Recalling the Fiction Writer’s Childlike Imagination, Part 2

A little boy sees a castle and dragons in his imagination as he reads a book.Imagination Rules!

Your most important fiction-writing tool is your imagination. You want it to be strong, supple and unfettered, like a child’s. Last week I scrawled out a few thoughts for how part-time fiction writers can lubricate a rusted-up imagination. Here are a few more suggestions for you.

Focused Daydreaming

You might want to try concentrating on a particular aspect of your story and seeing how far you can push it in your imagination. Take setting, for example. Step away from any writing instruments and close your eyes. Picture the setting as best you can. Now, walk into it yourself and use your five senses to experience it. Look closely at the people, the plants, the architecture. Listen to the birds and the traffic. Take in the cooking smells wafting out of doorways. You get the idea.
You can do the same thing with characters. Talk with them just like you used to talk with your imaginary friend. Turn yourself invisible and watch what they do as they go through their day.
In some circles, this kind of thing is called visualization. I prefer focused daydreaming.

Play

How long has it been since you just played? By play, I mean doing something fun without much thought of organization or results. Well, get yourself to the nearest crafts aisle and grab some paints, some clay, markers, or whatever you like. Go crazy putting some colors down on some kind of surface. I doesn’t have to be good, or even finished. Just be spontaneous.
If visual art isn’t your thing, then kick a ball around, look for bugs under rocks, get into some cosplay, pick up an instrument you know nothing about, make something useless in your wood shop… the possibilities are endless.
One thing you can try, if all else fails, is to go outside with no means of entertaining yourself. Stand around for a little while. Chances are you’ll get bored. Don’t start pulling weeds, but remember you’re out there to play, and see what happens.

Explore

An important extension of play is exploration. Few things will shake your mind up like going to an unfamiliar locale. You don’t have to go to great lengths. Try going to work by a different route, or take the bus if you don’t usually do that. Go to a different grocery store to shop. If you’ve got a trip between towns, take the small highways instead of the interstates; it’ll take longer, but you’ll see a lot more. Of course, if you’ve got the time and the scratch, a trip to somewhere exotic is always appropriate.
Wherever you go, don’t be passive in your observations. Make a conscious effort to exercise all five of your senses. Sometimes I’ll do a checklist in my head: “What I am seeing right now? What smells are coming through? What’s touching me – or vice-versa – and how does it feel?” And don’t just take what comes – seek out the interesting stuff and go toward it (unless it’s something like a maniac with a machine pistol… you want to go away from that—let’s not get carried away).

Practice

The suggestions in this post aren’t the only ways to recapture you childlike imagination. Surely, you can come up with many more. The one thing they all have in common is that you have to practice them. If you engage in an imagination-building exercise once and leave it at that, the likelihood it’s going to do you any good drops by about 99%. Make nurturing your imagination a regular practice and it will serve you well.

If you liked this post, please check out Recalling the Fiction Writer’s Childlike Imagination, Part 1
Sources used for this post:
http://www.tedrubin.com/a-secret-to-innovation-childlike-imagination-2/  @tedrubin
http://www.thejabberlog.com/2011/11/10/where-has-our-child-like-imagination-gone/ @JabberLog
http://www.ideastogo.com/the-science-of-imagination @ideastogo

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Recalling the Fiction Writer’s Childlike Imagination, Part 1

A girl playing with soap bubbles has the imagination a fiction writer needsWhat a writer wants: childlike imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. “ Einstein

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. “ King James Bible

That icon of scientific discovery, Albert Einstein, recognized the primacy of imagination over knowledge. I think that might be because imagination inspires you to seek knowledge in the first place and to see it in new ways. Jesus got it right when he recognized that minds of little kids are much more like heavenly minds that old, mucked-up ones. Imagination is a writer’s number one tool and kids have the purest and most free.

A childlike imagination is what we want, but when you’re all grown up, it can be hard for your imagination to flow freely, even if you’re a hard-working part-time fiction writer. Maybe it’s because you know too much, or think you do, and every idea you have gets shot down by some fact or probability. Maybe it’s because you’ve come to feel you know almost nothing and you feel unable to build a bridge into the vast, dark sea of your ignorance. (I am in the second category, if you’re wondering.) Maybe it’s because you’re just tired. (Put me in that category, too.)

Remember when we were kids? Our imaginations could take us anywhere. We could be angels or dragons, football stars or fairy princesses. We could stare off into space during Math class and ride off to any number of wondrous places. (At least that’s what I did, which might explain why I’m a writer now, and not an engineer.)

