The Mastery Path for Writers: a new way to learn the skills you need

Lesson 16: From Observation to Imagination

August 11, 2014

Tags: 4. Training Your Imagination

PRACTICE: FROM OBSERVATION TO IMAGINATION
Use one of your senses to notice something—the color of the sky, the sound of a bird or a passing car, the taste of your coffee, or something else of your choosing. Now wait until that “something” is no longer present before you—or close your eyes, if you have used them to make your observations. And now, in your imagination, recreate whatever you noticed: see that particular blue of the sky, hear the sound of the bird or car, bring back the taste of the coffee.

Did you find that hard?

Most people do. That’s because most of us are not used to using our imagination, the faculty that lets us make sensory pictures—or images—of things that are not actually present to our senses. If you want to do creative writing, you will need to make your imagination stronger so it will serve you when you write. That’s because successful creative writing engages and works upon the imagination of readers. It makes a story or a poem feel “real” to readers through the use of sensory pictures. Your first step in learning how to create a real world for readers is to develop your own ability to make mental pictures. You won’t be able to make people and places and events come alive in other people’s imaginations until you can make them come alive in your own.

The practice you just did is a good way to start training your own imagination. Here’s another similar practice to try:

PRACTICE: FROM OBSERVATION TO IMAGINATION 2
Choose some details you collected during your observation practice. Now, taking the details one at a time, picture each one in your imagination. If the detail is visual, see it in your mind; if it is a smell, smell it in your mind. Try to choose details that will let you exercise each sense in your imagination.

What did you notice in doing this? Make some notes to yourself, if you like, about how to keep practicing.

PRACTICE: FROM OBSERVATION TO IMAGINATION 3
In your mind, put yourself in a particular place, either a real place, or one you invent. Now, using your senses in your imagination , notice and collect in your notebook all the sensory details you can: sights, sounds, smells, and so on. Don’t strain to find the right words; instead, keep opening your senses to the place and, staying relaxed, try to take in more sensory information. When you’ve had enough, stop. Now take a few minutes to reflect, on paper, about what happened as you did this exercise.

You may find these exercises difficult. Don’t despair! The imagination, as I’ve said, is a natural human faculty; if you find using it difficult, that’s because you haven’t had the opportunity to use it much. With practice, though, you can bring it back to life. You may also find it helpful to learn more about how to care for your imagination, a subject covered in the next lesson.

PRACTICE: FROM OBSERVATION TO IMAGINATION 4
Take a notebook and sit someplace where you can hear other people talk, without being observed. Take notes of anything they say that stands out for you. (Be careful they don’t know you are listening to them!)

PRACTICE: FROM OBSERVATION TO IMAGINATION 5
Go to a museum or an art gallery, and find a painting or other work of art you like. Now, bit by bit, notice what’s in the painting, how it’s put together. After you’ve observed the painting for several minutes, close your eyes and see how much of it you can re-create it in your imagination. Keep going back and forth between the painting/object and your mental picture, trying to match your picture to the reality. (You can do this practice with any object, if you don’t find museums appealing.)