Use Your Peripheral Vision! [Depth Freewriting Strategy]

A writer’s peripheral vision

Sometimes the best ideas have to sneak up on you.

You know the feeling. You’re doodling around with one thing or another, then WHAM! Like lightning, inspiration strikes. Eureka! You race forward with your new discovery. The world is forever changed.

It’s a beautiful feeling, and it happens like magic. You thought you needed to head in one direction, but inspiration struck.

So, hmm… why doesn’t it always happen that way?

How come we have to be surprised by big ideas? Why can’t we just decide to have them? Why does discovery seem to happen when we aren’t willfully intending it?

The Skill of Receptivity

Being intentional is important when you are freewriting. If you have unclear goals, then you can expect unclear results.

However, having clear goals doesn’t mean limiting yourself and only allowing one “right” outcome. Being intentional doesn’t mean narrowing your focus, either.

When you write with intentionality, you’re on the hunt, prowling the wild imagination for the tasty ideas that live there.

The funny thing about The Imaginative Realm is that things don’t happen like they do here on Earth.

It’s less like you are hunting the ideas and more like you are allowing them to hunt you. Ideas come to you not because you’re narrowly focused on a predetermined thing, but when you are receptive to them.

When your focus is narrow, you end up scaring off all the good ideas, and only the stale ones and cliches are visible. You miss seeing other opportunities.

The problem: tunnel vision. Left to my own devices, I’m apt to end up there. You’re apt to end up there. We all end up not seeing the forest for the trees.

You think things need to look a certain way. Your filters are turned up too high. You’re blocking everything, even the good ideas, simply because they don’t match your preconceived notions.

Of course they don’t look right. They’re new. They’re still alive, they’re being formed. They’re completely unlabelable at this point.

Being stalked by good ideas

You need a writing process that allows you to be seen by the best ideas, the wildest, the ones that don’t fit in, the crazy pieces.

Everybody likes that feeling of getting new ideas, having revelations, bringing two completely different things together. Coining a term that the universe has never before seen. Finding a solution to an age-old problem. Having fun as you write your novel with reckless abandon. Somehow, despite your carelessness, you’re making magic. Everything fits, everything flows.

It’s totally possible to become increasingly visible to good ideas and the wild delicious nectar of the imagination.

Patience. Presence. An expansive focus.

Besides, who’s to say you can’t widen your sense of the present moment? How long is the present moment? A fraction of a second? A few dozen seconds? A few minutes?

Perhaps you have noticed that when you work on something for a dedicated period of time and you are able to flow without interruption, you seem to get deeper into the experience.

During writing marathons, I have definitely had experiences where the present moment seemed to stretch on into hours. My focus was much broader than it is in everyday life. Anything seemed possible.

Tapping from the magic of peripheral vision to write

How do you honor the boundless wildness of the imagination without going completely off your rocker and, well, losing the plot?

To use an analogy here, consider the way our eyes work. We have central vision and peripheral vision. The center of our vision is sharp. It enables us to read and do basically anything that requires focus. The majority of our field of vision, though, is peripheral. It is not as sharp as central vision, but it gives us a wide field to be aware of. Information received peripherally can help us to get a sense for what we might want to direct our focus towards.

Central focus gets all the attention. We forget about the value of peripheral vision. It’s blurry. Maybe the peripheral stuff is not exactly relevant, otherwise we would direct our central vision there.

This entails freewriting with intentionality. You don’t know exactly where you’re going but you have a sense for it.

You’re following your nose. Letting things be vague or blurry at times.

What happens when you write without being overly focused on your subject?

You become aware of your subtle sense perception. Other senses blend and merge with your general peripheral vision.

You see more of the forest around the trees. You get more of a feel for your subject. Instead of limiting yourself based on what you already know (and what you think you already know), peripheral vision enables you to see more of the context. Not only what your subject looks like, but how it fits together with all manner of other things.

Spread your awareness around your topic.

This means getting more of a visceral sense for it, not just a cerebral one.

Inviting visceral engagement

The difference is black and white when it comes to being able to:

  • write without stopping
  • avoid frustration and confusion
  • be invigorated by your writing

The visceral sence is your capacity to feel something in your gut. In your body. To be moved emotionally, not just logically. To be turned on, horrified, outraged, deeply inspired.

Just as the brain doesn’t know whether something is actually experienced or vividly imagined, your visceral sense can make things happen in a powerful way.

Unless you take advantage of viscerality and peripherality, you aren’t really putting yourself in your writing. Your presence will be lacking.

It doesn’t have anything to do with your actual physical body. The truth is deeper. It has to do with your energetic body, that essential part of your nature mysteriously manifest in a human body.

That part of you experiences the world through the senses.

The common advice to get in touch with the sensory specifics is a good place to start. Your reader needs that to get their viscerality grounded in your writing, their feelers spread over your language.

But at the more advanced level, you can’t really rely on that data to get across the real nuance and sense of life of a real person. What can we do that (right now) AI cannot do?

We can convey what it is like to experience things in a human body.

Specifically, your human body. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary to dwell on physicality — on the contrary, when fueled and informed peripherally by our visceral sense, we are better able to navigate emotional blockages and intellectual hangups.

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