“But now I know that imagination comes, works, when you are not trying, when you have a peculiar passive clarity.” --Brenda Ueland
Natalie Goldberg calls it Monkey Mind and Wild Mind. Some people think of it as right and left brain, rational and intuitive, concrete and abstract . . .
Whatever you call it, the place where your imagination lives is a wide, expansive place, sometimes difficult to access. You can’t force it.
I think your imagination lives in the same place memory does. Have you ever been watching a movie and recognized one of the actors from something else you’ve seen? You try to think what movie it was, what character, and the harder to dig for the memory, the tighter your mind clenches around it. Finally you give up. Later that night while you’re washing dishes or taking a shower, suddenly the movie, the character, the name, whatever it was you were trying to remember drifts from your subconscious accompanied by a feeling of “well, duh”.
It’s like the old story about how to catch a monkey. Cut an opening into a coconut that is just large enough to put a hand in, but not large enough to pull a fist out. Put a tasty treat inside. Tie the coconut to a tree. When a monkey reaches in for the treat and can’t remove his hand, he gets quite upset but doesn’t let go of the treat, thus being caught. The irony is the true trap is not the coconut, but the monkey’s mind and his unwillingness to “Let Go.”
The next time you’re trying to remember something, or trying to solve a problem (with writing or otherwise), if the solution doesn’t present itself, try relaxing and letting go. Wash dishes, do some gardening, go for a walk, engage in something creative like painting or coloring. Or write around the problem. Let your subconscious, your Wild Mind, work on it. Write what comes before (before the story opens, even) or what comes after, or whatever is happening meanwhile back at the ranch. Relax and have some fun. I like to call these informative scenes ‘outtakes’ because I never intend to include them in the final draft. I just write them to entertain myself, inform the story, or solve a problem.
“...[T]here should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don't look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” —Anne Lamott