Monday, February 16, 2009


I’ve written several times about the class in motivation I took. A lot of my instructor’s writings (Tanya Hertel at have been eye opening. But none have resonated with me quite as strongly as her lecture on increasing creativity. And I have Walt Disney to thank for that.

Why Walt? Because Tanya introduced me to Walt’s concept of ‘Imagineering’.

Imagineering is the term Walt Disney used to describe how he took his ideas and dreams and turned them into reality. Imagineering is made up of three phases: the Dreamer phase, the Realist phase, and the Critic phase.

Disney believed the Dreamer phase is where the future comes from and hope is born. Ideas burst from nothingness, and imagination runs free, unhindered by the inner critic or any practical concerns. No idea is allowed to be criticized here. There are no bad ideas in the Dreamer phase.

In the Realist phase a plan is created to reach goals. This is the doing phase. Dreams are given timelines, and plans of action, and each aspect of the dream is examined to determine what is possible. Feedback is often necessary.

The third phase is the Critic phase. Disney didn’t use this phase to tear down and undo the work of the first two phases. He used it to anticipate problems and to ask ‘Is this interesting?’ The Critic phase is all about avoiding negatives.

Tanya Hertel writes: “Disney believed that each of these phases were critically important to the creative process. For a Dreamer without a Realist and Critic is just that, a dreamer. A Realist without a Dreamer and a Critic is a robot. A Critic without a Dreamer and a Realist is a spoiler.”

Imagineering worked pretty well for Walt. Why not for us? I believe that Disney’s Imagineering process can be applied to writing to increase our creativity and bring our dreams to life.

For example, I want to write a new romantic suspense. In the Dreamer phase, I toss around a lot of ideas, and play ‘what if’ games. I brainstorm on paper by myself, and I may bounce ideas off writing friends. No idea is thrown out at this point.

When I reach the Realist phase, I start creating a specific plan for my novel. I may do character sketches, and perhaps an outline, developing plot points and conflict for the novel. As I actually begin the writing (the ‘doing phase’) I look for what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps some of my original ideas from the Dreamer phase need to be adjusted or abandoned completely. I may seek critiques from writing friends at this time. This is where the work gets done.

When the first draft is completed I reach the Critic phase. This is where I edit the novel, looking for problems, and anticipating reader and editor questions. Perhaps I identify an area where I need to do more research or maybe I need my characters to show more emotion. It is at this point I challenge myself to make the book the best it can be – to answer the question “Is it interesting?” I’m not trying to kill my book in the Critic phase; I’m trying to make it better.

The point is, when you write you need to be a Dreamer, a Realist and a Critic or your story simply won’t fly.

The problem often is that we get stuck in one of the phases. My problem is getting stuck in the Critic phase. Instead of saying “Is this interesting?” or “How can I make this better?” I end up beating up on my work, telling myself it’s no good. No matter how imaginative my Dreamer phase, or how much planning I’ve done in the Realist phase, if my Inner Critic only wants to tear down my writing, my creativity is stifled, my manuscript remains a half-finished project, and I become frustrated. Worst of all, my confidence takes a beating. My challenge is going to be turning my Inner Critic from my Foe to my Friend.

Are the three parts of your creativity balanced between Dreamer, Realist and Critic? Do you find yourself strong in one part but weak in others? Do you have any suggestions for me and other writers to help us from being “stuck” in the Critic phase?


Janet C. said...

Oh, 'I'm a dreamer, nothing but a dreamer. Can you put your head in your hands...' K - the lyrics might be wrong, but you get the idea. I have huge ideas - wonderful ideas - they flow, they twist, they weave together beautifully. Until I'm about half way through, then SCREECH!

So, perhaps my Realist needs to step in and do some organizing before my dreamer meets my Critic and they decide this ain't worth s**t! I'm not sure if I write myself into a corner or just write myself into a situation that is unreal (one that a reader would look at and go "No way does that happen in real life")

Fabulous post, Jana. I'm going to spend some time finding my realist. My Muse and Evil Editor will be glad of the company.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
You are a fabulous dreamer. You have some of the most unique ideas. But you're not just a dreamer. How many stories have you written of various lengths? Lots of them! Just getting to the end of a 100,000 word novel is a huge feat and you should be proud of it.

To me, someone who is only a dreamer is one of those people who say to you "I've got this great idea for a book. Some day when I have time, I'm going to write it." If this person was really a writer and not just a dreamer, he would make the time, just as you have.

