Imagination lessons


Silk’s Post #112 — We don’t take imagination seriously enough. Maybe it’s because we’re born with imagination and don’t have to go to college to acquire it. In fact, imagination is most obvious and charming in childhood, like dimples and a button nose. Then, as we mature, we’re supposed to trade imagination for reality.

No, thanks.

There is nothing childish about imagination. The idea that children live in their imaginations because they haven’t yet learned to distinguish fantasy from reality may be true in one sense, but the implication that imagination is not a vital, life-long skill is profoundly false. Especially for a writer.

Don’t just take it from me. Some of the greatest minds in history have had their say:

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Imagination rules the world.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview for life’s coming attractions.” — Albert Einstein

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” — Mark Twain

“Imagination creates reality.” — Richard Wagner

“You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.” — George Lucas

“Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” — Jessamyn West

“Imagination is the eye of the soul.” — Joseph Joubert

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” — Carl Sagan

“An idea is salvation by imagination.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

“I imagine, therefore I belong and am free.” — Lawrence Durrell

Imagination is an intellectual need, a driving force, an essential enabler of the learning process, a pathway to inspiration. One way to think of it: imagination is needed to make sense of perceptions.

Yet many of the “real world” lessons we learn as we grow up to become “productive members of society” encourage us to colour inside the lines. Follow rules. Be practical. Yes, there’s lip service paid to imagination and creativity, to “thinking out of the box.” But ask yourself: in most fields, how often is the exercise of imagination really welcomed and rewarded? Not enough, except at the elite level of industries that are, by nature, driven by creativity and innovation – notably the arts and sciences.

Progressive cultures have begun to recognize the value of imagination – sometimes characterized as “right brain”, or non-linear, thinking. A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink offers an encouraging perspective on this trend. Yet the literature on “imagination” still tends to examine it through a psychological lens, with a focus on pathology. In this model, too much imagination equals a break from reality. Otherwise known as craziness. Okay, settle down all you mental health professionals. I imagine I’ve oversimplified this. But my point is that a vivid – even wild – imagination can be a powerfully positive thing, so let’s not give it a bad name.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” — Albert Einstein

In fact, for most of us – especially writers and other artists – imagination needs to be cultivated and polished, lest it dull with the relentless abrasion of reality’s day-to-day grit. This is not a “nice-to-have” option, or a parlour game. Imagination is a vital aptitude that creative people need to take seriously.

Realistically, you can’t be a writer if you don’t have a healthy, limber, well-functioning imagination. It’s more essential than any other skill when it comes to storytelling. It’s what allows you to empathize and get into the skin of your characters. It’s what compels you to ask the “what if?” questions that grow into a plot. It’s what allows you to “symphonize” (a great conceptual term from Daniel Pink, which means the ability to put together many pieces in a pattern and see the relationships between them). It’s what inspires themes and metaphors that bring depth to your story.

So, yeah. You need to exercise your imagination, just like a muscle.

“Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.” — W. Somerset Maugham

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.” — Maria Montessori

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” — J. K. Rowling

“Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the centre of your life.” — Ray Bradbury

“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.” — Philip José Farmer

And to rest my case on the topic, I love this simple observation, which is also a wonderful call to action for writers who want to get in touch with their imaginations …

“Children see magic because they look for it.” — Christopher Moore

1 thought on “Imagination lessons

  1. “Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.” — W. Somerset Maugham

    That’s the one that got to me. More powerful in the mature than in the young. WOW!

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