That (Not So) Imaginary Space in My Head


Space Series

Another awesome friend from VCFA, Ellar Cooper, is in the house with part 3 in the Space Series. (The first post in the series can be found here and the second here.) Her blog, Ellar Out Loud, is here, in case you want to visit. (You should!) Ellar currently is working on a young adult novel with a touch of fantasy. Intriguing! And now, I give you, Ellar Cooper.

When I think of “space,” my mind (true to form) tends to ramble through a few different meanings and images before settling.

Captain_Picard_ChairFirst, there’s always outer space, and the comforting throwbacks to a childhood that included Jean-Luc Picard’s ever steady intonations about the final frontier. Not to mention my own early fascination with astronomy, and learning to find and trace favorite constellations. Then, too, there are the more tangible spaces that surround me in daily life. The dips and curves and crests of the mountains and valleys where I have lived for so long, which I love so dearly. Or the sturdy wooden desk in the soothing blue room that has seen hours upon hours of my work. And my procrastination.

brain1But if I am thinking about a space that is truly integral to me, especially as a writer, I must acknowledge one that could easily fall into metaphor. And yet it is, to me, a vivid, vital, and very actual part of my writing. It is my creative brain space.

I have likely seen as many images of the brain as the next non-neuroscientist, and I know enough to know that there are cortexes and lobes and a bunch of other weird looking noodle stuff highly scientific and important parts. I mean—damn it, Jim, I’m an artist, not a doctor. But I am, at the very least, fully aware of the right-brain/left-brain split and the fact that I (as just such an artist) supposedly have a penchant for the right.

Leonard_McCoy_(alternate_reality)A doctor (Dr. McCoy), not an artist

I say “supposedly” for two reasons. The first being that I’m generally wary of boxes and labels and oh-so-defined categories. And the second being that I simply don’t conceive of my brain that way at all.

Granted, I’m not saying that my conception is necessarily better than those colorful diagrams of thalami (which is, admittedly, a fun word to say). And my version certainly isn’t biologically accurate. Because you see, in my vision of my creative brain space—which, honestly, is what I consider my entire brain, not just a particular section of it—there are no highly scientific divides or squishy noodle parts. It is, rather, truly one wide open space.

blue_sky_and_green_grass-wideMore specifically, it’s a field. A field of tall, green, green grass, spread out wide and calm and waiting under a perfectly Carolina blue sky. And within that field is a town. A small city, really. It’s picturesquely medieval, with thatched-roof houses and a gray stone castle rising up benignly along one border. Characters wander the streets of the town. Some of them would fit in quite nicely in a story with just such a setting, and others would be completely anomalous except for the fact that they are all mine, just as this city, this vision—this space—is mine.

DSC05188There are many doors in this city-space. Some of them are labeled; most of them aren’t. They open to other medieval towns or enchanted forests or modern cityscapes or unexplored planets or decks of pirate ships or desolate dystopian landscapes. And more. When I watch a character walk through a door, if I am not caught up in another’s story, I try to follow. Sometimes I have to let them go on ahead without me, knowing that eventually—be it hours or days or years—I will catch up. And sometimes I open doors on my own, just to see what’s behind them. On occasion there is a void, but that’s usually because there is another door calling more insistently.

Sometimes I see characters walking down a street and I stop them to see if I can go with them. Sometimes they say no—but I have learned that this really just means not yet, that they are not quite ready to let me in. And so I have also learned not to argue, and to keep walking. Sometimes I am within one house, one world, day after day, and sometimes I will crisscross the town and the castle multiple times in the space of a few hours, stepping in and out of doors, leaving them cracked open to make it easier to slip through again later without disturbing the story.

That is my creative brain space, which may fade when I am not there, but which never disappears. No PET scan could map it, but I can see it. It is as real and non-metaphorical to me as searching the sky for Orion or driving the winding roads through my mountains. It is certainly as real as sitting down at my writing desk.

White-Rail-FenceBut there is one last thing, perhaps the most important thing: There is also a fence. A white rail fence beyond the town, cutting through the grass.

It is not to keep anything in, of course; quite the contrary. Rather, it is to remind me that it is my job to protect this space, to preserve all that lives within it so that one day these stories will not just exist within a door in a town in a field in my mind, but also on the page before me in this world. It is to keep that Carolina blue sky clear and those doors unlocked.

And really, whatever you see when you picture your own creative space, that is the point. Know it. Protect it. And create so that you can free it.

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard photo from Wikipedia. Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy photo from Sky and grass photo from Fence from Town photo from Brain from

29 thoughts on “That (Not So) Imaginary Space in My Head

    • Thanks, Jill! I’ve realized more and more just how important the fence is. There are too many things that can raid that space (and thus my creativity) if I let them…

    • I’m glad, Andra! I don’t know that I necessarily think of myself as a very structured person when it comes to creativity (not consistently, anyway)…like I said, most of the doors aren’t labeled, and there are a lot of meandering streets…but I have found it helpful to know that there is this one starting place from which I can then branch out…

  1. Yes, I like the metaphor of the fence — which, at least in my interpretation, means the boundaries we set in our lives to ensure that we have the time and space to access the flow of creativity. For me, that usually means convincing myself to sit down and listen to the internal music, while for others it might mean not always picking up phone calls or reading e-mails when they come in. Even though I don’t create the flow, I create the means to translate it into this world or dimension.

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