Jan Bowman

Entry # 56 – “Write What You Imagine”

“What Do You Imagine?” Photo Credit – Jan Bowman 10/2011

While writers are often urged to “write what you know,” one of the most powerful incentives to write, both prose or poetry, comes from the free and joyful exploration of the imagination.  Exploring and learning about what you don’t know and writing about it, provides one of the wonderful pleasures of writing. Writers can explore what it’s like to live a life they’ve never before experienced and describe it with such passion and precision that readers recognize what is possible.  We are able to connect with our common humanity.  Fiction writers, in particular, are at a serious disadvantage if they are forced to avoid experiences they’re unlikely to know as a firsthand life event. 

Imagine, if you will, what it was like to live as an early North American settler or a prehistoric cave dweller or on this Caribbean Island pictured above. Writers can imagine parachuting from a plane or diving into the Aegean.  They can research the details, technology, history, and through their imagination, build images that bring up emotions that add to our shared experiences as people and as readers.  Readers don’t need to dive into the Aegean or jump from a plane to imagine what they would feel. Thus the term, “armchair tourist”comes from countless readers who can’t or won’t ever get closer to some experiences than a book, but isn’t it wonderful that in this rather limited time that we all have on this planet, in our particular skins, that we can know so much more than just factual information.  That allows readers to move beyond the time and place limitations of physical bodies and explore richer emotional lives.  A reader travels and trusts his safe arrival at a new destination to a skilled writer.  Skilled writers are pilots who fly readers to where ever they want to go. Time and place are not limitations.
So I was thinking about a question I sometimes ask people when I interview them on my writers blog.  I ask some version of  “what advice have you been given in your writing life that you have learned to ignore.” And I think one bit of advice that I have chosen to ignore is “write what you know.”  I have replaced it with “write about things you can imagine, research, and explore through the internal and external landscape of the heart and mind.”  

More often than not, readers come to fill their cups at the cool spring of imagined lives and take away more of a life than they would be likely to experience in their lifetimes.