else. That’s trance.

When I’m working as a hypnotist (and most of that work is with authors), I’m using trance to mediate between a client’s conscious and unconscious minds, facilitating communication between the two parts, getting them on the same side so they’re not working at cross purposes and can move together to produce more satisfying life results.

With authors this typically means exploring why they’re experiencing writer’s block, or helping them to turn off the internal editor, or creating a habit of putting in time every day (or on whatever schedule they want), or overcoming performance anxiety associated with reading in public, or getting them past thoughts of imposter syndrome, fear of failure, and/or fear of success. 

The thing to remember is that the unconscious mind is the repository for a lifetime of emotionally charged memories and behavioral patterns that may have been brilliant choices at some time in the past but have long since lost some or all of their utility. It doesn’t operate by the same rules as your conscious awareness, which is part of why it’s distinct from it.

But it’s also incredibly powerful, and with a little coaxing you can have your unconscious do all kinds of back-breaking work in the background of your mind or while you’re asleep. Most people have had the experience of going to bed with a problem on their mind and waking up to discover the solution in front of them. With hypnosis, you can have this as a regular tool in your toolbox. Imagine laying out the questions you need to resolve in order to make a plot point work or a character’s motivations make sense, and then yawning, stretching, turning out the light, and falling asleep, secure in the knowledge that an answer will “magically” present itself in the morning when you sit down to write.

The style of hypnosis that I employ — both for myself and my clients — is often referred to as Conversational Hypnosis, or even as “Covert” Hypnosis, and is usually credited to Milton H. Erickson, the father of American Hypnotherapy (which is why it’s also sometimes called Ericksonian  Hypnosis). When I began my study of this type of hypnosis I discovered it was essentially a blend of storytelling techniques and cognitive psychology. I already had my doctorate in cognitive psych, and I’d been writing and selling fiction for more than twenty years, so for me it all felt as easy as breathing. I’d already acquired all the pieces and mostly just had to assemble them in new ways.

Generally that takes the form of having a simple conversation with my clients. I especially like working with authors because they are, by definition, creative people. They’re already experienced in employing their imaginations, and a lot of facilitating change involves positing new possibilities.

It’s incredibly satisfying to help other writers “get out of their own ways.” Indeed, time and time again we find the obstacles that are keeping us from what we want are things we’ve created ourselves. At first glance, that can seem very frustrating, even hopeless, but one of Erickson’s major lessons was that each of us possesses all the resources we need to resolve any of our problems. And again, when you realize that we’re the source of them this only makes sense. This applies not just to authors, but to all of us, butcher, baker and that guy at the mall who makes candles

But part of why I especially like helping other writers to achieve their goals is because their resulting stories will go on to inspire so many others. It takes “paying it forward” to a whole new level.


Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Becoming a Renaissance Woman

At some point in middle school or thereabouts, we learned about the Renaissance, and about the Renaissance man. Being a Renaissance man sounded fun. It sounded like the best way to achieve a full life. I decided right then and there to become a Renaissance woman. I wanted to meet challenges, become good at art and science and sports, and travel the world.

I started thinking about this recently because I read through Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I bet he had fun learning how to spell his name in Kindergarten). I didn't find a lot of new information in the book, but the entire thing reminded me of the Renaissance man and the idea of opening oneself to fully experiencing life, whether that be working on a factory assembly line or making art or even cleaning one's house. What I got out of the book was that life is to be engaged, and not passively experienced.

For me, being a Renaissance woman means learning new things continuously. Becoming a physical therapist took a lot of time and mental energy. I spent years taking prerequisites and then learning the science and techniques specific to that job. I spent the first couple of years out of school honing those skills. And then I reached a plateau where, while there was still more to learn, it was minimal.

So my brain turned back to one of my childhood dreams... becoming a writer. Just like any other career, there is a learning curve when it comes to the skills specific to the craft of writing. In another book, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, he discusses how just about any skill--whether it's playing an instrument, mastering golf, whatever you can think of--takes a minimum amount of practice for one to become good at it. This breaks down to continuously practicing the skills necessary for about a decade. Want to become the best golfer you can be? Give it ten years. Want to become the best writer you can be? Give it about ten years. And so on. Not that you don't improve after that, but you should be fairly proficient.

I took up writing seriously about ten years ago. See a pattern here? I do. Last year I decided it was time to take up another challenge--running. So I've achieved proficiency in a science/medical field, I'm close to achieving that in an art, and now I'm working on something athletic. Now, I certainly don't think I'll be competing in the senior Olympics in ten years, but I should be the best runner I can possibly be, and I'll be happy with that.

And what comes after that? Well, I have about a decade to figure that out.

Monday, December 7, 2015

2015 Writing Year in Review

The year's end is nearly upon us, NaNoWriMo just ended, and I have a ton of stories to edit. For a while there, I was just producing new words and doing very few edits. So, editing will most likely fill my time for the next couple of months or so. Since I don't plan on writing any more new stories for what remains of this year, I thought I'd post my numbers.

I wrote eleven new short stories this year, four novelettes (or really long short stories, depending on your definition), and one novel. I don't keep track of words written, but I probably produced about 125,000 words this year. And so far this year I've made 43 short story submissions.

Publication and sales-wise for short stories, this was a sparse year. I made one reprint sale and had one other publication. I think part of the drop was due to having several sales last year, and part of it is just the fickle nature of publishing. But, I had two novels published this year. Fractured Days, the sequel to my fantasy novel Shards of History came out, as did the final book in my Necromancer's Inheritance series, The Necromancer's Book of Magic.

I guess the image for this year has been of a duck in water. Everything looks calm above, but my feet have been madly moving below. Hopefully it all pays off next year with more sales, more publications, and more writing awesomeness.