“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” -Albert Einstein
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
If you suffer from an impoverished imagination, you are not alone. Like stockbrokers, our knowledge of the world tells us where we are now and where we have been; while like soothsayers, prophets and other visionaries, our imagination points toward what isn’t, yet what might be. It is more comfortable to operate in the tacit world of facts rather than the uncharted realm of imagination. After all, ‘write what you know’ is rule number one. However, unless we desire to become journalists or autobiographers (noble pursuits though they may be), to write fiction we need to take something that is known and transform it into something that is not. Our thinking needs to shift to a setting of uncertainty in order to explore all the possibilities.
The unknown is a scary place, because it’s not always clear what we should do with it. Some have suggested that you write tenaciously, unapologetically about your visit. This advice is not without merit. When you diverge from what is, there will inevitably be a moment of hesitation. The instant where creativity is invoked requires a different mindset from standard ways of thinking. The transition can be daunting. If we indulge this moment too long without pushing through, writers block, the Internal Voice of Doom, and other similar maladies await to divert us from our course. Bertrand Russell suggested that we need “to teach to live without certainty and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation.” He was talking about philosophy, but his advice applies equally well to writing.
Steven Pressfield (author of “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) begins his writing sessions with a prayer to the goddess Posey. Dan Brown reputedly suspends himself upside down to stimulate thinking. Twyla Tharp, in her book “The Creative Habit,” says that we should develop our own personal patterns that precede our creative efforts to signal to the mind and body that a project which requires imagination is under way. Sports stars are notorious for reverting to suppositious practices when preparing to perform at peak levels. Michael Jordan always wore his tar heel shorts when playing and ate practically the same meal before every game. Is it possible that routinizing a personally designed ritual before writing can help us overcome the hesitancy associated with uncertainty and consequently help us reach the right state of mind to write well? That by using the same pattern we can create different results (or rather, stories)? I don’t know the answers — that’s why I ask the questions, but anecdotal evidence considered, it seems like it’s worth a try.