Which comes first for you—images or words? For storytellers, both are important. We craft words on paper to communicate our visions to readers. We want them to see what we see, hear what we hear, experience what we experience. Concentrating on visual thinking is an exercise many of us can use to access our creativity and write better stories.
I think in pictures. I think in words too, but even then I usually see the words floating through my head (in a serif font…). Like C.S. Lewis and his photographic flash of a faun with an umbrella carrying parcels in the snow, almost all my story ideas come to me as images. When I was young, I overlay everything in my daily world with pictures from my innerscape—wild horses ran alongside the highway on car trips, moonlit nights turned my backyard into a secret labyrinth, automatic doors at the grocery store proved my Jedi mind powers (okay, so everyone does that one…).
It was glorious.
However, I find that my adult brain is less visual than it used to be. I haven’t lost the ability to see druids in the woods or outlaws in a storm, but what used to be the constant daydreaming of childhood has been largely relegated to the dusty attic along with the other nostalgic playthings.
But as a writer of fiction, my life remains fervently in need of these dreams, these visions, these specters out the corner of my eye. And so, even as I dedicate myself to waging war against Internet brain and the inherent distractions that pull me away from my visual thinking, I also become more intent than ever on once again consciously accessing this amazing realm of creativity.
When I mentioned this a few weeks ago in my post on combating Internet brain, one of you asked that I further develop the idea of reclaiming visual thinking. This post largely chronicles my own practices for working with my visual thinking.
I recognize these thoughts may not be useful to some of you, since studies approximate that only around 60-65% of people think in pictures (although I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this percentage rises among storytellers). If you are not someone who can, or normally does, think in pictures, I’d love to hear your take on all this. Does the idea of visual thinking resonate at all? Have you ever attempted any of the following exercises, and if so did you have to modify them? Particularly, I’d love to know how you interact with stories if you don’t see them.
For now, here are my thoughts on how those of us who use visual thinking can hone our mind pictures, so we may reap their creative benefits, both personally and creatively.
11 Exercises to Practice Visual Thinking in Your Writing Life
Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.–Henry David Thoreau
No doubt, Thoreau’s idea was that we manifest our dreams for how we’d like our lives to look in our outer worlds. But as writers, I think most of us can see the other side of this blessing as well—when the beautiful and exciting visions of our unconscious minds join us in our mundane lives. Sometimes these visions grow so rich and vibrant we are able to stitch them together into the full and meaningful tapestry of a complete story. And what are stories if not dreams we share with one another?