While writing, when do you totally lose yourself, immersed in the moment while the laptop keys chatter with your thoughts running digital? Stop right now and think of the last time you experienced such a supremely inspired moment.

What were you writing about: Paris, softshell crab, being chased by the police, a long drawn out kiss?

Yes, writing is hard work that involves crafty skills but most of all it involves imagination. Storytellers around fires of yore may not have been writers but they had mad visionary skills, and they liked the attention. Sound familiar?

Much ado about something

Some want to be authors so people will admire their great brains. Being a big fan of compliments, I’m not dissing that but there should be more to it. We focus a lot on the strategies and business of writing but I urge you not to undersell the rewards of sheer imagination.

Other scribblers do what they do because their imagination is bigger than their head and leaks out of their hands into stories. These folks also like success and attention at book signings but, more than for themselves, they crave admiration for their work. When you tell them you love their main character and read their novel in two nights, they swoon. When their editor expresses admiration for a particularly affecting scene, they melt like butter.

Following bliss

All writers sometimes stare at blank screens, but (as above) remember that moment when writing was fun? When your main character whispered something utterly unexpected to you? Can you recreate the accelerated heartbeat of chasing an idea down a tantalizing rabbit hole, or when the road unexpectedly led left instead of right and you were suddenly headed a totally new direction?

Your passion makes your book authentic.

Imagination is different than faking it; the latter makes your book less commercial. I’ve mentioned before my pique when I hear frustrated people say, “I should just write a romance and make a pot of money.” Give it a try, I always think: not only is it harder than you think, you can’t fake it.

Sure thing: it’s a good strategy to write what you know. It may be wiser not to write that tough guy L.A. PI novel if you don’t know the Tar Pits from the Viper Room. Maybe you should start with what you know and love, and take it from there. One man’s travels across the globe and incessant curiosity about other cultures might lead him to write a successful travel mystery series. Or maybe you bring your own distinctive viewpoint to novels where people get tied up.

Explosive imaginations

In a hilarious speech, bestselling writer R.L. Stine recalls being on a book tour in China. He muttered that someone should just shoot him if he was yet again asked the same ole same ole: “Where do you get your ideas?” After a darling Chinese child posed a question, Stine’s Chinese interpreter looked up at him and said, “Bang! You’re dead.”

Firsthand knowledge and rigorous research are all well and good but, as Emily Dickinson wrote and Selena Gomez sang, the heart wants what it wants. Fiction is made up, which means a free pass anywhere you want. When you write successfully, something primal’s goin’ on.

Kazuo Ishiguro didn’t live in prewar England before he wrote The Remains of the Day, and Ray Bradbury stayed on Earth when he penned The Martian Chronicles. Patricia Highsmith never murdered anyone (that we know of). But these authors followed their passion, leading them extraordinary places where no one had ever been before.


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