Monday, August 9, 2010

Medical Mondays: Why Imagination is a Muscle


Hello! I've been wanting to do this post for a while, but I've been getting so many awesome questions lately I had to put it off.

I want to talk about muscle.

It's meaty. Sometimes it's buff and toned and large; sometimes it's thin and atrophied. Why?

I'm grossly simplifying here, but there are two main reasons why healthy muscle is, well, healthy.

1) Use it or Lose it. Muscle needs work. It's true. Have you known someone with a broken bone that got a cast? After the limb gets out of the cast, it's much smaller than the healthy other side, right? The atrophy is from lack of use. It's the same reason why a paraplegic will have wasted looking legs. Without the nerves shooting signals for the muscles to contract, those muscles waste away.

Muscle needs to be challenged in order to maintain a certain level of functionality.

2) Substrate=Food. Muscle needs nutrients--a healthy balance of minerals, vitamins, and protein keeps it going. There's a reason why people who are starving look so thin. If the body doesn't get enough nutrients, it's going to suck them from our own bodies. And thus, our muscles can wilt.

So.

Why is a writer's imagination like muscle?

1. "Use it or lose it." I can remember clearly a time when I thought, "I could never write a book. I can't imagine anything interesting!" I was a wimpy and weak in the imagination department. Well, one day I had an idea. And I worked on it hard, in ways my scientific brain was unused to. And then, a whole world opened up. I saw ideas in everything.

Once I started using that atrophied imagination muscle in my brain, I saw more and more.

2. Nutrients. You need to feed your imagination! This can be literal (chocolate). It can literary (lot of reading). It can be other things, like being well rested, keeping your stress level healthy, or making sure you balance in life is good. Maybe it's expanding your horizons by going on vacation to a new place, or learning about something completely alien to you.

Muscles and imagination are very complex entities, and we need to keep them healthy!

What have you done lately to take good care of your imagination?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at


All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

57 comments:

Terri Tiffany said...

this is a great way to look at this! I've been reading and reading this past month--about 4 books to see how other authors are doing it.

Sharde(Shar-day) said...

Nice post! I find that reading out of the genre I write, sometimes going to classics like the Metamorphoses just to absorb the words, helps. But then again, it's the Metamorphoses by Ovid. That alone makes that imaginative muscle of mine work in overtime from the first page.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

I just came across your blog. I loved it!
Following now :-))

Doris Plaster

Candyland said...

Ahhh excellent! It really is a "use it or lose it!"

Yvonne Osborne said...

You are so right. "Use it or lose it" applies to much we have and are. I feed my imagination by talking to myself and writing crazy blog posts and singing whatever comes into my head-mostly when alone:) and daydreaming. Yeah...I'm strange, I admit!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Great post, Lydia. I have no problem using my imagination, but lately I haven't been feeding it very well. (Okay, the chocolate's a yes, but the reading's been slow.) Right now the ol' imagination is focused on one thing - getting this WIP done. When I'm done with that, I'm going to roll around in my TBR pile for a good long time.

Paul C said...

I enjoy very much how you explore the imagination as a metaphor. Diverse reading and walks in nature help my imagination muscles.

Jenny S. said...

Great post! I tone my imagination muscles by walking around with a heavy book on my head. No, just kidding. I read, and I try to keep my eyes and ears open when I'm out in the world.

And chocolate, of course.

Matthew Rush said...

What a great analogy! I don't really believe that imagination can ever be lost altogether, but it definitely improves with regular use!

patti said...

Wonderful post!
Sigh. It's old advice, but read, read read.

Books you love
Books outside your "genre"
Books you don't love. Mark 'em up and figure out where they've strayed...or is it YOU who are straying????

BTW, when someone's really mad, Lydia, and all those ropy things stick out on their neck, are they veins? arteries? both?
Tendons??????

LOL.
Patti

Linda Kage said...

I just watched a moive to help boost my imaginative juices! Then I read a little and wrote a little.

Loved your post. Wonderful.

Rena said...

Great post, Lydia! My current WIP involves a lot of the things around me right now, as well as many things I like doing, so that whole part has been pretty easy. I loved your comparison!

Alesa Warcan said...

Huh... Hmm... I guess the thing I do for my imagination is to muzzle every now and then so that I can come back to the real world every now and then... To pay my taxes for example. ; j
It's an interesting parallel you've drawn here.

