As I’m plowing through the third week of NaNoWriMo, I’ve been surprised at how difficult it has been to pull scenes, characters and settings out of my imagination. It’s a bit rusty, and the struggle to apply some creative WD-40 to those mental cogs got me thinking.
We focus a lot here on the cognitive and physical blocks to clear thinking and creativity. Sometimes, though, the blocks are fears tied to painful memory or our tendency to imagine a distinctly unpleasant future.
Ironically, sometimes it’s those of us with the most vivid natural imagination that sometimes find it difficult to access that imagination, due to some traumatic or difficult experience in the past. Additionally, those of us with overactive imaginations sometimes tend to find that we often scare ourselves by mentally projecting worst case scenarios based on realistically harmless situations.
If you’re the grown-up equivalent of Ralphie Philips, you may find yourself replaying your most difficult and painful moments over and over in your head. Or you may find yourself instantly imagining a fiery crash and a mournful funeral every time your spouse checks a text message while driving.
To avoid that unpleasant situation, some of us shut down our own imaginative capacity substantially, making it difficult to think creatively when it’s required or desirable.
There’s actually a psychological reason for that. Replaying is one way your psyche builds up emotional resistance to those memories. It’s sort of like exposing yourself to small children to build up your immune system.
However, that explanation is no fun when your imagination has been effectively hijacked by your worst experiences and fears.
One approach, if it’s primarily past memories that are causing the block, is therapy or other emotional healing. Bringing about a creative renaissance by regaining access to the naturally curious, imaginative child-like parts of your mind is one of the goals of the work of John Bradshaw as well as the well-known 12 steps program.
Another approach is to embrace the fear, and build up a resistance to it. This is often more helpful if you tend to imagine catastrophe around every corner.
Some of the greatest artists and writers in history managed to work around this particular mental block by embracing the dark side of their imagination. Stephen King alone has become an icon in pop culture by embracing his tendency to let his imagination automatically go to the worst case scenario, regardless of how impossible or horrifying that worst case scenario might be.
Do you struggle with an imagination that’s sometimes a little too powerful? What tricks have you learned to harness it?
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