Saturday, September 17, 2011

Journaling the Impossible

Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said, "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." -
Alice in Wonderland.

The other day I was thinking about inspiration. Thinking about where the ideas for stories come from. And something I've heard from many parents sprang to mind. The statement that their children have helped them see things in a different light. That old, familiar stories suddenly become new again when they see how their child reacts to them; that walks in the park suddenly become a venture to a far away land; that shadows (unfortunately) become monstrous creatures ready to devour you whole.

It's not surprising. When you're a kid, everything is new and fascinating. Sometimes strange and scary. The world is bound only by your imagination.

And when you're untried, your imagination is limitless.

If you're lucky, you'll have quite a few years before people start telling you that something just isn't possible. To get your head out of the clouds. To stop acting silly.

Growing up with parentsone of whom was a big readerboth of whom had active imaginations and lots of ideas, I don't ever remember the word "impossible" passing their lips, except in jest. I don't ever remember being told to come back down to earth. (At least, not for a permanent stay. Occasional jaunts to the soil were required for things like cleaning rooms or scooping litter boxes.)

But getting older is inevitable. And the older you get, the more the world changes.

Bereft at the more of less in the world.
Only...not really.

To crib a line from Captain Sparrow, "World's still the same. There's just less in it."

We're the ones that change. With age, come knowledge and experience. Obligations. Responsibilities. And if you're not careful, with all of those come boundaries.

I'm reminded, at random, of a scene in one of my favorite movies.

In Labyrinth, as Sarah sets out on her quest, she finds it impossible to find her way into the maze. All she sees is a long, seemingly endless corridor. Until a little worm says the labyrinth's full of openings, it's just you ain't seein' em.
I'm just a worm. But I see things you don't.
When we get older, we stop "seeing" the things we did as children. Maybe out of some misguided idea that "growing up" means putting away our sense of wonder. Maybe because we just don't have the time. Or maybe because our knowledge and experience are at war with our imagination, telling us that such things "just aren't possible."

That rabbit hole is not a doorway to a strange land. That toadstool ring is not evidence of nightly dancing faeries. That light in the woods is not a will o' wisp ready to lead you astray.

But it's important as a writer—especially a fantasy writer—and as a human being, to be able to see these things.

To look at the world with the same untried eyes you had as a kid. To ask "What if?" To see the world for what it is and then envision what it might be.

And I've gone through this long winded spiel to say that I've taken "believing the impossible" on as a journaling exercise.

The goal is simple: Every day (at least), in the journal I've identified for the task, I write down six impossible things.

The "Six Impossible Things" journal
Sometimes what I write down is a simple statement.
Trees have secrets.
Other times, I get a little more in depth.

Mirrors have memory. They've seen many things. Sometimes, if you look just right and quickly enough, you'll be able to see what they've seen.

But I never go further than a basic idea.

Because the purpose of the Six Impossible Things exercise is not to write a story or even the humble beginnings of a story. (And it's sure as hell not to get caught up in the logistics of why something is the way it is.) The purpose is to open your mind. To take a brief respite from the demands of daily life and look at the world as if it's your first time seeing it.

In the end, you'll have another resource to turn to when you're having one of those moments where you feel like the well of inspiration has dried up.

And something to rejuvenate your mind when the world starts to seem a little smaller.


R.L.W. said...

Brilliant idea for a journaling exercise!

L. M. Leffew said...

Thanks, R.L.

It really is effective. Even if I don't do any other writing during the day, I feel accomplished.

And until I sat down to start making the lists, I didn't think about how difficult it is to come up with those "what if" scenarios that came to me so effortlessly years ago. I think it'll get easier with time and practice, though.

L. M. Leffew said...

This is a fantastic exercise. I do something like this about once a month and dump it into my "possibles" file. I also haunt every word prompt site I can find because foreign perspective is as important as it is challenging. And I love a challenge.

Love this post. Thanks for sharing such a brilliant concept.

L. M. Leffew said...

I'm about to the once every two weeks/once-a-month pattern with this thing, myself. I started out strong, but found it's hard to keep the pace of impossible-things up daily.

I think I need to build up to it. Like working out a muscle.

Thanks for commenting.

L. M. Leffew said...

I've felt myself being pulled in the direction of fantasy for some time now, and I'm having a great time using John Hodgman's 700 Hobo Names as the seeds to my little stories. I think an exercise like the one you've described will be enormously helpful. Thanks for this. Fine writing, by the way.

L. M. Leffew said...

I just now saw this comment. Thank you. If you've tried the exercise, I hope it's been helpful.

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