Imagination Takes Practise

Kids don’t have amazing imaginations.

Having worked in an after school care program for about six years, I of course learned quite a bit about children – and not just how to supervise them (it’s almost impossible).

A common myth about kids is that they’re imaginative. Yep, when you’re a kid it’s all magical fairies and skipping off to see the wizard. But it’s not really true. I spent hundreds of hours watching kids aged six to twelve playing together, and they really aren’t that imaginative. Mostly they just mimicked whatever they’d seen on TV or at the movies.When they wrote or told stories, those were generally imitations of something as well.

Some of them would pester me to tell them stories – not something I’m actually that great at. Not improvising them on the spot, anyway. So I recited the (slightly censored) plots of most of my novels. The kids were all deeply impressed by the things I’d imagined, and I would say that’s half of all good storytelling right there.

In any case, it’s interesting to consider: a Primary (or Elementary, if you’re American) school-aged kid couldn’t have come up with what I’ve come up since I started publishing novels. Small children can’t write novels, and it’s not just because they haven’t had enough practise with words. It’s because a good imagination – at least according to my personal theory- is something that has to be learned.

Most people start writing things when they’re in highschool. And, almost without exception, what they write at this point is fanfiction. Either it’s intentional fanfiction (see: and about 30% of the rest of the Internet), or it’s something they think is original but is actually just a regurgitation of something they’ve read or watched – in other words, fanfiction in denial. I’m not excluding myself from this, by the way. I first started writing bits and pieces when I was about thirteen, and it was fanfiction, even though I didn’t know what fanfiction was at the time and the Internet hadn’t been invented yet. I wrote an entire shelf full of (terrible) fanfiction before I eventually wised up.

Ultimately, it wasn’t until I’d spent years mimicking my favourite authors that I finally developed ideas that I could call my own. And I believe that’s the case for everyone. I couldn’t have done that when I was thirteen, and I couldn’t do it at sixteen. I had to learn how to be truly creative. This is also why I scoffed at George R R Martin’s statement about fanfiction. He doesn’t allow it, and when people said “but it’s good practise”, he claimed that he never wrote it, and lots of other people didn’t either, and fanfiction is a waste of time (I’m paraphrasing, but I believe that was the gist of it). Frankly, I don’t believe him. I’m willing to bet he wrote fanfiction when he was a kid, but just didn’t realise that’s what it was. Because in the beginning, that’s all you know how to write. Unlike him I’m willing to own up to it – but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

I suppose if I’m trying to impart some sort of meaningful life lesson here, it’s that you shouldn’t expect to magically come up with a brilliant, 100% original idea of your own when you’re just starting out. It doesn’t work that way. It didn’t for me, and I seriously doubt it does for anyone else. Creativity and ideas come to those who work for it, and it comes with life experience as well, which children just don’t have. You can’t write interesting and realistic characters when you only know ten people.

I could be wrong, of course, and feel free to argue with me. But that’s what I think, and it seems valid to me.

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