Enlist Your Imaginary Friends

When you’re feeling up against it with a creative project and have no fresh ideas to work with, try these approaches to #becomingunstuck.

Invent a close writerly friend. Give this friend a name and form a picture in your mind. Is your imaginary friend a human? A six-foot tall rabbit like Harvey in that movie? A kindly spirit? A gruff elder?  A wise owl? You can have more than one, to suit the situation.

Once you know enough about this imaginary friend, begin formulating your questions. What do you need help with? What sticking points are preventing you from deciding and acting? Where are you insecure? What choices must be made asap?

Pillow Talk

In the Pillow Talk version of this technique, you ask your imaginary friend these questions at night, just as you are falling asleep. I had an uncle who did this with great success over the years. He wrote many scholarly books and articles and often used this technique to resume work on his current writing project when he ran into a snag. I’m not sure my distinguished uncle would ever have acknowledged an imaginary friend. He did admit, though, to posing his question at bedtime and receiving a satisfactory answer the next morning.

Project Talk

Project Talk, another version of this technique, gives your writing project itself an identity and a voice. Describe briefly to your project the place where your stuckness is stuck at the moment. Then go for a walk together.

two pink bootprints traveling from left to right across dark gray pavement

Does your imaginary friend leave footprints?
Image by Aurelia-ev from

As you’re ambling along, chat about how things are going. “So, Project, why are we stuck revising Chapter 17? Do you think it’s because it’s too long?” “I think we’ll be ready to go to the copyeditor in a week. Do you agree?” Listen to the messages your imaginary friend sends your way and take action accordingly.

Do these ideas sound too wack to you? Would it change your mind if I told you I know successful writers and businesspeople who rely on this habit? Just the other day, on social media, Dinty Moore quoted Ann Patchett about this: “Writing … is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

Time Travel

With Time Travel, you prepare your current pages so they’re ready to be read out loud to a friend or group of colleagues. This process itself focuses the mind tremendously. Then sit back in the audience, at some point in the future, as your imaginary friend reads your words to the group. Take in the moment, avoiding if you can any urges to grab a blue pencil or to hit Pause while you’re watching and listening to the reading.

The “Body Draft”

I like to take Time Travel a step further, adding what Lisa Ellison calls the body draft, when “you integrate the mind’s knowledge of writing with the heart’s emotional understanding of your story.” As you listen to your imaginary friend reading your pages to the group, get out of your head and notice your body’s responses. Take the time you need to acknowledge these responses and be with them as you gather understanding.

I love the way this practice takes into account your own responses to your work as you hear it being read aloud. Repeat this process of editing and re-listening as needed. When your draft is complete and true to you emotionally, Lisa says you’ll notice “relaxation in the body and calm or emptiness in the mind.” (See Lisa’s full post for more.)

Your Turn

Do you enlist the help of imaginary friends in your creative work? I’d love to know how it goes for you.

Thanks for reading!

~ Anne

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Note: Portions of this piece are adapted from the tool “An Imaginary Friend” from my book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers.