Creative versus technical imagination

Wonderbook has a great discussion about creative imagination versus technical imagination. If you don’t already own it, consider this a soft sell. Break some pots, cut some tall grass, get sufficient rupees together and take them to your local shop ship.

Anyway.

Your creative imagination is where your ideas come from, and what you should ideally be using to write your first drafts. It’s the weird stuff, the delirium and the dark bits, what happens in dreams such that you wake up and feel unsettled or awestruck. It’s usually the place where your excitement to write comes from as well, the unrestricted child-mind that delights in the act of creation without worrying about the final product.

Your technical imagination, on the other hand, is what you use to take all the creative stuff and arrange it into a pleasing and understandable form. It’s still imaginative and creative because you have to make thoughtful choices when it comes to structure and diction and syntax and imagery and so on. But it’s kind of like the difference between designing a building and drawing up its plans so someone else can put it together.

It’s really important to let the creative part do its job without the technical stuff getting in the way. It’s not that the two are inherently, completely separate–there’s a lot of overlap, especially as you level up your writing skill. But often when you lose the spark that got you writing in the first place, it’s because the technical imagination is taking over too soon. Some people call this the inner editor, but that voice is often more disparaging than constructive, so it’s worth separating the two.

Okay, explanations are fun, but how do you make it stop?

Unfortunately, that’s a really personal thing, because it often ties into mental health issues. So what works for one person may be useless to another. Some things you can try:

  • Setting a timer for ten minutes and writing the whole time without stopping. Take a break, repeat as needed.
  • Meditating before you start writing, so you’re more focused and relaxed.
  • Noting while you write when the technical imagination or inner editor starts being generally critical or distracting you with revision notes, then returning your attention to the actual writing. Noting is just an acknowledgement of the thing; don’t focus on it or give it any mental space beyond that.
  • Creating some kind of outline before you start, in whatever format you like, to whatever degree of detail helps rather than hinders.
  • Fostering friendships with people so you can encourage each other whenever you’re flagging.

Last note: don’t let guilt and fear take over your writing process. Guilt for not writing consistently. Fear of producing garbage, or of running out of ideas. Your time is your own, and you choose what to do with it. You don’t owe anyone anything. Write whatever you want, however you want, and let other people decide whether they want to come along for the ride. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to write well and improve as you go, but don’t get so bogged down in mechanics that your creativity starves. Find the thing that makes you WANT to write and feed that first.

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