The Tyranny of Imagination

I have realized lately that one factor, at least, in getting blocked or wandering away from a piece of writing is that I am — stick with me, this sounds stupid, but let me explain — I am afraid of my writer’s imagination. When I sit down to write, I may have the best plan in the world, but then just… stuff… happens. Oh! — my helpful imagination will supply — this character is naturally wary because she was in one of those B-movie, 1950s girls reform schools, fell in love with a guard who broke her out, and while on the run they discovered her natural talent for X, which led them into…

And now I’m writing that. Whether I want to or not, because it is now undisputed head canon for this character and I have to nail it down.

A friend of mine goes to a secluded ferry-access-only island for a month each summer, where her children and husband do… whatever it is that non-writers do, and she writes. She sent me a text the other day, “Hey, guess what?! Ryan’s mother has undiagnosed Aspergers!” I understood what she meant exactly — this little fact INTRUDED itself upon her story and now it’s just true.

OK, fine — unsettling. But actively frightening?

Well, yes! Because my God, what NEXT? It’s like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf where he kills off their imaginary child!

Not only that, but what if it’s wrong? Or, more precisely, what if this new information makes everything else I’ve written wrong? What if, ok, she was in a 1950s B-movie girls reform school… but that would mean she’s 107 years old. Now I have to account for that, somehow. Brilliant.

And even if my imagination doesn’t sling something disruptive at me, there’s plenty of discomfort left over because I am blessed and/or cursed with states of intense hyperfocus and words are infallible triggers for that. A positive boon for my career as an editor, but a genuine problem in the rest of my life, as six straight hours are rarely available to me for writing, and when that feeling comes on me, I guarantee I won’t want to stop before then. But of course, I must, and dragging myself out of that state can be really difficult. Sometimes it seems like it’s easier just not to go there at all.

And there you have it — instant block.

What to do? Well, I would think the solution would be obvious: rearrange the world such that I have an unquestioned minimum of six uninterrupted hours per day of writing time. Seems simple enough.

Get on that, would you?


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