Do any of you remember “Journey into the Imagination,” one of the original attractions at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World? There’s a little purple dragon called “Figment,” who pops up all over the place as you’re riding along in your automated vehicle. Through the power of the imagination, he becomes an astronaut, a mountain climber, even the Mona Lisa. Of course, the whole idea is that, if you let your imagination guide you, there is no end to the possibilities that await.
Those figments of the imagination are particularly vital to writers, who are always on the lookout for the next great idea. In her classic book, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande talks about the “writer’s coma,” those times in our lives when we feel a desperate need for solitude and detachment from the hustle and bustle of life. At those times, she writes, it may seem as if our mind’s are “barren,” when in actuality, “something is at work,” and will later make itself known in a flash of insight. She also says we can learn to “induce at will” this “artistic level of unconsciousness” where the “artist’s magic” lies buried. It is our unconscious that sees the world around us on a different level – it’s the place where all our impressions and experiences mingle and simmer in a savory broth of ideas, waiting for something to spark the imagination and allow the mixture to bubble up into our conscious mind.
I don’t know about you, but my “figments” always seem to appear when I’m doing something totally unrelated to writing – like walking the dogs, vacuuming the floor, standing in line at the grocery, or even driving (which is the most frustrating of all, because there’s no way to write it down!) I’m always certain I’ll remember such a great thought, or phrase, or idea for a poem or post, but most times it escapes me before I have the opportunity to write it down. I don’t always have a notebook handy (although I know every writer worth her salt is supposed to carry one), and even if I did, there are some situations where it’s impossible to drop everything and jot it down.
According to Brande, it’s quite normal for our “genius” to assert itself when we’re involved in monotonous, repetitive tasks. In fact, she advises us to play around with such tasks until we find the one that’s most receptive to calling forth our unconscious. Every writer, she says, has learned to put herself into a state of “light hypnosis,” where the attention is “just barely held” by the activity at hand, but far beneath the surface level of her mind, a story is being “fused and welded together.”
So tell me, how do you capture the figments of your imagination?