Abby said...

For me, feeding it with good food keeps it healthy and happy. I also just recently got started with photography. Just give me a good digital camera (I don't have my own so I borrow) and have me walk around. Often a picture will lead into a word and a word will lead into a sentence and then I have a whole blog post or essay idea.

Carol Kilgore said...

Great post! And so true. The more we write, the more our imagination sees and plays with.

Sam Liu said...

Great post, the analogy is wonderful and it works splendidly. You are absolutely right, the imagination is the writer's greatest tool. Every ground-breaking and classical piece of literature started merely as an idea in the author's imagination. I especially liked the idea of feeding one's imagination in literal or literary manner :)

To keep my imagination healthy, I take a small notebook with me wherever I go and whenever I get an idea, have an interesting thought or see something noteworthy, I write it down in the book for future reference :)

Talli Roland said...

What a great analogy - so true. We need to use it or lose it! Happy Monday, Lydia.

storyqueen said...

So true.

I find my brain gets flabby if I don't exercise the imagination everyday (by working on my WIP)

Shelley

Danyelle said...

I love this! I think a lot of things we can do, talents and the like, operate on the use it or lose it principle.

When I need to boost my creativity, I shut myself (that me inside my head) off and open my mind up. And listen. It could be to nothing, reading a book, listening to music, or just living life. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Love it! Reading and working on my story daily and so important to keep me in the groove.

Great post :)

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

So true, when I started writing I sort of chunked along, now it’s much easier.

I read or walk or draw to get the creative juices flowing.

Jonene Ficklin said...

That's a good question. I like to look at art and photographs and when I find an interesting one, I like to think up a story to go along with it. I am an artist and I get a lot of ideas for new artwork that way. The art I've loved has had a story behind it, whether it is clear or not.

It's also a great way to think up a new book.

Sarah Mullen Gilbert said...

YES! This is so true, Lydia. It's amazing how many ideas and scenes start popping into my brain once it gets used to thinking like a writer. And when I don't write for awhile, it's like going back to the gym after a couple months. Ouch :)

aspiring_x said...

great post!
use it or lose it (and don't forget to feed it!)
wonderful!

Bathwater said...

Music always feeds my literary imagination. Songs with ambiguous lyrics can set the mood and stage o entire stories in my head. Songs like Fleetwood Mac's Golddust Women have given me everything for a fantasy novel ha hand nothing to go with the actually meaning of he song.

Bee said...

You have the most original posts.
The whole reference to muscles is rad. Loved it!
I take pictures and read, read, read to feed my imagination.

Faith said...

I read, read, read... watch interesting TV shows that make me think or ask questions... and try to look at the world from a not-quite-so-literal POV. Ask questions! Act like a 5-year-old! Pet the goats!

Anything that keeps my brain from becoming dull and stagnant is how I try to feed my imagination.

I think it's a matter of perspective, too -- if you always view the world in a negative way, you limit the possibilities to yourself and others, and kill your imagination before it can begin to work.

Amie B said...

i haven't done anything to keep my brain active and alert this summer....no wonder it's turned to fat and mush. LOL. guess i need to get it back into exercise mode soon!

Giles Hash said...

I read a lot, and I watch TV and Movies that inspire me... mostly Joss Wheden stuff. But I also play video games. I know, everyone says TV, Movies, and Video Games stifle the imagination, but it does the opposite for me. Many of the games I play have unique plots and characters that inspire me to turn of the TV and write!

Amanda Sablan said...

Such a cool post; I never thought of imagination as a muscle, but it does make sense.

I must agree with Giles up there: reading, watching movies, and even playing videogames can all inspire ideas in me. That, and a nice bike ride. :]

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love this post! I recently took a few long drives (visits to a friend, reunion) and exercised my imagination muscles dreaming up new plots - I had to stop every hour or so just to capture in writing the gusher of thoughts. It was awesome. :)

Lisa Gail Green said...

Yeah!! A doctor just told me to eat chocolate! Woohoo! :D I know, I know, don't actually take it as medical advice. But, come on, let me have a little fun.. he he he.

CharTheShark said...

Great post! I've "feeding" my muscles recently by reading more stuff - blogs,newspapers, articles, websites, etc. It really helps!

Taryn Tyler said...

