Tag Archives: imagination

Inspiration or Imagination

William Blake believed every word he wrote came from God. I’m not so blessed as that. Most of my words come from my imagination.

I’m not convinced distinguishing between imagination and inspiration is critical to our stories or our lives, but it could be, so let’s pursue the question.

In a lecture entitled “Imagination vs. Inspiration,” poet Garcia Lorca maintained that the imagination was a form of logic which could do many things but couldn’t “touch the darker forces of nature or the most incandescent light, or the realm of the unknown.” Imagination, he explained, always works with facts borrowed from the “most clear and precise form of reality.”

In my experience, imagination usually begins with connections. I build Juan out of character traits I’ve witnessed. Then I lock Juan in a broken elevator with Lucy, who may have red hair, and I watch what happens. If it charms or excites me, I write it down.

Or a taste reminds me of a hamburger stand named Jub’s my friend Eric Curtis and I used to frequent. Soon I’m writing a scene that happens in Mission Beach, where Jub’s was located.

That’s imagination.

But inspiration appears out of nowhere. Or from somewhere we can’t locate. It could be some as of yet unidentified part of our brains. Or it could come direct from God. Whatever the source or path, it manifests itself in moments that can make us gasp in awe of a truth we hadn’t noticed before.

And it usually gives the kind of truth we can’t express in any other terms than the one we’ve just encountered. If we try to analyze, we may sense that this truth comes from beneath, beyond or above our reality.

It’s the kind of truth we find so often in the Bible. The kind that comes clear yet remains a mystery.


“What we have is a crisis of imagination.”

That’s a quote from Warren Buffett’s son Peter, a writer of music, in an article called “The Charitable Industrial Complex”. It’s about the capitalist mindset of philanthropists who spend their lives making sure that they and their cronies get richer at the cost of most everybody else, and who then attempt to help struggling people without recognizing that to do any substantial and lasting good they might need to revise their mindset.

But that’s another person’s topic. Mine is imagination.

A couple days after I read the excellent Buffett article (which you could access from my facebook page) I read something else and sensed it connected to the line I quoted above.

From Ross Douhat in the New York Times: “Before political movements can be understood by others, they need to understand themselves: what they want to be, what they actually are and how they might bridge the gap between aspiration and reality.”

Political movements aren’t my obsession, so I translated the Douhat quote to apply to us writers.

My translation: Before we can be understood (bought, read, and appreciated) by readers, we need to understand ourselves: what we aspire to be (rich, famous, infamous, praised by critics, thought-provoking, evangelical, worshipped by a cult); what we actually are; and how we can bridge the gap between what we are and what we aspire to be.

If we haven’t yet built or discovered the bridge, then we have a crisis of imagination.

I’ll speculate that our best chance of overcoming the crisis is to fully engage our imaginations in the pursuit of a solution.

Most of us writers, when creating our stories, are beset with torrents of ideas. But once the story is told, when the time comes to sell or promote the beast, we either turn the jobs over to marketing pros or attempt to think like those pros do, and find ourselves groping in mindsets that feel like stuffy rooms from which we need to rush out for fresh air. As if we were forced to write an epic length novel based upon someone else’s stale outline, flat characters, and hackneyed theme.

Those of us who don’t feel free, or completely alive, unless we’re using our imaginations should perhaps engage our best gift, our imaginations, in the service of marketing.

Instead of submitting ourselves to a prescribed outline, we could humbly request of our muse that she send us an original method or ideas we can develop. Sure, we might need to devote month or two each year, or all day every Saturday, to wandering in the haunts of our muse. So it goes.

I mean to return to a little book I wrote for my students, and consider its suggestions for summoning inspiration, only this time as if I were an aspiring marketer rather than a writer.

Anyone who would care to join me can find an ebook of Writing and the Spirit at Smashwords, and get a free copy by using the coupon code LN38V.

Of course, once our imaginations have spoken, we need to put in the labor required to do our imaginations justice, or else we have imagined in vain.