Learning to See Imaginatively


Photo courtesy of Louis Maniquet 

“Engaging the imaginative eye is hard work, especially when we find ourselves trapped within one version of an event, one way of describing the world.” From Word Painting, the Fine Art of Writing Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan.

As I work to improve my writing skills, I have taken to reading various books to hone my abilities.  I am currently reading Word Painting, by Rebecca McClanahan to help improve my skills in describing the world around me, or better yet, the world I create with my words.

The “imaginative eye” as described by McClanahan is more than just having an imagination.  It is the ability to see from within and beyond.  It is the difference between describing something literally – an action, an object, a person – for a reader to see, and not describing something yet painting a picture for the reader where they can not only see your object but feel it, smell it, hear it and get a better sense of its essence.

I have only just begun reading the book and trying to understand how to better harness her advice, but I would like to share an example that came to me while hiking in my beloved Rocky Mountains. My standard method of description is to use the words “as if,” and “like.”  I notice I do this a lot.  Let’s take the columbine flower that can be found in the mountains of Colorado.  It’s a beautiful and delicate flower, often purple and white, but can also be found in other colors including yellow and tinged with red.  It sits on it’s stock like a tea cup swaying in the breeze.

But what if I stepped back for a moment and let my imagination look at the flower – truly look at it – with an eye for more than just it’s color, size and shape?  It might sound something more like this:  Dainty ballerinas dressed in their finest purple and white gowns, their delicate and slender arms swaying to the rhythm of the mountain breeze,

Photo courtesy of Michael Aleo

oblivious to their fate of forever being rooted to one spot.

Whether you’re a writer or pursuing another dream on your journey, I challenge you to look at your world and your dreams through an imaginative lens. Look beyond your memories and the idea of what things should look like and let your imagination take you beyond these thoughts.  You never know in what direction your imagination will take you.


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