Author Publishing Tips

How imagination develops and what authors can do to supercharge their creativity and imagination

As a teacher of English, I love literature in all of its forms and genres. From poetry, to prose, 19th Century to modern day fantasy, it all adds up to a glorious cooking pot of wonderful words, unique language devices and imagination.

However, while I feel comfortable writing poetry and short stories, I take my hat off to authors who lead us through history and generations, who introduce complex and believable characters, and who build up plots and create whole worlds of wonder. How do they do this? The idea of writing a book seems terribly daunting, rather taming a gigantic beast. Where do the ideas come from in the first place, and how are they then moulded expertly on the page?

If I could write a simple formula for this, then I would no doubt be a better teacher (and a best-selling author!)-but unfortunately it is not that easy! Writing a good book takes individuality, creativity, and boundless imagination. Is this something we are born with, or can we develop and nurture a powerful imagination?

If you are blessed with a creative imagination, you may want to give a shout out to your parents, or other figures who had an impact on your childhood. Unsurprisingly, childhood experiences greatly influence the development of imagination and creativity.

This is how it works:

Imagination is our ability to mentally produce images, ideas, thoughts, and feelings that do not exist in reality and are not available to our senses. Creativity is the process of transforming imagination into something concrete, be it improvisation, an invention, or in our case, a book.

This process begins very early on in life. During our very first year our thoughts are concrete; based on and connected with our senses. The child psychologist, Piaget, refers to this as ‘sensory motor thinking’. Solid schemas are developed and built on as we make sense of the world around us. As we grow our brains begin to expand these schemas and apply them to other areas of life, through the thinking process. If you are a parent, you may see your child using a wooden block as a telephone, or hairbrush as a microphone-you are beginning to see the start of your child’s imagination. Parents who allow imaginative play without interference are facilitating and indirectly culturing their child’s imagination and creativity, a vital step in their development. If encouraged, the child is able to disassociate themselves from concrete reality and delve into a world less tightly connected to reality-the world of the author.

However, a fully developed imagination is not simple, and merely relying on the imagination we may have developed as a child will most likely not be enough. Exploring different kinds of imagination and being mindful of each one will enable us to model rounded out creations.

In the first instance, a book needs to be somewhat believable-yes, even fantasy genre! Readers need a point of reference, a starting point. A book also needs to make sense and follow a logical trajectory. Intellectual imagination is vital for this part of the process. Planning should be intentional and deliberate, often involving research; structure must be carefully considered to steer the reader through, and conscious crafting is vital.

After this comes the fun bit! Catching moments of inspiration and allowing your mind to take you to realms of fantasy, of new thoughts and ideas to transplant in another’s head Closely related to this free thinking is empathy. The ability and imagination to walk in another’s shoes; to be your character and feel as they do, makes them multi-dimensional. Work on considering and feeling others emotions-also think back and remember your own; use ‘feelings’ as powerful tool to find language and structure that pulls your reader into your imaginary world.

However, don’t forget it is ok to steal (did I just say that?). Not literally, of course, that would be plagiarism! Nevertheless, as I am constantly reminding my students, what comes goes in, comes out-read, read, read. I promise, it’s not cheating! Just like a car, your imagination needs fuel. Use books like a trampoline to bounce your own ideas from. Secondly, observe. Become a people watcher. Observe nature, and not just with your eyes. Take time to consider its impact on your senses. If you write senses into your work your reader will inhabit your book, immersed in a total mind and body experience. And that is great writing…

As mentioned, there is no hard and fast formula. Literacy is not like mathematics. It is young and nubile in its infancy, weighty and agonising in its middle age, and whimsical and nostalgic in its old age. It ebbs and flows like water and clouds, and its words escape us and assault us in equal measure. If you can write-please do. Libraries are not yet full enough.

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