I've done the 'writing myself into a corner' thing several times. I think perhaps you're right. Maybe I need to go back to the Dreamer phase on those manuscripts and come up with some better ideas. Or maybe I need to organize my thoughts better in the Realist phase so that the plot can get unstuck. Some of my stories never even made it to the Critic phase which is just as well because my Evil Editor would have beaten them up.

Anyway, my point is that these three components are crucial to writing a story. But sometimes we're stronger in one area than another. We just need to work on the weaker parts.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Awesome post, Jana. I actually have a huge 'Illustrated History of Disney' book but I think it was before the imagineering book came out. Mine is more about the animations.

I like to think I'm balanced between the three you mentioned but I seem to stall after the critiquing. Are you sure there isn't a fourth category? Once the critiquing is done, I'm supposed to go back and revise my mss but usually, it drops to the wayside 'cause I'm already on to my next 'dream'.

Is that what you meant, Jana? Because I believe both you and Janet are both balanced between the three phases.

Jana, you already have e-Books out there. There's no way you're stuck in the 3rd phase even though it might feel like that at times.

Suse said...

Wow, Jana, that course you`re taking has a lot of great information and very relevant. Some day when I have time, says the Dreamer, I might take that course too.

It`s funny that both you and Janet mentioned writing yourself into a corner. I`m working on my blog for tomorrow and those are the words I've used. Has there been some channeling going on?

I'm definitely a dreamer. I've got more ideas than I could write in a lifetime. I am a realist but not always where the writing is concerned - more in my personal life. The reason why most of my ideas will never be written is because I don't take the time to plan them out. That will be why I have a lot of starts, several sagging middles and few endings.

I think once something has been written though, that I am a good critic - as in I like to look at what I've written and make it better. I like to edit and rewrite. Of course, I haven't done that with a novel manuscript, so maybe I wouldn't like that part so much then.

Thanks for sharing what you've learned in your workshop.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I think Walt Disney was an awesome guy. It's one thing to have fabulous ideas; it's quite another to turn them into reality.

You must be talking about the "Please, I'm sick to death of this mss and I want to start something new" phase. Sometimes after you've done all the work, had people critique and maybe even done some rewrites, you get thoroughly sick of it and you hear the siren call of a New Idea. The mss falls by the wayside. I've been there. In fact I am currently working on a project I call "Welcome to Paradise" that I started about 5 years ago. I wrote the first four chapters, sent it to Harlequin and was shot down, so I stuck it in a drawer. A few months ago, I dug it out of the drawer (or maybe my harddrive) reread it and thought, "Not so bad." I needed some time to distance myself from the work, especially since I'd been so disappointed that Harlequin was not at all interested in it.

I've been at this writing business for a while now and I've learned one thing. Revising really does make the writing better. I used to think I had to get it perfect on the first draft, but it's not true. The revision stage, or Critic phase is where the magic really happens.

As far as being balanced myself, I think I'm getting better at it. It's a work in progress.

Hope I answered your questions with my long-winded post.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
Maybe like you've said before, a shorter format is your natural niche. Have you tried novella length? I just wrote one and I found the length to be quite manageable. But like a short story you have to make every word count.

I have to say I feel rather passionate about the concept of the three parts of the writer, maybe because I didn't really understand the parts so well when I first started writing. I would not describe myself as a Dreamer the way you have. I think I was more of a Realist. I'd get in there and write, probably without dreaming enough about the possibilties. And I absolutely hated revising. I pretty much ignored the Critic phase. No wonder it took me so long to get published! When I finally was published, it was for novels that I revised numerous, numerous times. I had to go back and re-dream to come up with better ideas. In the end I'm pretty proud of the 4 books I've published so far.


Karen said...

Great post, Jana.
If you're having trouble in the dreamer stage then ... The realist phase is challenging but learning to turn that evil editor into a picky critic is essential for me. Who can survive that kind of nastiness day after day? No one. Who can do their best work under those conditions? No one. So I think to myself if you don't have anything constructive to say, don't say anything at all.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
I think the trick to this Critic thing (the Evil Editor, the Inner Critic, whatever you want to call it) is to somehow make it work for you the way Walt Disney did. He used the Critic phase to make all his projects better. He asked "How can we make this more interesting?" and not "How many ways can I destroy my vision?" Walt knew that by the time he entered the Critic phase, his project was already good. He just wanted to make it the best it could be. And he didn't waste time doubting his abilities. I don't think he would have accomplished so much if he had.

My inner critic can be brutal at times. Self-doubt has made me abandon projects and almost made me give up writing. The times I have been successful have been when I've persevered and used the Critic phase to make my work better. My goal is to use the three phases of Creativity on all my projects.