Lack of inhibition

When my son was about three, he attended a ballet performance in which my wife (she of infinite lovely awesomeness) performed. At intermission, he hopped out of his seat, walked up onto the stage and did a dance in front of the curtain. The crowd went wild!

We adults would cringe at doing anything so forward, but my boy yet lacked all the inhibitions we pick up along the way. He wasn’t worried about being wrong, or being weird, or not pointing his toes. He was in the grip of enthusiasm, which fired his imagination, which led to the creation of an original dance.

Inhibitions are pretty useful to have for an adult. They curb your behavior and keep you more or less within social norms. Everybody gets along a lot better that way. The trouble is, that those useful inhibitions are usually accompanied by some that aren’t so useful. Most painful of those for a fiction writer is any inhibition that squashes the lively imagination. You can become hesitant to write about things because you’re afraid of being wrong, or weird – of not pointing your toes, so to speak.

Recognizing the problem

Ask yourself if your writer’s imagination has become inhibited when you hesitate to write something because:

  • It might make you look silly.
  • It might hurt somebody’s feelings.
  • It might offend a particular group.
  • Your mother or somebody else from whom you seek approval might not like it.
  • You think something isn’t appropriate for someone of your seriousness, talent, maturity, or what-have-you.
  • You have an intuitive desire to put something into your story, but you aren’t sure it’s “right.”
  • You have an idea, but your fingers pause over the keyboard and you’re not sure why.

No doubt there are other symptoms I could list, but I hope these help. After all, you can’t fix a problem you haven’t recognized. If, armed with this list or your own list, you realize your imagination is becoming restricted, you need to do something about it. I’ve got a few mental yoga moves to help loosen us up, which I’ll talk about next time.

Meanwhile, how about letting me know how you recognize when your inhibitions are getting the better of your imagination? I could use the advice! Thanks.

The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 4

Writing fiction part-time can be like taking a slow boat to China, or to anywhere.Take the Slow Boat to China – or Wherever Your Book is Set

As a part-time novelist, there’s one thing I dream of all the time: finishing. I am really looking forward to that golden moment when the last edit is in, the cover art is approved, the copy is formatted and my little book is launched. Oh, but there’s a long time to go, because the fiction writer who juggles many other things can only make progress so quickly. Sometimes I feel frustrated, like a racehorse champing at the bit in the starting gate (or, maybe, in my case, the old farm nag eager to get back to the barn and that tasty bag of oats).
I’m pretty sure many of my fellow fiction writers feel the same way. We must find ways to cope.

Make incremental progress

How do you eat an elephant? Same as anything else: one bite at a time.

Don’t expect to, or even try, to knock out huge swaths of your opus at one time. Write a little here, a little there. One kind writer told me she writes whenever a little sliver of time presents itself; for example, when she’s stuck at a train stop or a long light, she writes a few lines.
You can try the squeeze-it-in approach, or you can just set aside small amounts of time each day or week to enjoy the craft. I’ve another literary buddy with a busy job and a very demanding home life, who spends his lunch hour writing and he’s cranking out a good 60 pages every two weeks – not bad.
I suggest you keep a spreadsheet or other record of how many words or pages you create in each working session, with a cumulative total based on that. It’s very encouraging to watch your progress mount up. Sooner later, you’ll be done!

Have patience

I’m staring at the heading just above this line and thinking, “Okay… how?” Writing fiction part-time is often an unsettling experience. You want to go, go, to, but you just can’t. Having patience is the ability to calmly endure that feeling.
After reflecting on the matter a bit, I have to conclude the best way to boost your patience is to remember that you are in this situation by choice. You have decided to include many other things in your life. Nobody made you do it. Besides, you probably made those choices because they are advantageous for you and yours. So remind yourself of this, take a deep breath, and endure.

Enjoy yourself

You are performing the part-time fiction writer’s juggling act. Congratulations and welcome to the club. I hope you enjoy the juggling, because that’s the most important thing of all. Sure, you’re on the slow boat to China (or wherever), but the beauty of a slow boat is that you get to savor the ride.
There are all kinds of reasons to write – a deep-seated psychological need, a philosophical axe to grind, the hope of fortune and fame – and those are all fine, but if you ask me, the main reason for the part-time writer to keep going is enjoyment of the writing process itself. You sit down at the keyboard or notebook when you can, not knowing if anyone besides you will ever see the results, and you do it because it’s just fun.

Writing fiction is hard. If you don’t enjoy it? Why bother?

