I mention Christopher Vogler so often on this blog, it’s become a running joke at this point. Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the two men who influenced Vogler’s work. The most obvious is Joseph Campbell, specifically his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. A subtle influence in Campbell’s work – one that Vogler shines a brighter light on – is Carl Jung. You can say that Vogler introduced me to Jung, and I’ve found the latter’s ideas fascinating ever since. At the very least, Jung’s theories gave me a reliable shorthand I can use to communicate my deeper thoughts on storytelling.
As Max Derrat explains in his analysis of Aion, one of Jung’s primary theses is the need to bring “unconscious contents into consciousness.” Jung connected this process to personal growth, but it also neatly describes a necessary step in making any kind of art. Inspiration is born in the unconscious mind. Yet it’s in our conscious minds that we take this inspiration and craft it into something tangible that others can experience. For writers, this tangible form is the stories we set to paper.
Last August, I described two types of inspiration: the unconscious inspiration that pops out from nowhere and the conscious inspiration that’s the product of an intentional distillation and rebuilding process. I also discussed how the latter process is learned, even if it can’t be directly taught. What I failed to mention is that, if you want to teach yourself this process, you need a stable connection to your imagination. Without it, your work as a creative writer will only grow more difficult and be less rewarding.
Describing the unconscious mind as a dense forest is an age-old metaphor. Like forests in the physical world, you can enter it wherever there’s a gap in the trees. Without a path to guide you, however, your progress will be slow and aimless. Unlike forests in the physical world, you can’t count on others to lay down these paths for you. You are the only one who can acess your unconscious mind. Thus, it’s up to you to discover a comfortable entry point, blaze that trail, and maintain it through regular, intentional travel. Over time, you’ll find yourself accessing the wealth of inspiration found there easier and faster. More importantly, you’ll have a surer way back to reality.
Put simply and bluntly, you need to hone your ability to daydream. Growing up as an only child who had very few friends, I got comfortable doing this, as it was the only means I had of entertaining myself. Being my primary method, I also learned quickly how to do it in ways that didn’t freak out the people around me. Making friends didn’t get any easier as I grew older, so I kept using it and found creative writing as an age-appropriate outlet – one I’d carry with me into adulthood.
If your daydream abilities are dull for whatever reason, developing a meditation practice can help you enter that dreaming, trance state at will. Most of the ones I’ve encountered encourage you to empty your mind completely, but I don’t believe that’s helpful in our case. If the end goal of your meditation is to immerse yourself in your imagination, then don’t try to suppress the voices that have amazing stories to tell. That’d be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Instead, you want to push past your mundane worries and any other negative mental chatter so you can hear the voices of your imagination more clearly.
I mentioned before that the process that produces conscious inspiration can’t be taught directly. I explain why in the post I wrote last August. I ended that post by saying the best I can provide is a glimpse of how my mind works, both as a point of comparison and as a prompt for self-reflection.
My Stable Connection
The imagination as forest is a classic metaphor, but it doesn’t fit my own experiences. The best way I can describe it is that my imagination is a distant planet that’s constantly broadcasting radio and TV signals. My stable connection is a static-free reception of those signals. If you’ve ever fiddled with a manual radio dial – say, searching for an AM or FM station to listen to on a long car trip – you know what tuning in is like and how delicate such a clear reception can be. Thankfully, by this point in my life, I know my internal eqiupment well, have memorized the frequencies, and can rely on a kind of muscle memory to quickly establish that connection.
I often use instrumental music playing in the physical world (be it my computer speakers or a pair of headphones) to drown out my negative mental chatter – the voices of my perfectionism and anxiety. Also that one nag who keeps repeating my list of daily objectives. As I get lost in the melody and let it fade to the background of my attention, I listen for the voices broadcasting from that distant planet – the voices of my characters and a few different narrators reading out my future manuscripts. I get images too, but they’re more like quick flashes of movie clips that play on screens just behind my retinas. If I close my eyes or stop paying attention to the sights I’m receiving from the physical world, I can watch that film. Usually, though, I have to wait until my mind decides to replay them during my nighttime dreams. I’ve gotten into the habit of transcribing these broadcasts onto paper once they’ve repeated enough times to crystallize into stable excerpts. When I dedicate time to sit down and write, a large part of my job is gathering all of that story’s excerpts, string them together, and fill in the gaps so the end result is a coherent tale.
Maybe my auditory connection to my imagination is the reason why the possibility of hearing things isn’t nearly as terrifying to me as seeing things. Why I know exactly what people are talking about when they claim God has spoken to them. Why I find music more inspiring than visual art. It could be one more reason why the phrase “paint with words” has never sat well with me. My imagination doesn’t paint. It produces movies and radio dramas. It works more in sounds than images.
How have you developed a stable connection to your imagination? How would you describe it? Feel free to share down in the comments.