The Canberra Times

Unlocking imagination: Techniques to enhance your reading and writing experience

Here we help people unlock their imagination, and commit words to the page. Picture Shutterstock
Here we help people unlock their imagination, and commit words to the page. Picture Shutterstock

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Few people seem to want to acknowledge it, but writing is more than a talent, it's a skill. Anyone who can pick up a pen or sit at a computer can write, and anyone with a speck of dust's worth of imagination can write a story. Yet writing is still regarded as one of those "non-careers," more a hobby than a job. Unless you spend years getting an online journalism degree or a marketing qualification, writing stories, books, or poetry is unlikely to net you much financial gain.

However, many people want to write. Perhaps it's the innate human desire to share stories, maybe it's the sheer freedom in it. Everyone can write, and while it is a skill that requires refinement and practice, it offers a very accessible platform for people to express themselves creatively. This means that among artistic skills, it is one of the easier ones to develop because the barrier to entry is so small, and if you're that way inclined it's also a handy skill to turn into a career as well.

Despite this, it seems that lots of people experience the issue of how to start writing. Today, we're dedicating our time to helping those people unlock their imagination, and learn how to commit words to the page.

Accept that you're you

It sounds like something from a midday soap opera but it's inherently true, especially in the starting stages. Maybe you're an avid reader, maybe you're not, but if this is your first time putting words down in a cohesive work then something a lot of people experience is the pressure to be good right away. It's easy to judge ourselves against a finished product, the likes of Ursula K. Le Guin or J.R.R Tolkien, whose fiction so totally inspired generations of authors.

It's important to relax and not place unnecessary pressure on yourself. Your first story doesn't have to be a show-stopper, it doesn't even have to be very good. It just has to be an exercise in putting words on the page.

Get inspired

It's a common saying that reading will make your writing better, and there is a truth in that. If we use the analogue of drawing, making sketches familiarises you with how to control certain mediums, while looking at the artworks of established artists opens up creative possibilities and can inspire you to take directions that no one else has considered before.

When you write, you're familiarising yourself with your brain's process of thought, and over time this will aid the speed and efficiency of your work. However, reading allows you to learn more about how to write; about what rules you can and can't (or should/shouldn't) break, and about how you can play with sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, and language rules. Reading can teach you about the importance of formatting a novel, and how to elicit emotions in your audience.

However, to say that reading is the only way to get inspired or learn how to write is reductionist. After all, movies were written, they were just translated to video rather than to the page. Song lyrics are just poems put to the melodies and rhythms of music. An artwork can illicit emotions, or tell stories of their own. Video games are stories told in one of the most interactive ways available to humanity. Writing and reading will help you learn how to write, but "reading" can take a variety of forms. Some good exercises are to have a go at writing a movie scene in prose or translating a story into a poem.

Don't stress

Stress can motivate art, creativity, and enjoyment, but it can also kill it. New writers will often face a lot of peer pressure from others in the craft, being told that they "have" to read this book, or that they're behind because they haven't read so-and-so.

Honestly? If you find a niche and find that's all you can comfortably read, that's fine. There are plenty of writers, good writers, that don't have the mental energy or bandwidth to read things like James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, or just don't enjoy experimental works like Mark Z. Danieliwski's House of Leaves. While reading a diverse portfolio of work is handy in the same way that tasting foods from many cuisines expands your palette and interests, if you're finding that you just cannot stand certain types of books or authors, do away with the pressure to engage in them. Read what you like, be happy, and get inspired.

Don't pressure yourself with routine at first

Most professional writers have some kind of routine or another. Although it's a good practice, it's also one reserved for those people, professional writers, or those hoping to turn professional. People like to assume that because you're a writer you're trying to monetise your work, and while that may be an end goal, your earliest works should be just you working out how you work as a writer.

Have fun with it, and write funny, nonsense sentences. Write what makes you feel something, and you'll get better with time and practice. Most importantly, don't burn yourself out by sticking to an arbitrary routine before you get to the point where you actively need to set aside a daily chunk of time to write in.

Set the scene

While normally applied to the act of writing itself, here we're telling you to get yourself comfortable. Reading and writing take exhaustive mental effort and it's important to be at ease in your space, otherwise, you're forcing creativity and imagination through irritation and that rarely goes well unless you're meaning it.

Fill the room with good natural light, get yourself comfortable, get a cup of coffee or tea, and make sure that your desk is arranged so you are in a comfortable posture, or so that while you're sitting with your book there's no undue tension in your body, take a deep breath, and start reveling in the magic of reading and writing.