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

Story Lesson 22: Letting Images Lead

Choose a story—a short one—that you want to write (or are in the process of writing). This can be a brief anecdote, a folktale you want to retell—anything you like. Now be relaxed, and then let the story unfold in your imagination, one image at a time. Try to concentrate on images that involve action or happenings. As with the previous practice, it’s fine if words come as well (if characters are speaking, for instance), but try to keep your attention on the pictures.

What was it like to do this?

I have found, in writing stories, that it’s easy for my mind to become obsessed with language, especially when I’m not sure what I want to say next. Naturally, all writers have to be concerned with language, but sometimes the search for “what do I want to say now?” and the search for “what word do I want?” seem to collide, with paralyzing results.

Over time, I have learned that this situation will occur much less often if I get into the habit, not so much of “thinking” about my story, but of imaging it, just the way you have done in the last two practice. When I picture a story (or a piece of it) in my imagination, its content usually becomes very clear to me, and then I can write it more easily.

I see writing as a kind of dance between content and craft, and I have learned that sometimes it really helps to let the images lead, to let the pictures, not my thoughts or my words, show me where a story needs to go next. So, without in any way insisting on this as “the way” to write, I invite you, if you feel so inclined, to try the following practice.

As you work on a story, take some time before you start writing (perhaps the night before) to picture in your mind the next section of it. Try to just let the images come to you. If you don’t like the direction in which they take the story, pick the ones you like and go from there. If you hear words along with the pictures, that’s fine. You may want to take notes after you do this. Then (or whenever you’re ready) write that section. If you get stuck, forget about words for a minute and bring your mind back to the pictures. Where do they want to go next?

What did you notice?

What I notice in this practice, which I try to do regularly, is how reliable my imagination is; how it consistently gives me pictures which I can then choose to make use of in a particular story, or not.

If you enjoy these practices, I encourage you to make them part of your life. The imagination is just another faculty, and, like any faculty, it can become stronger through exercise.

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