A Writing Lesson from the World's Greatest Hypnotist
Pull up a chair and sit down. Relax. Let me tell you a brief story about the world's greatest hypnotist and how he learned an important secret about writing.
Milton Erickson was legendary. He was considered the foremost practitioner of hypnosis and became famous for his unique induction methods. Supposedly Erickson could put you into a trance with a story—or by even shaking your hand. His innovative approaches to curing people have led to numerous books by him and about him. Erickson himself was one of the three people who inspired the creation of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a new field of communication and behavioral study.
Erickson was often asked to write papers about hypnosis and medical treatment. one day he faced a particularly difficult paper and wasn't sure how to write it. What this colorful psychiatrist did was brilliant.
Erickson put himself into a hypnotic trance and asked his un-
A Writing Lesson from the World's Greatest Hypnotist conscious mind for guidance. When he came out of the trance, he looked down and on his lap was a group of comic books. He didn't know what to think of them. He also didn't have any time to think about them. Right then the doorbell rang and Erickson had to go to see a client.
But he didn't forget about the comic books.
What did the comic books mean?
What was his unconscious telling him?
What do you think was going on?
Erickson realized—maybe the next day—that comic books are written in a very simple and direct style. There are very few words, lots of pictures, and every idea gets communicated in a brief but effective way. Everyone understands comics.
That was it!
Erickson understood that his unconscious mind was urging him to write his paper in the same way comic books are written—simply, clearly, and directly. There's no need to use big words or confusing concepts. Just say what you have to say in terms even a child could understand.
Aha! That was another insight!
Comic books are written so children can make sense of them. They are also written so adults can appreciate them. Erickson knew he had to communicate his ideas so simply that even a child could grasp his meaning. He knew that if he expressed himself in simple terms, every adult would be able to understand him.
What I encourage writers to do is pretend they are writing their letter or article for children. If you can imagine a child reading— and understanding—your writing, then you will write in a way that everyone will understand. In fact, go out and find a child and talk to him about your next writing project. That child will help you clarify what you are trying to say.
Communication, after all, is your responsibility. If someone doesn't understand your writing, it means you didn't succeed in writing clear and direct material.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, "If people around you will not hear you, fall down before them and beg their forgiveness, for in truth, you are to blame."
Erickson was a genius. And what he learned about writing applies to every writer. You may not be writing for children, and you may not be writing comic books, but you must always remind yourself that there is a child in every reader. Speak to that child, and you will succeed in communicating to your reader.
More than that, when you speak to the child in your reader, you speak directly to his unconscious mind. Few people can resist what their inner child likes. Speak to the child and you will hold his attention.
Erickson himself said in a 1966 lecture,"... the unconscious mind is decidedly simple, unaffected, straightforward and honest It is rather simple, rather childish."
Your assignment: Read a comic book!
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