I had to go for some training the other day. In the break one of the other tutors said, ‘I’d love to write, but I have no imagination.’
A lot of people believe that. I don’t.
I suppose it depends on how you perceive imagination, and writers. Even though writing courses are now available at many universities, it is still possible to come up against the belief that writers are born and cannot be taught.
My friend, the language tutor, had something like that in mind, and we had an interesting discussion about how much creativity she already used in planning and delivering lessons. The discussion broadened out to include other activities. I suggested that any kind of a plan required the use of our imagination, from writing a shopping list to working out the details of a holiday.
‘Yes, but,’ she said, ‘it’s not like writing a story. I’ve never had a good idea.’
There it was, the one word that gave the game away, ‘good’. She had had ideas. Most people do. What was really stopping her from translating her ideas into writing was that most annoying of all blocks, her inner critic.
I’m sure you know the one I mean, that quiet but insistent voice that is always trying to control your imaginative impulses. It says things like:
- ‘You stole that idea.’
- ‘Anyone can see you’re not being original.’
- ‘You think you can write? This is just a cheap copy of Katherine Mansfield, A.S. Byatt, Raymond Carver, Stephen King…’
- ‘How can YOU, call yourself a writer? You’re not clever enough, or wise, or talented.’
- ‘You are being ridiculous.’
- ‘You are not a writer.’
The list goes on, endlessly.
I have two strands of attack for my inner critic.
- Overpower it. Timed writing exercises are great for this. The need to complete a task within a set period means my focus is all on what I am writing. Try the free-writing exercise I’ve set below.
- Aristotle. Yes, I am talking about a theory that was written in 335 BCE. Think about it. Aristotle claimed that there were 7 basic plots, and most of us still agree with him. So, all those years, those hundreds and thousands of stories told and written, have all been reworking the same seven ideas. If it was good enough for Chaucer, Shakespeare, Boccaccio and the hundreds of other storytellers to do that, who am I to think I can produce plot number 8? Of course, that won’t stop me trying, but there’s another story.
Free-writing – The rules are strict on this. If you break them, it doesn’t work.
A timer – mechanical or digital, or a friend with a watch.
paper & pen/pencil,
- We’re starting off gently. Your aim is to write for two minutes without stopping.
- Once the timer is set the writer must start writing and not stop until the two minutes are up.
- You must not pause once you have begun – ignore grammer, spelling and punctation mistakes.
- This is not about creating a plot, with a beginning, middle and end, it is about freeing up your access to the creative areas of your mind. Don’t inhibit or restrict yourself, let words form on the screen or paper without thought.
- If you get stuck don’t stop, write, ‘I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck…’ You will soon find you are writing something else.
- Do not think about where you are going with this peice of writing, you must not be following a plan. Copy the words and then continue writing without stopping until the timer stops you.
- When you are ready to begin, write: ‘She would always…’
If you try this, why not post your result below.