Why an unused imagination is like a flabby abdominal

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Husband and I were chatting yesterday (we’ve been together for twenty five years – you’d think we’d be over that kind of thing by now) on our way back from a rare couple’s lunch (In case you’re concerned we released our son on Dartmoor to run with the ponies so we could have some grown-up time, fear not. He was with a very responsible adult, watching suped-up cars speed round a racetrack – each to their own).

Husband and I were discussing how my life experience has prepared me to be a writer (well, a hopeful amateur writer anyway).

First off, there’s life experience. Unless you’re a true prodigy and understand the human condition from the moment you spring from the womb, most of us need to have had some dodgy jobs, some good jobs, travelled a bit and generally mixed with other human beings (loved, lost, loved and lost again – rinse and repeat) for a few decades before we feel qualified to write about life.

Secondly, I’ve had a very understanding and supportive partner. Someone who’s prepared to field a young child, go shopping, or just leave you in peace to write and who doesn’t become resentful and obstructive after years of doing so and STILL no sight of a giant publishing deal … Not to be underestimated.

The third biggest thing that’s prepared me to write was studying with the O.U. Allow me to explain.

As regulars will know, I’ve had an array of often-not-very-exciting-or-fulfilling-in-fact-kinda-eye-skeweringly-boring retail jobs over the years. These jobs  left me stale, frustrated and unfulfilled. I had grown so used to floristry and all its doings, I could’ve made a wedding bouquet standing on my head. In fact, I suspect some brides over the years have thought I did make their bouquets standing on my head. Or maybe with my eyes shut. Anyway, I was fed up.

Then the dreams started. Well, pretty much the same dream, over and over, night after night, week after week.

I was late for an exam. I’d missed the bus to get to college. I hadn’t revised for another exam and I’d missed the bus and I was going to be late, and every permutation you can make from those elements. Now usually, I think reading dreams is an inherently bad idea as they’re just the brain’s way of digesting all the random codswollop we’ve absorbed during the day.

But this was different. My brain was telling me something – it was saying

‘Get off your backside and do something useful with me before I calcify or make you dress up as a fried egg and talk to sausages.’

So I did as my brain told me. I registered for a foundation course with the *Open University. I was terrified I wouldn’t cope, petrified of failure, but I completed the introductory exercises … And loved it. There followed six (mainly) enjoyable years of Art history, Roman history, and Renaissance history. I studied fossils, prehistoric technology, the English Civil War, more Art History and all while I was working full-time and part-time, giving birth (**well, I tried to get my text books out in the delivery room, but the midewife said it was unhygienic). I studied sleep deprived, while breastfeeding and over three house moves – writing essays and studying for exams early in the morning and late at night.

Studying taught me to grab any available minute. And it got me in the habit of ‘switching on’ in an instant, writing to order when and wherever I had to.

You see, it’s a habit, writing.

Your imagination is like a muscle. When you first begin to exercise it, it’s like a flabby abdominal, unused to being put under pressure – at first you might even have trouble isolating where it is. But with more practice – preferably daily practice – it will become taut, reliable … A thing of beauty.

It’s a strangled metaphor, but you know what I mean.

Once my brain was used to HAVING to work when I told it to, it was an easy switch from academic writing to creative writing. It didn’t mean I was any good at fiction at the start, but it did mean I wasn’t hanging around, waiting for the Muse to strike. I could summon her where and when I needed.

My advice, then is to be older, marry my husband and if you feel that you can only scribble when you’re in the right mood?

Write every day and that mood will become part of you.

How do you write? Daily? Weekly? Or only when there’s a full moon and the wind is in the East? What life experiences have prepared you to be a writer?

Let me know.

*As a very biased Open alumni, may I recommend my old alma mater? They provide long and short courses and quite a lot of free bits and pieces on a wide range of subjects. And they make a lot of good TV programmes too.


**This is, in fact untrue. Though, if a big essay had been due …

28 thoughts on “Why an unused imagination is like a flabby abdominal

    1. Haha! That’s very funny and so very true of my experience on WordPress too – too many great blogs and not enough time. (Sorry, that made it sound like I was calling mine a great blog – apologies for the unintentional arrogance there!)


  1. You are so right! The more I write, the more ideas I have and the more I want to write!
    I’m a sister OU graduate too and I loved completing my assignments. Studying with them definitely develops your self motivation and discipline.
    I should write everyday but I don’t… I need to fix this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re an OU grad too! That’s great. Did you study creative writing or was this for your counselling? I can’t imagine you being able to study massage therapy through distance learning!
      I write most days – even if it’s only to scribble some blog post ideas in a notebook. It’s definitely brain training – we must have very toned right hemispheres 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I studied for an BSc Hons in psychology and really enjoyed it. Well, some years more than others!
        I carry a notebook but I tend to just keep ideas in my head until I get the chance to write it down in full. I can remember the idea but I never remember to get the damn notebook out to scribble it down!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Psychology – blimey that’s a tough subject! Glad you enjoyed most of it. I met my writing group friends through an OU creative writing course and they’ve been the most amazing group of people. I should be an OU ambassador, the way I praise it every time someone is daft enough to mention them.
        It seems carrying the notebook is enought to help you remember. I’m jealous – I have to write down EVERYTHING these days. One day, I will have to put ‘L’ and ‘R’ on my shoes, I’m certain.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Sorry to hear that, pet. Maybe you need some time away from everything? I always fancied one of those writers’ retreats, you know the ones Arvon run? Mind you, they’re not cheap. How about a few nights in a B & B? Or camping in a tent at the bottom of the garden! 🙂 I’m sure you’ve tried some writing exercises so I won’t bore you by suggesting those. Hope you find your mojo again soon x

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Course you will! And it won’t be crap 🙂 You must have some lovely places to visit in Ireland – maybe you can go somewhere local-ish. I think we should all be entitled to a retreat at least once a year – shouldn’t we be able to collect vouchers or something? I think I’ll suggest it to my local MP

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So your blog post has reminded me to check again if the OU offers an MA in creative writing and the answer is: no, not yet, but they will be in a year! Excitement! I’ll have to see how much it is, of course, but this is very tempting, what with us moving around so much. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    And yes, the more you write, the better you write. I think writing for an audience makes a difference, too. I’ve written every day for the last five years but I’ve noticed a difference since I’ve started my mad post a story every day blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, great! Have you studied with them before? I loved being an OU student and think they’re absolutely amazing. Unfortunately their fees have gone up since the government took a lot of funding away, but they’re still cheaper than a ‘real’ Uni. Best of luck, if you go for it.
      How do you think your writing has changed since you write for the blog everyday? I’ve definitely changed since having my blog – I would never have considered pitching for Mslexia etc, but now many more writing opportunities seem more feasible now.


      1. No, I haven’t studied with with the OU. I was thinking about it, but then Birkbeck offered their creative writing BA and I went for that. Good thing I did because it meant I started before they introduced tuition fees – I couldn’t afford it today. I’ll definitely keep an eye on the MA, it looks promising.

        I think the main thing that’s changed is that I’m thinking about the audience more. Not just in terms of what I’m writing, but also that I’ve made this promise to write a story every day even when I think I’ve nothing to write about. I don’t have the luxury of giving up anymore and that’s a good thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, brilliant training for when you get your book deal and have to hammer out a new book in the Scarlett series every year 🙂
        Yes, the fees are terrifying. I was lucky in that the OU had managed not to raise their fees too much when I studied with them. I think my degree would cost twice as much now. Though they do (at BA level at least) let you pay monthly installments – which was a great help. After six years of my BA, I think husband would divorce me if I did another six, so no MA for me 🙂


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