What is aphantasia?

Writing with aphantasia – different ways of experiencing the world


Aphantasia is the inability to create images voluntarily in your own mind. It was only this year I discovered there was a term for it! Since my childhood I’ve known that I can’t visualise people, even my partner and close friends/family, although I can describe them in words. Similarly places and objects: I have a sense of them more than an image in my mind’s eye. Apparently I am far from alone in this – Wiki lists a number of famous creative people who also have aphantasia, including several fantasy and science fiction writers and illustrators. I don’t know how they get round it but, as you can imagine, it can be a problem when trying to describe a character or a scene. 

My method is to think of the key qualities/characteristics I want my character to have: for example, Cristina is in her 50s and has dark wavy hair. I then search online until I find a photo of someone who looks like the person I want her to be. I do the same for environments. For example, I have a sense of the ‘summerhouse’ Cristina uses as her therapy room but I need to find an image that fits in order for me to describe it. All these images go into a scrap book or I make a collage so I can literally see the world I’m creating and refer to it as I work. 

If you’d like to read more see my article for Books By Women at Describing What You Can’t Imagine : Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)

More info on aphantasia can be found here: 

Photo by Virginia Johnson on Unsplash

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