Becoming a Writer: Imagine That!
“All my seven Narnian books…began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.'”
What is Imagination?
Well, if you go to the dictionary, you’ll read this:
- 1. the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.
2. the action or process of forming such images or concepts.
3. the faculty of producing ideal creations consistent with reality, as in literature, as distinct from the power of creating illustrative or decorative imagery. Compare fancy (def. 2).
4. the product of imagining; a conception or mental creation, often a baseless or fanciful one.
5. ability to face and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness: a job that requires imagination.
6. Psychology. the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images (reproductive imagination) or of recombining former experiences in the creation of new images directed at a specific goal or aiding in the solution of problems (creative imagination).
7. (in Kantian epistemology) synthesis of data from the sensory manifold into objects by means of the categories.
8. Archaic. a plan, scheme, or plot.
If you do a little more research and go to the encyclopedia, you’ll find concepts like these:
- the process or form of images or concepts
- plays a key role in the learning process
- the ability to invent partial or complete relative realms within the mind
- the process behind invention
- helps in problem-solving
- helps us develop our perception of the world
The ancient Greeks defined art as an imitation of reality. This precept stood for nearly two thousand years; however, by the 19th century, philosophers and artists alike questioned that if art really were merely a reflection of reality, then why did art so often diverge from reality, forming the basis of the Romantic movement. The concept of imagination replaced imitation.
“None of our conscious interaction with the world
around us is free from the imagination’s input.”
The brain is like a kitchen. Reason provides the raw ingredients, imagination is the recipe, understanding and knowledge the pot and stove; the product is a complete, well-rounded “meal” or worldview.
Imagination gives us the ability to distance ourselves from oppression or stress. Over the past twenty years, multiple studies have been conducted on the efficacy of creative writing as therapy. Results have shown that college students’ test scores increased an average of about one letter-grade; blood pressure and heart rate can decrease; it can improve immune function and reduce the rate of minor illnesses such as colds and flu; it can reduce psychological distress over a traumatic experience by reducing “intrusive” thoughts about the event; and so on.
Other things imagination helps us with:
- empathizing with situations different from our own
- seeing other points of view/making compromises
- generating hope—allowing us to create optimistic goals and actions even when circumstances are dire
- defying the idea of fate/destiny
Where Does Imagination Come From?
“I know very little about how this story was born. That is, I don’t know where the pictures came from. And I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he ‘makes things up.’ Making up is a very mysterious thing. When you ‘have an idea,’ could you tell anyone exactly how you thought of it?”
Some anthropologists and psychologists would tell you that the imagination is what separates humans from all other animal species on the planet. I say some because others have enough imagination to imagine that other creatures might have the capability of imagination!
For those of us who are spiritual, we consider the imagination not just a gift, but a reflection of the Infinite. It is the thumbprint of God on us. It is a tiny glimpse into the power behind the creation of the universe and the infinite diversity of what surrounds us. Or, as Luci Shaw put it in her essay “Beauty and the Creative Impulse”: “It is God’s grace in action, the invisible made visible, the Word made flesh and dwelling with me, grace in astonishing three-dimensional color with better-than-Dolby sound, and fragrance, taste, and texture thrown in to make it even more memorable.”
I cannot define where imagination comes from any better than C. S. Lewis did. But I do know that the more I pay attention to those “pictures” that come into my head, the more I allow myself time to think about them and let them ferment and develop, the more frequently and clearly they come.
Do We Use Our Imaginations Enough?
Is imagination necessary to life, or is it the ice-cream sidecar to the birthday cake of life? So often, as adults, when we hear the word imagination, we think of it as a distraction—a charming distraction—but nonetheless something we should label as “childish” and to be put aside in favor of reason, logic, and responsibility.
“Human beings cannot be human without some field of fancy or imagination; some vague idea of the romance of life and even some holiday of the mind in a romance that is a refuge from life.”
~G. K. Chesteron
Do you know why TV shows—whether scripted or unscripted (so-called “reality” shows)—take commercial breaks right at the pivotal moment of the story/right before the winner is announced? Because if they’ve done their job right, they’ve worked our imagination into a fury, and we have to stay tuned to see if it’ll turn out the way we imagine.
In this busy world, when, at any given time during the day, there are at least five things vying for our attention—between work, e-mail, phone, blog, writing, bills, family, and so on—allowing time for the free-flow of the imagination doesn’t get priority. But the good thing about imagination is that it can happen anytime. So instead of listening to the radio in the shower or in the car, turn it off and turn on your imagination. Same goes for the TV. If you have a set amount of time to write every day, take fifteen minutes at the beginning of it to just let your mind wander—try to remember what you dreamed about last night, or take a snippet of a conversation you had earlier in the day and imagine it went in a totally different direction, or imagine you’d made a decision differently earlier in the day. Anything to tap into your imagination.
“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry