You’re writing fiction. Writing, writing, writing… it’s going like a dream. You have magical ideas for a brilliant plot, and you adore your characters.
Then it all turns to ashes.
You realize that your plot is stupid. Not only do you suddenly hate your story people, you wish that they would all join hands and jump off a cliff.
You’re stunned. What happened? It was going so well…
Relax. You’ve merely lost your storyteller’s mind state for the moment. That’s OK. You can get it back. You simply need to tune your imagination.
When you’re writing fiction, you need a dream-like mind state
Writing fiction is different from writing nonfiction. To write nonfiction, you need a mind state that’s similar to your everyday mind state. Fiction, on the other hand, requires that you take a back seat, and pay attention to your subconscious mind.
With experience, you can switch mind states almost at will.
Some writers play music get into an imaginative mind state; others develop a writing ritual.
Let’s look at some ways that will help you to trigger an imaginative mind state whenever you like.
1. Pay attention to how you feel when your imagination is active
An imaginative mind state is focused. But it’s also loose — free wheeling, and dream-like.
Repetitive tasks which don’t require much thinking help to trigger creativity. For example, I go for a drive if I’m stuck on a plot point. Other writers do household chores, or go swimming.
Many writers get up early and write fiction before they write anything else. When you first wake up, you’re very close to your subconscious mind. You can concentrate, but also allow yourself to play.
Next time you’re writing fiction, pay attention to how it feels, so that you can recall the feeling later. When you can recall it, it’s possible to drop into this imaginative mind state very quickly, in just a minute or two.
2. Use images for each fiction writing project
Images are powerful. Great art arouses emotions. You can use images to trigger your imaginative mind state.
Let’s say you’re writing a thriller. Look through Google Images or Pinterest for an image which speaks to you, and symbolizes your project. You might find the image of a gun, or a setting, or a person.
Save the image to your computer. (You don’t need to license the image, you’re merely using it to access your imagination.)
If you’re writing a novel or short story, start thinking about a cover. Mock up a cover or your computer, or draw an image.
After a few days, you’ll discover that as soon as you open a project’s image, you’re eager to write.
3. Think in pictures, then anchor them in reality
Whenever you open your project file, and feel uncreative, before you decide that you aren’t “in the mood” to write fiction, close your eyes, and imagine your characters.
Allow pictures to form in your imagination.
Just watch your characters for a few moments. Then, tell your story people to get on with it and act. If you’re writing a mystery, for example, tell your sleuth to start sleuthing.
Trust your characters. Start writing, following them wherever they’re going. Sometimes you need a lot of trust, but you’ll find that when you allow your imagination to take charge, the results are brilliant.
I like to anchor scenes by drawing quick maps, and time lines. A large white board is handy. Not only can you draw on it, you can also attach your maps and other images to it.
Musing over your white board ignites your imagination. You’ll see connections you haven’t seen before.
When you’re writing fiction, exercises help (bonus tip)
On dull writing days, you can feel that your mind’s a blank.
Relax. Open the image files for your project — or choose an image file or two.
I like to do exercises in my journal for each scene, before I write it. Some phrases I’ve found useful to kickstart my imagination:
- My character wants… (fill in the blank) more than anything else. She’s decided this, because… Etc.
- My secondary character in the scene has a secret. He feels that… (fill in the blank.) This is because…
- This scene takes place…. (where? An example — in midsummer, at four o’clock in the afternoon. It’s humid; the noise of cicadas drowns out everything.) When you imagine yourself, and your characters, in a scene you can put your readers there too.
Tuning in to your imagination takes practice. Eventually, you’ll be able to call on your imagination anytime you choose, and writing fiction will be much easier.
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