A thread on reddit posed this question:
I'm not quite in the 3-5% but I certainly never 'see' crystal clear images in my mind. I glimpse aspects of images among a shifting mix of associations and changing/connected forms.
When I write I think in terms of the words, the language, how it makes me feel - I'm not seeing a TV image in my head and trying to describe it to you - I'm trying to find the language that evokes what I'm thinking about, and what I'm thinking about isn't a picture - it's a complex, shifting mass of associations, sprinkled with flashes of different views and images.
Perhaps it's because my imagination is resident in the language - rather than an image that I then need language to translate - that people seem to like my prose...
Continuing the theme of sensory integration/experience and how it relates to writing and consuming writing: I can't listen to my audiobooks. It makes me uncomfortable. In general I find when I listen to writing read aloud, even by experts, it has far less impact on me than when I read it from the page. Highly emotional passages fall flat for me - excitement fails to build. Perhaps it's not being in charge of the pacing, not being able to linger or to race... but either way just as vision is not the core of my imagination - my ears are not the gateway to my reading soul.
I know the reverse is true for many people - they love audiobooks, a narrator brings to life a text that if they read it on the page might do little for them.
I know people who say (& I have no reason to doubt them) that, if I ask them to visualise a horse see a horse, where I see manes, fields, hooves, horseshoes, a muscular flank beneath a glossy hide ... nothing static, glimpses, flux.
My wonder is whether if you take a sub-group like, say, 'highly praised' writers, or writers 'known for their prose' or some such ... whether you would find more commonality in their sensory experience and the way it integrates with their writing, than in the larger group of 'anyone who writes' or just 'anyone'? Or whether they would be every bit as diverse as the population as a whole.
I have no idea.
... but if you think about it ... having a crystal clear mental image of say 'a tower' doesn't help you describe it any more than say ... a crystal clear photograph of a tower does. Unless your goal is an accurate mechanical accounting of the tower's features then a clear and singular image really has very little to do with the art of writing.
You might say that the tower stood, dark against the sky, defying the years with the arrogance of stone. You might say that the door opened onto a room cobwebbed with memory, where the shadows scuttled away into the corners as if frightened by the daylight... none of those words come to you from a photo perfect image - they come from an interlocked complexity of imagery and mood, presenting the feel of a place.