Site icon Joan Wiley


“Where do you get your ideas?”

Writers are asked this question quite a lot, and it is a difficult one to answer in layman’s terms. Is it even possible to explain how imagination works?

The best explanation I’ve read, though I do not remember who said it, is this:

“Asking how creativity works is like asking ‘How does a bird fly?’ It simply does.”

Everyone has the ability to use their imagination in creative ways. But imagination does not function in the same realm as logic. And, since our world more often encourages conformity over creativity, many seldom pay attention to, or tap into, their imaginative potential. Often viewing unusual or fanciful thoughts as silly, and disregarding them. The tiny seed of imagination is killed before the flower of creativity can grow.

The constraints of seriousness, logic and conformity to endless rules, can crush imagination and creativity.

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.” –OSCAR WILDE

My interpretation of this quote from Oscar Wilde is that life is short and we should enjoy it with abandon. If we really want to experience life fully we should be like children at play. You may argue against such nonsensical behavior,  life is hard, after all. Who has time to waste on flights of frivolous fancy?

I agree, life is hard. All the more reason to allow your mind to scamper around, from time to time, in the wondrous fluff of imagination. Have some fun with life, not just in the physical world, but in the most fantastic playground in the world. Your mind!

If you have not welcomed imagination into your life in the past, it’s not too late to do so now. You may wonder where to begin. How does one get the silly thoughts started?

My knee-jerk response is to say, ‘in the shower!’  I’ll get back to that more advanced tool, later.

First, what is imagination?

Imagination is the mind’s ability to conjure, or dream up, original ideas. But is it truly possible to think of something that has never existed before? Possibly. Though, imagination is more often a composite of things which already exist, shaped into something new and unique.

As Mark Twain put it:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”


This may seem slightly technical for newer ‘imaginers’. For now, let’s move on to how you can free your mind to the playground of imagination.

1) Experience the imagination of someone else. You are already doing this every moment of every day. Nothing we use in our daily lives, from a toothbrush to a car could ever have existed without imagination. At one time, these common things, we now take for granted, were considered ridiculous novelties, not to be taken seriously or worthy of value.

These ludicrous ideas, as well as their imaginers, were laughed at. Why? Because they had never been seen or heard of before. People did not understand them because they had no point of reference to the familiar, or the logical, in people’s minds.

So, as you might guess, being imaginative does have its drawbacks. Creative people are not always viewed as “normal”.

The best way to ignite your own ‘abnormal’ imagination is by immersing yourself in the creativity of others. By experiencing the end products of creative minds, our own minds begin to open to worlds of possibility. The internal kaleidoscope begins to turn.

I suggest the following activities, most of which you most likely engage in already, but may not have thought of as tools to help tap into your creative mind.

a) Read any fictional novel, short story, and/or poetry. Dive into the experience with an open mind. Let the story, characters, and adventures take you away.

Think about this piece of imagination/creativity you are taking part in, even when you are away from it.

How does it make you feel? How do you picture the characters and setting in your mind? What do you think could happen next? Does the poetry paint an image of some kind?

b) Listen to music. The movement and rhythm of music can not only relax or pump you up. Music, often with lyrics, tells a story, sets a feeling, and a setting in your mind. This is again, another person’s creativity playing with your imagination.

Close your eyes and experience. Allow the ears to listen, but let your mind go. Where is the music taking you? Is there an image in your head, or different feelings?

Music that we love always calls for our return, over and over again. There’s a reason for that, but we don’t often pay attention to it. I guarantee, it is the feelings and imagery generated within our imagination that makes us crave more.

c) Look at art. Go to an art exhibit, a museum, or look online.  It doesn’t matter what kind of art, per se. Hopefully, the sort of art you enjoy, but not necessarily. Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.

Art can be paintings, drawings, or sculptures, etc. The importance is to view the visual aspects of a physical piece of art, whether beautiful, or not at all appealing, and experience them.

