Monday, December 24, 2012

Wordcraft -- Resolution III: dare to daydream

It’s entry number three in the annual list of New Year's resolutions for writers. And much as parents and teachers may have criticized us (okay, criticized me) for daydreaming, it’s more than an escape. It’s a necessary part of any creative work.

“At its simplest, daydreaming (or mind wandering, if you prefer that term), is just another information-processing system, but a highly creative one,” editor Amy Fries writes in her blog at Psychology Today. “(Einstein) famously said, ‘When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.’”

Or consider the connection Sigmund Freud drew between daydreaming and creative writing, as Maria Popova discusses at her blog Brainpickings. “The child’s best-loved and most intense occupation is with his play or games. Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, rearranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him? . . . The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of fantasy which he takes very seriously. . .”

With the likes of Freud and Einstein weighing in, how can we afford to disparage daydreaming as, well, child’s play? And though it may sound crazy to give advice on how to daydream, serious dreaming requires serious effort. Not so much to dream as to make a clear space for dreaming.

I admit, working quiet time into a day isn’t easy. For starters, it means I have to stop filling my down time up with entertainment. I’m talking about turning off the IPod, TV, game system, even the Internet. (But only after you finish reading this!) At least once in a while, we must take out the ear buds that insulate us from the world, ourselves, and our deeper work.

While clearing space inside our heads, let’s get a move on. Consider Einstein’s love of walking while carrying on that conversation with his thoughts. I have a gym
membership, but how can I daydream while I’m busy checking heart rates, mileage, and calories burned on the machine readouts? My dog makes me do at least some of my exercise the old fashioned way. It gives my daydreams a breath of fresh air as well.

But aren’t daydreams, by their nature, ephemeral? How is it possible to hang on to the insights of our daydreams? I found taking a notepad and pencil to boring work meetings always made me look industrious, although I was really “daydreaming” -- jotting down story ideas, descriptions, and dialogue. I’ve also survived jury duty summons with the aid of a notebook. I like soft-bound ones small enough to fit in a purse or pocket. Anne Lamott writes that she carries index cards to capture insights. Use whatever works for you, even -- although I write this with some trepidation -- a mobile device.

And while we’re at it, let’s do some real dreaming, by getting enough sleep. Sleep that will leave what Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement” free to work on the stuff of your daydreams.

For more insights from Fries and Popova on the importance of daydreaming, see and

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