For me feeding the imagination is the most important. Reading or music or a nice long walk to stimulate it before I try to pull things out of my head.

Laura Eno said...

Yes, chocolate! Good for whatever ails you. ;)

I love to look at scenery photos and imagine new worlds within them.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I know how that goes! it's like once I start thinking up ideas for books, they just keep coming! I get ideas from songs, conversations, dreams! Where before it was like, "Hmm. what should my next novel be about?"

DEZMOND said...

Oh, muscles, we love them so much, but they are such a high maintenance thing :)

Theresa Milstein said...

This is so true. I hear studies about older people declining more rapidly when they don't exercise their muscles. I think it's not just reading but reading different types of books, which will force us to think about our writing in a different way. It's like doing the same exercise for years - it's not as effective as mixing it up.

Theresa Milstein said...

And thank you for linking my contest post.

Elle Strauss said...

I posted a similar theme lately when writing about where ideas come from--somehow, the more you use your thinking muscles the more ideas you keep on getting!

The Words Crafter said...

Hmmmm, well I get plenty of imagining done, I read, watch some movies and a small bit of tv. I play with children and make up stories...the places I'm lacking in are sleep, stress levels, and exercise....a great post!

Susan Fields said...

Great post - so true! I didn't write when I was in college, and I didn't really miss it. But now that it's a part of my daily routine, I think I'd go nuts without it. I guess my imagination muscle is going strong and won't tolerate neglect. :)

Julie Musil said...

You have the best information! I love this.

I kind of experienced this today. I was working on my wip, and I had this great idea and I just went with it. I think it came to me simply because I was actually writing. If I had thought long and hard about what to do at this particular place, I wouldn't have had this idea.

Thanks for the great stuff!

Melissa said...

Too true. Imagination is a muscle (an awesome muscle with lightning apparently - which only makes me like it more!)

I find ideas everywhere and create mini stories in my head all the time, just for fun.

Robert Guthrie said...

I was going to say that quiet, nature & meditation are my inspiration. But I recently had a breakthrough on the planning stage of a novel on the rowing machine with my iPod in a crowded gym of so many people in the zone...

Lynda Young said...

I love these comparisons! It's so true too. Best ways to exercise my imagination is to read a lot and to daydream (plus physical exercise)
:)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Lydia..wonderful post! Right now I am trying to take good care of my imagination. I am reading a lot and whichever creative writing exercise I make my students do, I try to do it myself without letting them know. I keep thinking of ways to improve my current WIP.

Heather said...

Excellent post! I couldn't agree more. This is why I don't sit around and wait for my muse to visit me. I write every day no matter what. Usually I get 1,000 usable new words on my manuscript. Some days I get less, some days more. But I keep that creativity muscle strong!

Jack said...

Hi,how are you today?I have surfed your blog serveral times, thanks for your information and photos. I will go on to follow your blog. If you have time, you can come to my blog and feel free give me some comment, more important thing is be follower!

(My blog is sharebooksreview.blogspot.com)

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Yay, flex them and make them work - great sharing. Thanks.

Krispy said...

So true! I've been reading a lot lately, which usually helps in the imagination department. Quiet time helps too - just time to space out and let your thoughts roam.

MT said...

I'm thinking that whenever I do something imaginative with the kids, that's got to be good for me. Little kids don't even have to try hard to be imaginative. They open up the widows of imagination and the fresh creative breezes blow on through the room!

Phoenix said...

Great post! I always try to use imagination by keeping little notebooks on hand to scribble down thoughts, poems, etc. It really helps!

Jai Joshi said...

Great post, Lydia. It's so true that we have to feed our imaginations and exercise them to get the best use out of them. I try to do the right things physically while at the same time I try to read and watch and be on the lookout of other things to exercise my brain. Love it.

Jai

Shannon said...

You definitely climbed inside my head with this post. I haven't been using my creative muscles since I've been so swamped with work and now that I'm ready to get back into edit mode, it's a struggle. I'm inspired by your "use it or lose it" advice.
Thanks, Lydia!

Heather Taylor said...

I use my dreams (the sleeping kind) for inspiration and read and look at photography as much as I can!

notesfromnadir said...

Lydia,
Very good points to make about using it or losing it. It's good to use our muscles so we don't get sluggish.

As for my imagination, it's there all the time. I also find that going for a nice long walk helps out even more so I do a 2 for 1!