How does the piece make you feel? Do you think the artist is trying to say something? What do you like and dislike about it? Does it remind you of something? Are you drawn to making something like this?

2) Shut out the world. Our lives are busy. Between kids, jobs, spouses, errands and chores, most of us are “on” all the time. And even if we slip away for a short time – to the bathroom, our beds, in the car or watching t.v., our thoughts are still buzzing over logical matters, problem solving, reliving conversations, balancing our bank accounts, making mental lists and half listening to what is happening down the hallway.

Take a breather. Give your mind time to relax and wander. Think about pleasant things, silly things. Like what it would be like to float across the sky in an air balloon. Dream up what adventures you might have. Whatever fanciful thing strikes you, go with it.

Many don’t have a lot of time for this relaxed train of thought, I know – I’ve been there, too. I have found my best time for relaxing and flexing my imagination is in the morning, while getting ready for the day. More specifically the shower.

Showers are the most underrated, therapeutic device we have in our homes. You can feel like a god in the shower, the worlds greatest singer, actor, dancer, philosopher or comedian. Nobody’s there to judge, interrupt, or say ‘no’.

Personally, I have thought up some of my best (or at least, favorite) stories, lines, dialogues and characters in the shower. I have no explanation for the phenomenon, but poetry, in particular, comes together with fantastic ease in the shower.

Perhaps the reason taking a shower is so effective for imaginative thinking is because it is the one time and place that is soley ours. A private place where we care for our bodies and can give our minds freedom to relax, too. Maybe, the reason some enjoy extra long showers.

3) Take a historical trip. Odd, right? How can you take a historical trip? And how can the past inspire your imagination in the now?

History is fascinating and can be very inspiring to our imaginations! I’m not talking about all the wars and other negative things I remember learning about in school. I mean the interesting stuff you may only learn at a museum or in documentaries.

People in history where living normal lives full of constant discoveries and innovations. They were free spirited adventurers exploring undiscovered lands, inventing things to make their lives easier, riding horses over the wild frontiers, sailing on ships across oceans to new countries, building towns, performing in wild west shows, building railroads, finding gold, romancing and courting their true loves.

The struggles and astounding triumphs of historical people inspire us to imagine what their lives were like. Though they may seem unfortunate or less advanced to us in our time of high technology, we can also see how fortunate they were in many ways. Excitement, amazement, bravery, creativity, romance – history is chalk full of fascinating stories.

I highly recommend a visit to Cody, Wyoming. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is amazing. Not only interesting history of the wild west, Bill Cody and Annie Oakley, but tons of art as well. The place is huge, and you’ll likely want the two day pass to see it all.

Also, Deadwood, South Dakota is an equally interesting and fun place to tour as well.

I attended a Pompeii exhibit not long ago. While they did not have stories of individuals, many artifacts were there and the exhibit did a wonderful job showing what the lives of the people were like prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

If the world opens up again for casual travel to Europe, I recommend going. Italy and France are wonderful places to consume art, culture, and history. I would love to go to Scottland.

These are just a few of my personal suggestions for expanding your thought processes and imagination. The next step in creativity is to decide whether you want to use your imagination to create something.

Creativity is described as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

In other words, creativity is the actual, real world, process of making something from seemingly nothing.

Having a good imagination may be all you desire, with no calling to try your hand at creating anything tangible with it. There is nothing wrong with that. Imagination in and of itself is a wonderful thing.

If, however, you have long admired writers or artists and have dreamed of doing something along the same line, you should know that desire to create is the first step. Beyond that my advice is to dive in. Learn all you can about the art you wish to create, whether stories or artwork, etc. But don’t hold back from starting. You can learn and do at the same time.

Do not give up if your first attempts are not as great as you hoped. Perfecting a craft of any kind takes some time. The rewards you receive by creating things from your imagination is the greatest feeling, even if they turn out a tad ugly – at first.

Every imperfect creation is a learning experience and brings us one step closer to the goal. Keep going, keep loving and learning in your creative journey.


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