Imagine This: Creating the Work You Love (Maxine Clair)

Whereas Ann Patchett’s essay was written for people who are specifically interested in writing – either in her own process of writing or the ways in which her process might serve as a model for their own – Maxine Clair’s 2014 book is written for people who are interested in exploring their own creativity.

Whether because they have never had a creative outlet or because their creative aspirations have taken a back seat to other aspects of life (whether more or less satisfying): Imagine This is about taking the opportunity to imagine alternatives.

Each chapter begins with an epigraph. For instance, Mary Oliver heralds chapter nine:

“Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

The epigraphs are designed to act as a way of probing your thoughts on how you engage with the world around you, which suits a book preoccupied with the inner life.

The narrative is partly rooted in the author’s personal experience and partly in a broader commentary related to the aspect of her life under discussion. Her autobiographical writing is unsentimental and matter-of-fact, avoiding the nitty-gritty and concentrating on the patterns she has observed as she gradually moved towards fulfillment. The commentary takes a step back from her personal life and invites readers to situate their own experience in this broader perspective.

Finally, each chapter ends with a series of exercises, prompts and queries designed to encourage readers to explore. At the end, there is a short interview and a list of sources (which one could approach as a reading list, although an actual list would have been helpful).

Much of the material here is familiar, but the tone strikes a satisfying balance between informal and informative. Imagine This is also delightfully jargon-free. One does not have the sense that she is simply looking to capitalize on the insecurities and disappointments which can drive the despairing towards the shelves of self-help and personal growth.

“It can be tempting to linger in maybe-land, savoring the satisfaction of having made a choice, but shying away from commitment. The business of consciously committing your mind, body, and spirit to a new creative expression requires stepping up your energy over time to both develop and sustain new habits.”

Although the book is clearly written with a varied audience in mind, I found the growth of her creative work as a writer (through a helpful exchange with Toni Morrison, a confrontation with a discouraging and critical English professor, and her early experiences with publication) of particular interest and the joy with which she practices her craft is inspiring.

Good stuff for writers.

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