We often associate imagination with stories. We perceive great stories as a work of our imagination. But, in actuality, great stories are those with a touch of imagination and of personal encounters.
A lecture entitled “The Four People (In Me): The Autobiographical Impulse in Prose and Poetry (and Me)” given by the co-founder of the New York Writers Workshop, Tim Tomlinson, was held on Jan. 9 at the American Resource Studies Center. He emphasized that a writer does not really need imagination to get through their works. Oftentimes, personal experience can place any story on the edge.
Readers are imaginative, but they do not feed on imagination alone. The story must have something personal that can make the reader connect with it emotionally. The writer must have a voice that reflects himself or herself, and not just purely out of an insane creation of the mind. To build a connection with the reader, your reference must at least be graspable by the reader.
Even the most admired disciple of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, is an autobiographical writer despite claims of being one of the most imaginative. Tomlinson highlighted the importance of having a personal touch to a fictional story. It is not a necessity, but naturally, our personal experiences reflect the theme of what we write most of the time. The more you have experience of something, the more there is to say and flex your creativity with.
Tomlinson even remembered Nate, a red-headed muscular guy teaching Mathematics in a public junior high school. He writes well, but his stories didn’t interest Tomlinson and other people during a workshop that much. He writes more of what his imagination tells him, rather than what his daily life does. Tomlinson even suggested to Nate that he write something involving muscular guys who teach Math, or anything personal to him that is not too far from the real world.
These are the essentials in becoming a good writer. However, to become a great writer, one needs to be obsessive, a fool, a stylist, and a critic. Having the first two would probably land you a career. Having all four isn’t at all easy, but it’s worth it.
The Obsessive. Being the obsessive writer encourages one to have devotion to work. You need to be obsessed with your work so that you will commit to it. You might have doubts about what you make, but your devotion will prevent you from giving up on it. Obsession is not a pleasing quality, but it pays a good price of loyalty to one’s work.
The Fool. The sad reality is the notion that you’ll only get a few reads, and that nobody will most likely care about your own memoire. Telling your story to the world makes you a fool, but you’ve got to trust it. If you think you are crazy, then be crazier to the world. Nobody might like crazy, but they sure will have the guts to tell the world how crazy they have been.
The Stylist. The more you read, the more chances you’d get influenced by what you read. A writer wants to be unique, to have his or her own style that differentiates them from all other writers out there. Being a stylist gives you your own taste. There are a lot of writers ahead of you, and your primary target is how you’ll manage to create your own taste without making it feel like you’re a descendant of this and that. As much as possible, be your own taste.
The Critic. The last persona of a writer—which disables you from finishing your work—is the critic. In fact, it should be banished because it kills what you’re working on! You might have encountered deleting a full-blown sentence from your writing because upon rereading, it sounds utterly absurd. Nonetheless, having the critic in you can take you miles by letting other people read and evaluate your work. Most times, you will treat your writing as nothing but trash, but seeing other people appreciate it can get you on the right track.
Our imagination might be good, but let our personal experiences be better. The life of a writer, as what J.D. Daniels believes it to be, is to go out on an adventure, meeting and encountering weird people and things, then telling people about it. Tomlinson remarked, “Break your imagination and trust your own experiences.”