When I first started going to therapy in 2013, my therapist took a great deal of notes on my general thoughts and behavior, just to get a sense of me as a person. One of the most important things she found was that I had a pretty wild imagination. And that wildness has played a huge part in my writing because it serves as one of the foundations for my creative inspiration.
So, every time I sat with my therapist and relayed a story or a daydream to her, she would always give me the same refrain: Let your imagination run wild. Because no matter what you think up, big or small, it’s ok to let your brain go there. It’s healthy. And as writers, it’s our duty to our stories and characters that we deploy every way we know how to spark our imaginations.
During one of our later sessions around the winter of 2016, I used to talk about a guy I had just started seeing (spoiler alert: he’s my husband now). My brain would often run to our lives as a married couple, as parents, as professionals. And I would always be so embarrassed to tell her about it because I knew how it made me sound — “crazy.” But, again, she emphasized that it was ok for my imagination to go there as long as I kept in my mind that none of it was real until it was rooted in reality. For me and my now husband, those roots were in our relationship, conversations and moves toward marriage. For my writing, those roots were in the words and ideas I got out on the page.
When it comes to drumming up inspiration for your next story or motivation to get back into a piece you’re already working on, sometimes the best way to get the engine going again is to let your imagination run wild. To do that, try a few of the following:
Take creative license in your own brain
When we daydream about something or begin imagining another reality, it’s easy to apply limits to it. Whether they’re financial, spatial, environmental or logical limits, our brains tend to think first of what we know instead of what we don’t or what’s possible. For example, if I start off by dreaming about entering a restaurant my mind automatically inserts somewhere like Chipotle or Cava versus a fancier restaurant because that’s what I’m used to. Or, if I’m starting a story and I think about a location, I might first reach for the places I know like North America, instead of the ones I don’t.
So, try taking creative license in how you think by first writing down the daydream or thought your imagination gifted you. Next, write down every limitation you knowingly or unknowingly put on it that could potentially stand in the way of the thought moving forward. Then, try crossing out each of those limitations and inserting something new. Finally, start your imagination over again and every time you hit one of those roadblocks, replace it and keep going.
Push through the weird and the daunting
There have been more instances than I can count of something popping into my imagination or daydreams that has seemed, for lack of better terms, weird or off topic. For instance, when I first started daydreaming about my second novel project, images of September 11th began to pop up in my mind even though the story has nothing to do with that event. And though at first glance, the off-topic instance of that day coming up in my mind seemed random, I eventually came to realize that my imagination was trying to tell me something. The story that I’m writing is about loss on a grand scale.
When this happens, try recording those moments that feel weird or off topic, either in a notebook or on the computer. That way, you’ll be able to step back from it to see if any patterns have emerged that could service your ideas and your writing. What themes or scenarios keep coming up that your imagination wants you to pay attention to? By letting it run wild and pushing through those weird and daunting spots, you’ll open yourself up to a whole new realm of inspiration.
Let your imagination set the pace
Contrary to popular belief, inspiration doesn’t happen at the drop of a hat. As writers and creatives, we know this better than anyone. It takes time, energy, effort and most importantly, practice for inspiration to come to us when we call for it. Especially when our own time, energy and effort is depleted.
So, when it comes to letting your imagination run wild, one of the best things you can do is take your entire process at your own pace. Give yourself the time to start and stop your daydreaming, take creative license over your thoughts and push through some seemingly out-of-place spots, all of which take practice. This way, you can have the best chance of pulling out a truly inspired story or idea.
No matter what thoughts pop into our minds or when, we owe it to them to treat them like a compass and follow them wherever they may take us. One of the best parts about being human is our ability to both imagine and dream, then remember it all. And even better, our ability to write those dreams down and share them. So, the next time you find yourself slipping into another reality, take your time, let your imagination wander and see what could inspire you next.
Jenn Walton is a writer, editor and storyteller based in Washington, D.C., whose fiction works are housed mainly in the speculative genre. She is currently working on her first novel project that explores, through the lens of a failing utopia, what happens when society gives in to its fear of the other. She previously wrote for a communications firm where she drafted and edited sponsored and organic content for top-tier academic institutions, Fortune 500 companies and leading philanthropic organizations that has run in The Washington Post, USA Today and the Atlantic. For more from Jenn, please visit her at her website or on Twitter.