Sunday, December 03, 2006

The mind’s eye – image and idea: the basis of all creative writing

With all the fascination with the world-wide-web – the Internet – what it can bring to our life, and how it can change it, we sometimes forget that it is merely a product of our mind – something man has created, born of our ingenuity and our knowledge, our imagination and our learning.

It has its limitations – who has not been exasperated by its slowness, deplored its abuses, and resented its intrusiveness. For all that, the Internet really has changed our world. It has brought us closer together in ways we never thought possible – we can view pages created on the other side of the world, by people we will never meet. It has given us vision.

Yet vision is what we all possess, inner and outer vision – in our ideas and in what we sometimes call our mind’s eye. Everything we know, everything we have known, learned, seen, thought, felt, heard and said is here. Of course, we can’t gain access to most of it – our memory is limited, our subconscious blocks things out, but it is in there – in our mind.

How to get access to more of it, that is what we would like to know – I know I would. We can make a start by exercising the mind – giving it tasks to perform. This happens all the time, even when we are asleep, but we can make our brain more agile by exercise – just like we can by exercising our body. The kinds of exercises we do will be very different, but the principle of activity benefiting us will be similar.

One such way is reading, another, writing – every day. Writing regularly works – it keeps the mind active – the synapses are crackling away as we write. We are accessing our ideas when we write, and by using words, we access other words, and by accessing words, we access thoughts, ideas, and images.

If we manipulate those thoughts, ideas and images in ways that are new, synthesizing ideas into words and words into stories – creative writing – we are gaining access to more and more of our mind.

How is it possible, for instance, for someone who has never been to the Moon (most of us) to write about what it feels like to be on the Moon? To take a more terrestrial example, how can someone who has never been involved in a murder enquiry, a car chase, a bank robbery, a love affair with an alien, to write about these things – the answer is by writing about them. The vital ingredient is imagination.

Think about that word and what it means – something like, ‘to visualize something one has had no experience of’ – even the word consists of the word ‘image’ – imagining is conjuring up images, thoughts and ideas from nothing.

Actually, nothing comes from nothing. Do animals imagine? Who knows? Our ability to imagine comes from living, thinking, seeing, hearing, experiencing, and then synthesizing.

We do this every time we dream, it’s just that when we are asleep, we switch something off that prevents most of us from recalling what the dream was about. Just because we are asleep though, does not mean that we do not think or imagine.

You’ve heard of the expression, “Let’s sleep on it.” meaning let’s go home and think about whatever it is and then wake up and make a decision after we have rested. There’re more to it than that. Many writers say they have more developed ideas after they have slept on something they were thinking or writing about.

The subconscious does the thinking for you while you sleep, and because it has nothing to distract it – daytime activities – it can concentrate much harder and deeper for much longer. But don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.

It is the thoughts, ideas, images, half remembered tales and things we think we have forgotten that we vuse to create a story about something we have ostensibly never experienced. Creative writing – writing creatively, if you prefer, is something akin to dreaming while you are awake.

The recording device is the page, with your words on it, and here’s the trick – how it works – one idea triggers an other and another, one sword suggests another, one sentence, another. One episode for one of your characters forces you to draw upon all your knowledge of how people behave, how the world around you is, or alternatively, how people in a world of your own creation behave.

That sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? I prefer to call it I fiction – idea fiction, which all fiction ultimately is - stories based upon ideas, images, thoughts, thinks you have seen, been told about, read about, seen on TV – imagined.

Write and you will gain access to ideas you didn’t know you had. The writer, Willy Russell – creator of Educating Rita, Blood Brothers and Shirley Valentine was once asked why he doesn’t just write about what he knows. His reply was very instructive to us all; he wondered how he knew what he knew until he started to write about it.

You will recall that Russell’s characters – his main characters in his wonderful stories and plays are women. OK, so he’s married, probably has sisters, daughters, aunts, two grand mothers and a mother – and his wife – that still doesn’t make him any more able to write about women than any of the rest of us – we’ve all got those relatives. He was able to do it because he made himself do it – you might think he has a special gift, but I doubt he would agree with you. He would tell you that it is in writing that he finds out what he knows.
Robert L. Fielding


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