Speaking of enjoyment, if you liked this post, check out the related ones:
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 1
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 2
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 3

The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 3

For part time fiction writers, a hand written message about temporary sacrifice for later reward.Making Sacrifices for Your Fiction

I suppose there are some people out there who have plenty of time to do everything they want to do. My theory is that either these people don’t have much ambition, or they are some kind of mutant space aliens. As for me and the other part-time fiction writers I know, working the old storytelling magic requires sacrifice.

Sacrifice Other Things – Really

A couple of weeks ago, in , I suggested writers should do a self-assessment to see how important fiction is in relation to everything else in their lives. Here I want to emphasize that once you’ve set your priorities, you need to stick to them; that is, if your first priority doesn’t leave time for your second, you’ve got to let that second one go, at least for the time being.

A bit of navel-gazing and theoretical priority setting is great, but, all too often, when the rubber hits the road, the temptation to renege on your word to yourself is powerful. It’s a little like dieting; your goal weight has priority over gooey sweets, but when somebody puts an ice cream sundae down in front of you, it seems almost impossible to resist.

It’s probably a good idea to carry a list of your priorities in your wallet or purse. When you find yourself in a temptation situation, pull it out and give it a hard look. That alone may be enough may be enough to pull you away from the brink. You could try walking away and counting to ten, or walking around the block. Whatever you do, find some technique to help you pull away from that temptation and refocus on your priorities.

You’re going to fail at this from time to time. (If you never fail, I don’t want to hear about it, okay? Let me rest secure in my imperfection.) When you do, don’t waste time feeling guilt about it. Guilt just makes you feel worse and saps energy you could be using for your writing. Just do your best and move on!

Sacrifice Your Ego

If you are serious about being a fiction writer, you have to put your ego on the chopping block. Accept the truth that your writing and storytelling are not as good as you think they are. Get over the notion that you can catch all your grammar, style and story blunders yourself, because you can’t. Get yourself into a good critique group and listen to what they have to say. If the majority says your plot twist doesn’t make sense, don’t explain it to them; go figure out how to make it logical.

If you can’t find a critique group, find some critically people who are willing to read yourself and give you unvarnished feedback. Then, when you think you’re all done with your novel, get yourself some professional editing, both the proofreading kind and the book-doctor kind. Again, don’t defend – listen and fix.

All things considered, none of that’s so bad is it? I mean, it’s not like you have to sacrifice a goat or anything.

if you liked this post, please check out the related ones:
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 1
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 2

The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 2

Fence representing a writer's limits

Accept your limits

Here’s a continuation of my thoughts on finding balance for the part-time fiction writer.

The limit of one

Look carefully at yourself in the mirror. How many people do you see? I’m guessing one. That’s the one person you have to count on for getting all your obligations fulfilled. That probably means that, unless you have very few things to juggle or are Superman, there are going to be days when you’re going to have to let the writing go.

Not writing on a day you had hoped to hurts. You’ve got that peculiar writing energy all ready to go and then—bam—you have to put the brakes on. To me, it feels like preventing myself from sneezing when I have bad hay fever. If you let it, this feeling will drive you nuts.

When this happens, first remember your priorities. Next, remember that image in the mirror. You are just one person and you can only do so much. Accept that limitation and you’ll feel a lot better. You’ll also have more energy to devote to your fiction the next day, since you won’t have squandered it on anxiety.

The limit of gifts

When I was young, some well-intentioned older person told me “you can be anything you want to be.” I thought the proposition sounded fantastical at the time, and experience proved me to be right.

The fact is, you can’t be anything you want. I am a man of average height and weight, below-average coordination (way below), and a natural bent for things like reading. There was never any chance I could be a pro basketball player.

The fact of limitations extends to writing. You can’t be any kind of writer you want. (Well, you can be, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be any good at it.) For example, I don’t have much of a gift for short fiction. I have tried it, but my mind doesn’t work that way. I am not clever enough to figure out twisty endings and not patient enough to polish a tiny gem of a plot until it sparkles.

On the other hand, once I started writing a novel, I felt like I was home. A novel gives you a broad field and a long time in which to play (although I suppose you could write a novel that takes place in a closet, in a minute). I can handle a novel. I can also handle non-fiction of up to a couple of hundred words, but I am not particularly fond of it, so I don’t do it much, except in this blog, where I can ramble on about fiction writing. Again, my mind just doesn’t work that way – it’s much happier dreaming stuff up.

Dismay not!

Don’t be dismayed because you have one limit or the other. Be happy! Your limits give you a clearly defined playing field. They show you what you’re best at. Take that best thing and run with it. You’ll be brilliant!

If you liked this post, please check out the related ones:
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 1