Cultivating your Imagination

An active imagination breeds ideas for a writer and is the hotbed on which stories grow. So why is nobody talking about it?

It's easy to talk about the things a writer needs to be able to do (there's only three of them). It's easy to talk about achieving critical distance, the craft of writing, about capturing ideas without stifling them, about recording them at any time. All that's easy, because that's practical stuff you can learn.

But imagination? That's personal and deep and far from practical and you just can't learn it, right?

Well, yes and no – you're born with imagination the same way you're born with a head, and you can choose to use it or not. But it's an organic thing, and like anything organic it will wither and die if you don't treat it right. Think of imagination as a pot-plant – with the right light, food and space it will pretty much take care of itself, but neglect it and it will fade away to nothing before you even notice.

So how do we go about ensuring a healthy imagination? Here's how:

Encourage, don't deride

It can be clever, witty and amusing to mock peoples' ideas - many successful writers make a career of it - but it's a parasitical form of creativity and relies on other people having the guts to try something in the first place. A mocking attitude is anathema to genuine creative thinking - you must look for the possibilities in everything you see. Sure, there's going to be stuff you don't like, but rather than dismiss it, be constructive and imagine how you would do it better.

Take yourself seriously

By which I mean, give credence to every stupid idea you have. Ideas breed ideas - to create brilliant ones you have to allow yourself to have hopeless ones. Jot everything down, no matter how ridiculous, and put it on the back-burner – given some time that ridiculous idea just might evolve into something amazing.

Stimulate yourself

This is the fun part, read, watch, listen, observe – books, films, music, settings, people. Anything that gets your creative juices flowing – here are some more ideas.

Don't always think within the context of your WIP

Because you're planning on writing something after it, right? And who's to say you can't include that crazy idea in the current work anyway? The bottom line is, you don't want to lose one single idea – you never know when you might need it, so:

Record, record, record

Ideas need to be remembered, so record them as soon as you can, because you will forget them like dreams. But the most important thing of all is:

Never, ever, block

You ever find yourself going off on tangents? Roll with it. You ever find yourself in conversations pushing an idea until people are looking at you like you're from space? Good. You need to push the boundaries – that's your job. Don't be the person who laughs at someone's foolish idea, be the person who pushes that idea to the limits until it's exhausted or it's a master-work.

Never dismiss, never deride, and never lose a good idea for fear of a bad one. Before you know it, you won't be able to stop yourself.



  1. Interesting post again, James. I am an only child and my imagination was on overdrive then and now! I talk to myself & have a notebook to hand at all times - some call me eccentric, others call me Hems.

  2. I really like this post. I generally wait for someone else to voice a crazy opinion, then I jump on-board rather than taking my own risks. I'm a chicken, but that's going to stop. I will be bold.

  3. @Hemmie - I think I am preaching to the choir a little here, Hem - I know a few people who read my blog are compulsive creators. Not quite that way for me, though. I let my imagination stagnate for too long and have been massaging it back into life over the past few years and it's beginning to pay dividends - hence the post.

    @Kathryn - thanks for your comment, and welcome to my blog. Glad you enjoyed the post. Recognising a good idea is almost as good as having one, you could pinch it - talent borrows, genius steals ;)

  4. So true - I think we can train our brain to think more creatively too. It can definitely be cultured.

  5. @Laura - or rediscovered. I was thinking the other day around this subject, and I realised that when I was younger I used to escape into my imagination (or other people's) much more readily than I do now. I think this is a time thing. When you're a kid and someone else is worrying about feeding and clothing you, you have fewer cares and more time to indulge, but now I'm the one doing the feeding and clothing I haven't got the time to wallow in imaginary worlds, but have to crack on creating my own. So much for growing up.


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