Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Well, I must apologise for a second late Monday post in a row. This time my only excuse is that it was a public holiday here in Western Australia yesterday, and I was busy taking my little person to see robotic dinosaurs at the local museum, which incidentally scared her witless. Not me, though- I've been enamoured of dinosaurs for as long as I can recall, and the novelty of seeing them full-sized, roaring and blinking, hasn't worn off since the first time I saw a display like that as a kid. Whenever I see dinosaurs, I'm instantly imagining what the world was like way back before mammals were a twinkle in the universal eye, and it makes me smile to think of such a different time and place.

Which leads me to the topic of today's post- writerly imagination, and the importance of a little daydreaming.

Deanna Raybourn gave a piece of advice in her fabulous interview with ATWOP that rang particularly true for me, and it was this:

The unvarnished truth is that you can be talented and you can have great ideas, but if you don’t get them down on paper, you are not a writer, you’re just a person with a good imagination.

It couldn’t be more true, and what a very succinct way to say what we all ought to do if we’re really serious about this writing gig- butts in chairs, fingers on keyboards (or pens), and, in the words of Diana Gabaldon, just write. Don’t stop.

But it also got me thinking about the imagination part of writing.

As long-time readers will know, I’m the mother of a sprightly little 15-month-old terror who fills my days with mischief and craziness. Take my eyes off her for four seconds and I’ll find her standing on the dining table. Granted, the walking and climbing only started in the last few months, but before that I was finding it really hard to get the time to write, too.

And I often found myself wondering why that was. The thing is, while I was busy as a bee, I did have brief periods in any given day when I could have been writing- but I just couldn’t seem to force myself to sit down at the keyboard and type. The inspiration wasn’t there. The characters were out to lunch, no word on when they were planning to come back.

Which leads me back around to the topic of imagination, because I’ve recently realized that’s what I was actually lacking during that difficult first year.

Last week I got to sit in at an interesting court hearing for my day job. It went from 10am to 4pm, and while the topic was fascinating and the arguments thought-provoking, a lot of the day, to my non-legal mind, went a little like this:

“Interesting comment, blah blah blah blah. Interesting comment, interesting comment, blahhhhh blah blah blah.”

I mean, I’m married to a lawyer, but it’s not like I get to listen to the minutiae of legal argument every day, and I never quite realized how many words you had to use to say not much at all. Sheesh.

So, while I was paying good attention to the proceedings, I also found myself staring out the window of the Federal Court at the beautiful view of the river outside, and I found my mind wandering to my story. I was able to sit still for at least four solid hours, thinking through the happenings of the first section of my plot, putting myself in these shoes and those, thinking about actions and implications and ramifications, following little mental streams down little mental valleys, and just… imagining.

And at the end of the day, boy, did I have a lot of solid story in my head. I cracked a dozen or more hard plot nuts that had been bothering me for months, and I didn’t put a single word on a page to do it.

In the end, that’s what I realize has been missing from my life lately- not the butt-in-seat time, but the inspiration I need before I even get that far. I’ve been carried along on the original inspiration and imagination, and the story has taken on such a life of its own that I forget I still need to immerse myself in the alternative reality of that world and those people to taste, smell, hear and feel all that they do.

I realise that's why it has seemed so hard- because there's a big difference between actually putting your butt in the seat and forcing out words, versus being able to mentally disengage from everything else in your life (shouldn't I be doing the dishes? What am I going to cook for dinner tonight? I need to call the plumber soon- etc, etc, etc) for a decent period of time.

When I was at university, I could daydream in lectures. When I worked at a museum, I could lose myself in shadowy halls and think. When I lived in the country, I had to drive for hours for work, and it was plenty of solitary time to myself. Now if I'm in the car, I'm usually singing Old Macdonald or something equally brilliant.

So, I think I might have a new strategy here. No, I'm not going to start attending court hearings as a hobby (although... no, no, I'm really not). I think I might need to add a half hour of "meditation" to my process here or there- a little "me" time in which I can zone out everything else and really immerse myself in my daydreams.

If I can do that, it's going to keep inspiring me to put my butt in the seat, and get those daydreams down on the page as actual writing.


  1. Claire,
    Your post reminds me of something J.K. Rowling said about the beginnings of Harry Potter. The idea for the story struck her while traveling alone on a train. "To my immense frustration, I didn't have a functioning pen with me, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one. I think, now, that this was probably a good thing, because I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain..."
    It sounds like daydream time is just as important as butt in the seat time.

  2. Hi Claire,

    I can't imagine why you'd say that about courts and lawyers *cough* I went to court today for work. Man alive. Lawyers - and magistrates - never use one word when twenty will do. *wry g*

    I use activities such as doing the dishes as part of my imagination time. The hands do what they have to do, and the brain goes off adventuring *g*

  3. Definitely! The best time for the imagination is when you *have* to be somewhere but don't actively/mentally have to participate. Washing dishes'll do :-)
    I used to write so much in school. It almost makes me wish I could attend more meetings at work that have more than 20 or so people - just enough for me to get lost in the shuffle and be able to whip out my notebook in the background :-)