Editor's Musings: Overcoming the Habitual Grind—Imagination's Anathema
Updated: Sep 3, 2022
You wake up each day to the familiar beep and chorus of your morning alarm. Rolling out of bed, you slog to the coffee machine and pour yourself the usual drink, trudge to the shower, and don your workday clothes. Heading into the office or behind the register, you click and tap and crunch the time away until the spinning clock tells you your time is done.
Day in and day out, the world seems the same. Same people, same places, same names, same everything. You move on autopilot, returning at night to the same place you woke before dawn had a chance to brighten the gloomy horizon.
And with it, goes another day filled with potential for inspiration.
When life becomes a habit, it loses its zest. With that loss also goes the writer's most important tool: their imagination. Living the writer's life involves vehemently opposing this tired old idea of the status quo, refusing for even a moment to allow one's day-to-day life to fall into tiresome routines.
"But I'm not a full-time writer," you might say, "I have kids to feed, bills to pay, and a boss to appease. These aren't just habits, it's life!"
True. But that doesn't mean life isn't full of small opportunities to engage with your writer's imagination and view the world with a child's imaginative eyes.
Starting with the morning shower: how does the water feel against your skin? Is it cold and pelts you like a driving rain? Or is it a warm mist that coats your sore body in a blanket of innervating warmth after the paralysis of a deathlike sleep?
On the morning commute, what kinds of scenery do you pass? Is it through misty and mysterious forests that could house a mysterious and magical beast? Or might it be through a brightly lit urban corridor where a superhero might be leaping from rooftop to rooftop, always there, but also always just barely out of sight of the common man?
When you work your daily job, what kind of people do you interact with, and what little quirks might they have that you can incorporate into your characters? What stories might their actions, appearances, and words have to tell? For example, does the new employee from accounting shift awkwardly in her spotless designer shoes, the faint redness of a blister bloodying the heels of her worn-out stockings? Might a child approach you at the market or store and ask if you're an officer because of the golden star decorating your outfit that the child was taught to always look for whenever they needed help? What of the two young people walking hand-in-hand to the movies, and how might they differ in appearance from the old couple who always comes in each Tuesday at 10, the wife trundling her oxygen tank and the husband clumping along with his tennis ball-tipped cane? What of the young man always sitting alone at the park and feeding the birds? He wears an expensive gold watch, has neatly barbered hair, and yet wears rags more befitting a poor man; can you imagine a reason why?
Not all points of interest need to be from a human source either: you might notice a small animal out the window of your school duking it out with another creature after the same half-sandwich left on a bench by a student the night before. Or you might notice an old dog, back leg hobbling in a half-limp, wandering up a quiet street and that's welcomed at every door it passes. Even those who work from home can still participate in observing the world around them, be it watching the way the grasses and plants bud new leaves in the spring, observing the tiny rivers that hollow out the snow piled beneath the dripping eaves like tunnels left by lava through an icy volcano, and even how the smells in the air differ based on the weather, be it a dusty and dry summer, or a wet and earthy-smelling rainy season.
Each experience in day-to-day life has its possibilities to break up the monotony of the norm. Even something as small as a personal challenge—such as choosing to not use one's dominant hand for an entire day—can give great insight into the experiences of someone who might be injured or differently-abled, and grant a writer the ability to see how a certain type of character might have to act differently regarding what would otherwise be a mundane daily task, such as how they awkwardly jab their cheek while brushing their teeth, have a hard time getting their key into the ignition of the car, difficulties with signing documents, or even something as simple as not putting down a bag of groceries while trying to unlock their apartment door at the end of the day.
Even something like reading, a task near and dear to every writer's heart—can be experimented with. Refusing to read so much as a single word for an entire day to get a glimpse into the lives of the illiterate, basic literacy being something that we writers take entirely for granted, can open one's eyes to the difficulties of daily tasks as well as get a better understanding of the current technology available to bypass this difficulty for those who face it each day. Compared to the common trait that writers give many of their characters—a love of reading—how might an illiterate character survive the trials ahead of them?
Everything a writer does in their day can be a source of imagination, a source of inspiration, a source of realistic and lifelike quirks that can either pepper a story or can inspire an entire story in its own right.
Don't let the day-to-day grind become anathema to your creativity and imagination; use every opportunity to search out things to inspire, and imagine a world that is far from the mundane. Once you find those gems that inspire, be sure to write them down or keep another record of them. These tiny snippets can be tucked away and used as later fuel in your writing, training your mind to be on the lookout for writing inspiration in uncommon places throughout the day and in how to put what you experience into words on the page.
Happy writing, my fellow creatives!