What role does imagination play in writing?

Dear Literary Ladies,
It’s the cliché of creative writing class: “Write what you know.” Lately, I’ve heard a better directive: “Write what you want to know.” What do you think? How much should one’s own experience dictate what goes down on paper, and what role do you think imagination should play?

Is not the real experience of each individual very limited? And, if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally, is [she] not in danger of repeating [her]self, and also becoming an egotist? Then, too, imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles? When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?

—Charlotte Brontë, in a letter to G.H. Lewes, 1848


Eileen Williams July 11, 2009 at 8:45 AM  

I rather agree with Charlotte. My own personal life, although rewarding and meaningful to me, is limited in many ways. Actually, I think we all limit ourselves through our ingrained, and often unconscious, filters and knee-jerk reactions to life.
So, by letting the imagination run wild, we're opening up to the collective experience and our writing can reach out and touch others far more successfully. In fact, the ways we could connect by using our imagination and going beyond our own horizons might well be limitless!

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