Fighting for Your Right to Imagine

In studies trying to get at important differences between the typical “intelligent student” and the typical “creative student” (as judged by their teachers), it appeared that the intelligent students preferred not to imagine—they wanted to know what information was required for the test—and the creative students were drawn to imagining and driven to imagining. Intelligence per se does not lead to a vivid imagination—that comes from a difference place and a different impulse.

Some people naturally and spontaneously treat life as a problem or a puzzle to be solved. They want to know what can be done with those bits of driftwood, how painting can be moved forward, what a novel written in the second person might look like. They have impulses in that direction, and to scratch those itches they are obliged to imagine: that is, obliged to use a feature of their brain that their society, their schools, and their home life prefer to squelch.

This squelching affects even self-identified creators, who, it turns out, often have trouble imagining. Rather than entering the world of their novel and imagining it into existence, they take workshop after workshop meant to unlock the secrets of novel-writing. The secret, of course, is to get in there and imagine your world into existence. But that natural impulse has atrophied by virtue of a lifetime of “draw inside the lines” injunctions.

For most people, their imagination has to be reclaimed—even reimagined. It is almost as if they have to fight for the right to imagine—and many creatives are not equal to that fight. Therefore, they never do the imaginative work they dream of doing. If you’ve been pestering yourself with the thought, “I don’t have much of an imagination,” please change your tune. You have all the imagination you need: but you may have to hunt for it and fight to reclaim it.

Dr. Eric Maisel is America’s foremost creativity coach and author of more than 50 books on creativity, the creative life, life purpose and meaning issues, critical psychology, and mental fitness, including Unleashing the Artist Within and his new, Redesign Your Mind.