Panic and pushy dads: how not to treat your imagination.

9 Aug

angry man 2

I don’t always get on with my imagination. That might surprise you, what with me being a writer in training and all, but it’s true.

What happens is this: I’m sitting at my laptop, happily typing away, thinking that my imagination is a wonderful thing and all is well with the world, when suddenly my fingers stop and I find that I’m muttering crossly to myself. This is because I’m stuck. I need to work something out; maybe how a particular aspect of a fantastical world is going to function, or how my characters can find out certain information in a way that doesn’t feel clunky to the reader. Or maybe I’ve got my protagonist into a tricky situation and I need to help them get out of it, but I’m not sure how to do it.

Now, you might be thinking, “Well, why don’t you just plan better before you start writing?” and yes, smarty-pants, that is a good point (and please see my previous post on the delight of plotting), but sometimes things just crop up when you’re mid-story, okay?

Where was I? Oh yes, stuck. Whatever the reason, when I get stuck like this I have a tendency to panic, and a very odd thing happens in my head. I turn into a pushy dad.

There’s my imagination, daydreaming happily in a corner of my mind, quite secure in the knowledge that it will come up with the writerly goods in its own time. But I go barging over to it in ‘pushy dad’ mode, demanding to know what it’s going to do about the problem I’ve come up against. My imagination shrugs, prompting the pushy dad part of myself to sit down next to it for a serious chat.
“Look,” pushy dad says. “I’m sure we can come up with a solution if we just think about this rationally for five minutes. Let’s do a flowchart.”
At this point my imagination rolls its eyes and gets up to leave.
Pushy dad shouts: “Where are you going?”
My imagination responds: “Out!” and slams the door.
Pushy dad retreats in a sulk, leaving me with a headache and a short temper, still stuck.

I know this is the wrong way to treat my imagination, that it hates pressure just as much as I do. I know that what it really needs is the time and freedom for it to do its stuff and magically present me with the answer when I’m least expecting it. My imagination likes long walks and poetry readings and watching random history programmes. It likes cake and snoozes and conversations about things that are totally unrelated to what I’m writing.

I think the pushy dad is the part of me that worries I’ll never get my book finished, that if I let myself be stuck and relax about it, the end of the world will be nigh. That part doesn’t want to wait for the imagination to ruminate on problems, it wants answers now. But actually, trying to force my imagination to perform (dance, monkey, dance!) doesn’t get me anywhere. I’ve tried writing on in spite of being stuck. What tends to happen is that a few days later I work out the best solution and have to re-write everything I’ve written.

So from now on, I’m going to be kinder to my much maligned creative brain and give it as many long walks as it likes. I’ll just have to distract my pushy dad. Maybe I’ll lock it in a cupboard with a book of Sudoku puzzles, that should work…


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