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.

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