It’s summer again. There’s rain, coffee and, more importantly, I’m free from school. It sounds like the perfect time to try and dust off my manuscripts and keep my novels going. I sit by my desk and it seems like anything can go wrong. I’m actually writing and the story is actually flowing. Then I have to describe a place or a new character and I’m blocked. Nothing comes to mind, not a single stroke of an image. The thing is, I have aphantasia (aka “no imagination”).
But what’s aphantasia? Well, it comes from the Greek “a” (without) and “phantasia” (imagination). People who have aphantasia can’t voluntarily create mental images or if they can, they are extremely limited. There’s not much information about this condition. No, like really. It was barely named in 2015 by Adam Zeman. Now you get me. It’s kind of very tedious to not be able to imagine anything when you have a whole novel to finish. My memories and ideas are mostly based on facts, so I can’t really remember or produce visual details. To be visually limited (in my case, I can’t produce any image at all except when I dream) can be really difficult to do the “show, don’t tell” style in writing. Ironically, until recently, I thought that everybody couldn’t visualize images as well. There’s not a known cure or treatment for aphantasia and I don’t think there will be for a long time since it doesn’t affect daily life except for specific situations — like being an artist or any kind of creative professional.
If you, by any chance, just discovered that your artistic life is also being tormented by aphantasia, I’ll give you two tips to get around it and keep writing. First, it helps a lot if before sitting to write you try to scribble what’s going to happen in the chunk of story you’re intending to write. I usually try to write all of the possible details that come to my mind before starting a chapter. If I’m writing a short story, I try to section it. Then, you should be able to spill out all of the information. I used to lose a lot of time trying to come up with the perfect imagery, and it was a hard thing to do. Now, I just write whatever comes up, and it tends to be really bad imagery at first. But that’s okay because after I spit out all of the main events, I come back to every scene and try to improve the imagery. How do I improve if I can’t imagine anything anyway? That’s my second tip. You should have a folder on your computer with a ton of different images that resemble your story settings. It’s helpful if they’re already there and saves a lot of time and inspiration.
Being unable to image can be pretty frustrating when you’re a creative person and especially when almost no one can relate. But hey, if Glen Keane made it, you can too.