If a self-help guru offered a weekend seminar titled “Reclaiming Your Imagination” their followers would pay thousands of dollars to attend. While that certainly sounds like an exhilarating experience, there’s a much cheaper and accessible option available — reading fiction.
Children, unadulterated by the perceived “responsibilities” of adulting, can tap into their imaginations at a moment’s notice and stay there for hours at a time. Even in an age where parents can easily relieve with an iPad their child’s boredom and the inevitable annoyance often coupled with it, children can’t help but wander off into their own worlds. Adults have a terrible time doing that, which is completely understandable. As we hit our teen years, and then into early adulthood, we are forcibly dragged from our imaginations.
“Focus!” parents, coaches, and teachers tell us. We force our minds, with great will, believing our careers and even our lives depend on it, into external concentration. Finally, after we’ve made it through college and charge headfirst into a career, we begin to realize that society’s definition of what success is doesn’t bring the meaning we thought it would. We yearn for a simpler time when our imagination ran free and with it the dreams of who we could be.
But we aren’t conscious that it’s our imagination we’re missing. Most become functioning alcoholics or turn to other addictions: retail therapy, vanity, online video games… the list is endless.
But why didn’t we need to self medicate as children to get out of our heads? Simple: the HDMI cord running to their imagination was still intact.
So how do we rediscover our own imaginations? Easy: reading fiction.
What differentiates reading fiction from other forms of entertainment is that the story being consumed is unique to each reader. No one else sees the same world and characters when you read fiction. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has sold 120 million copies since its release in 1997. That means there are over 120 million different interpretations of what Harry and Ron look like and every stone of Hogwarts is constructed in 120 different ways.
Imagine if a movie was made entirely based on how you saw characters and a world, and imagine if that was done 120 million times over. That’s what reading fiction is.
You might be thinking, “What about the folks who watched the movies first, or at least saw a poster or some other image of Harry? Surely when they crack open one of Rowling’s books a young, four-eyed Daniel Radcliffe will pop into their minds.” This might be the case once or twice, but the imagination is a powerful thing. It quickly takes over and creates its own world and characters.
We, the reader, take a primary role in fiction. The author merely acts as a guide, providing a long line of text for us to walk along as our imagination builds a world and characters along the way. Think of this next time you talk about a book with a friend. You may share a love of that text, but you certainly don’t share the same interpretation of it.
Often we hear, “from the mind of (insert famous writer or director)” when it comes to a movie. That’s true — it is their world. But that cannot be said for reading. The most accurate statement for reading would be “waiting to see what you come up with.”
It’s easy to lose touch with our imagination. Think of reading fiction as a way to cheat your way back in with the author as a guide.
Once you’ve cracked that door, keep it open. Read more. Let your imagination run wild with the characters and world it creates. Think of your imagination as its own entity, free of your adult brain’s rational thinking.
There’s a perfect piece of art waiting for you; let fiction guide you there.