creative writers and imaginary friends

Dear writer, did you have an imaginary friend? Skilbey Blogs.


University study suggests that a writer’s relationship with characters is analogous to children’s relationships with imaginary friends.

A study, by University of Oregon psychologist Marjorie Taylor, Ph.D., and her colleagues, refutes the conventional wisdom that preschool is the peak time for all kinds of imaginative play, including playing with imaginary companions.
It inspired me to think in general about writer’s characters and their conceptions and I found this article based on a study about imaginary friends and how they can last well into the school-age years:  with one insightful paragraph to us readers:

“Taylor says the new findings are consistent with her idea that fantasy and imaginary others play an important role throughout people’s lives–from childhood into adulthood. In fact, she and her colleagues are now talking to fiction writers about their relationships with the characters in their books, which Taylor believes may be analogous in some ways to children’s relationships with imaginary friends.”

So I throw the question out to you as a writer. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child? Can you identify with what some young children experience, which historically was understood to be related to a need for companionship? But actually, this Psychologist says,

“Sometimes people believe that if children, particularly older children, have an imaginary friend then it means there’s something wrong–like the child is shy and doesn’t have any ‘real friend’s’ “, Taylor says. “But really, it’s quite normative to have an imaginary friend.”

I certainly remember pretending to be a TV presenter making something out of sticky back plastic or a cook trying to bake a cake. I suppose my imaginary friends were my audience but that is entirely different to trying to communicate on a one to one experience and expecting an ‘imaginary’ response back.

Does Taylor’s conclusion resonate? Did you have an imaginary friend and did they remain with you into your older years (do you still? That might not be such a strange question), and have these experiences coloured your writing?

Would love to read your thoughts.



8 thoughts on “Dear writer, did you have an imaginary friend? Skilbey Blogs.

  1. This is such an interesting study. Of course, right? “fiction writers…relationships with the characters in their books…may be analogous in some ways to children’s relationships with imaginary friends.” How many writers say their characters “talk” to them or joke about all the characters in their heads. And of course we develop attachments to them. Writers are weird. 😉 Great post.

    1. Thanks! Well this is it. The way we communicate with our characters is a step in the same direction. Writers act it out in their heads and then put it onto paper. Not so much the missing link but perhaps the overlooked link. Thanks for your comments:)

  2. Very interesting. I did have an imaginary friend as a child and until I was quite an old child. It was a pony actually and came everywhere with me. I’m not sure what this says about me! Haha! However I have been known to go on dog walks and have an argument with one of my characters as I’m trying so work out some dialogue. Seems perfectly normal to me 🙂

    1. Absolutely! And from what I can gather, a very healthy rite of passage for many a child. I think it is a peek through our child size window into vast dimensions. Dimensions we generally expand as we become (older) more articulate and more complex thinkers. Though, I think knowledge and education can sometimes crush these. (How could your pony exist? Science tells us…blah de blah de blah). I love that you took your pony everywhere with you, and having an argument with one of your characters sounds like a real soul search into your what makes your character tick. Sounds just fine from where I’m standing!
      Thanks so much for your thoughts:)

  3. I had an imaginary friend, though not a terribly original one (she resembled Tinkerbell and was called Tink). And the idea obviously stuck with me: the first main character I wrote about, scientist Mara Cadell, is a womb twin survivor who has preserved her twin, Levi, as an “imaginary” (or is he?) friend and collaborator.

    My characters don’t accompany me as frequently as Tink did, but I certainly enjoy visiting with some of them. Part of the pleasure of writing a series is getting to check back in with them.

    1. Wow, the seed of your imaginary friend as a child remained with you in thought and deed, gestating (correct me if I’m wrong), within you until that time when you could nurture them within your novel. When you later ‘check back in with them’, I wonder, whether we could take the discussion a bit further, beyond jest, and question whether our writing is indeed, another branch off from creating babies? Virtual creations of life (for men too), that has nothing to do with control- because our characters eventually tell us what they want. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I think how you came about writing this character is compelling. To hold on to an idea from childhood and see it manifest reflects a strong power of thought.

  4. Terrific question! I actually tried to make up an imaginary friend once, but it didn’t take…? I had more fun creating worlds in my head instead. 🙂

Many thanks for reading. Your thoughts are always welcomed.

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