Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Daydreaming Is Part of a Writer's Job



The other night at the dinner table, my wife noticed that I wasn't focusing on our conversation. In fact, I was staring off into space, with my fork held in midair. "Hello, are you there?" she asked.

"Sorry, I was working," I replied.

Working? What kind of work has you staring off into space, daydreaming?


Creativity strikes me at the strangest times. I have already posted an article about how I get some of my best ideas while I'm sleeping. In response to that article, other writers have reported that their ideas come unpredictably while driving, or when stuck in traffic, or in the shower, or when walking the dog, or  when they should be busy doing other things.

In addition to getting ideas during those activities, I can also be very creative by doing absolutely nothing at all. Yes, by daydreaming.


Staring off into space is part of a writer's job. If you happen to come across a person who appears to be daydreaming, don't hurry to wake him or her. It could very well be that the daydreamer is a writer, hard at work conceiving plots, characters, and dialogue.

Because I can imagine the intricacies and complexities of my book's story when I'm staring off into space, I make a point not to do this while driving. As I'm working the car in and out of traffic on the way to and from work, I tell myself that I'll plot my novel later, when I'm less likely to cause an accident.

Of course, I don't always schedule a working session on my book at the dinner table. Daydreaming is not necessarily a planned activity. Daydreaming comes whenever the muse strikes. Daydreaming, it turns out, is an important mind exercise and everyone should allow for a bit of staring off into space.

Daydreaming exercises your mental muscle

As Mark Sisson writes on Mark's Daily Apple, "When you daydream ... you’re exercising your mental muscle. You’re honing your critical and creative thinking." He advises everyone (not only writers): "See what comes out of free, spontaneous thinking."

In an article in The New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer writes that "A daydream … is just a means of eavesdropping on those novel thoughts generated by the unconscious. We think we’re wasting time, but, actually, an intellectual fountain really is spurting."

I wonder if he is referring to the same "novel" thoughts that I have when I'm daydreaming!

I was considering what to write as a conclusion to this article, but then I started daydreaming. Please excuse my absentmindedness. I was just being creative in a writer's sort of way.



Related articles: 

Writing in My Sleep





Thanks to Richelle E. Goodrich for her permission to use the daydreaming quotations in this article. You can find more information about Richelle, her books and her writing, on her author blog.


25 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your article very much, and I agree that daydreaming is most certainly a powerful tool for the creative writer. The sweet thing about it is how daydreams enable us to sample other lives, even an alien existence, while living out our own. To quote my previous writing--"I live in two unique worlds, traveling between both with just the opening or closing of my eyes." Well done on the article, Ellis Shuman.

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  2. Lovely piece on tuning in to our inner voices. Daydream away!

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  3. Lovely post, I am a writer but I also teach meditation classes and recently discussed the advantages of daydreaming. Did you know that daydreaming for 90 seconds every 90 minutes can help you sleep better too and as you already mentioned - ideas can pop up as you sleep! It's win, win for daydreaming!

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  4. Yes, I've had the danger of thinking about my novel when driving! I agree with you about the importance of daydreaming. My husband and I are both writers, and his family tried to break him of the habit when he was a boy. When we married, they tried to "warn" me about how exasperating it was, and I told them that it was part of what made him creative and I would never try to stop him from doing it. (I clicked over here from AW, by the way.)

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  5. Had to laugh when I read this. Exactly what I do, particularly at parties. Everyone around me will be talking and suddenly there will be silence. I've been asked a question and they're all waiting for an answer. Of course I haven't heard anything because I'm daydreaming. The farther into a project I get, the worse my daydreaming becomes. Not in the car though. I draw the line at risking a fender bender, or worse. I crank up the music to keep the daydreaming at bay.

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  6. I love this. I too get many ideas in my sleep. I scribble them when I wake (sometimes in the middle of the night, other times in the morn). I love it. I have not done much daydreaming, but I will try your recommendation.

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  7. I can relate to this really well. You do all sorts as a writer to capture the essence of a scene. I found my self saying my characters conversations in my head and role-playing all the hand gestures and facial expressions. One scene was a winter night in pitch-blackness. I went out side at about 11pm when there was no moonlight and put objects in front of me so I could see how far away you had to be from them before they were invisible. I got so engaged in my writing, I started to dream, not just daydream, about my characters.

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    1. Yeah, I like to check that something I'm writing is realistic too. I had my other half outside on a moonless December night only last week for that reason. Once I have an idea I write it down, then it might sit for a while brewing when I'm not actively thinking about it. Generally I 'hear' the dialogue of a scene first and write it down but some of the time I see the whole scene as if it's on film. I catch myself acting the part too.

      Nice article, Ellis, and for this space to share how we tap into creativity.

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  8. Fantastic! You made me feel so much better about my frequent trance-like states... Just knowing that I am exercising my mental muscle makes me feel fitter already!

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  9. Scientists actually made a research on this. The research came to the conclusion that the brain really starts being more creative on our "off" times. The moments when we AREN'T trying to think, and are trying to relax, like in shower, when we are about to sleep, etc, is when the brain gets the most creative. So yeah.

    Also, check my book if you please: goo.gl/wUxxoe http://goo.gl/awrzkZ

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  10. I couldn't agree more! The creative spark always seems to hit me at the most inopportune time. Whether I'm in the shower, or just waking up from a deep sleep. In the past I never seemed to have a writing implement nearby to record my thoughts for later use. Now I've learned to use the note app on my phone to record whatever comes to mind no matter where. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really enjoyed this article.

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  11. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. :) Daydream on!

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  12. Whenever I'm stuck in my writing I often let myself daydream and usually end up fixing whatever it is that got me stuck.

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  13. SO true! I hate how we teach our children not to daydream, but yet daydreaming is exactly what we need in order to create

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  14. This happens to me too! Unfortunately it often happens while I'm in the steam room or jacuzzi at the gym and I don't have a pen and paper handy to write anything down...

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  15. Talking to oneself serves a similar function - you can excuse it as 'practising dialogue', and no one can argue!

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  16. Yes! Thanks for writing this. Daydreaming has always been for me a way my mind plays out my book like a movie. It's incredibly helpful and I've learned to give time to the process over the years.

    I also find meditation is a great avenue in which to do this -- as long as you're okay with your mind occasionally having thoughts! Cheers.

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  17. Shalom Ellis! Indeed, daydreaming and dreaming are a rich source for writing ideas/visions.
    Loved this post.

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  18. Yep, you got it right. When I'm not otherwise occupied, I'm day dreaming stories and plots---walking, driving and even sleeping. I think I even manage my night dreams when I'm sleeping. Over the years, I've even returned to the same managed night dream to continue the next episode and these serial dreams while sleeping can go on for weeks and months creating vast worlds littered with a host of characters.

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  19. Must show this article to my wife...then she'll understand where my head is sometimes. And know that I'm not eavesdropping on people at other dining tables...just picking up ideas. Honestly!
    Rossi

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  20. I've been daydreaming most of my life, but I only started writing in my dotage!

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  21. Daydreaming is great, but I have to do it with a pen in my hand, or I lose things!

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  22. Great post Ellis. I've always been a daydreamer! I've had several instances of waking in the night and desperately hunting for pen and paper. I plot while I walk the dog, as my gaze wanders to treetops and clouds rolling by.

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    1. As long as your dog leads you home, you should be okay!

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