Remember when you used to be scolded for daydreaming? Dreaming rather than paying attention in class was a real no-no in my elementary school. Daydreaming the afternoon away was also frowned upon when there were chores or homework to be done. To this day, being labelled a “daydreamer” is similar to being called “special”—not exactly a compliment. We’re taught to view this activity as lazy and a waste of time, something with little value. “Stop daydreaming and help me bring in these groceries,” your spouse/roommate/parent might say, and you jump up and comply, duly chastened, fully complicit in this vast conspiracy that daydreaming is of no importance.
Well, I’m here to tell you that everything you’ve ever been told about daydreaming is a total LIE.
Daydreaming is essential to being a writer. If there weren’t authors the world over walking around bumping into things because their minds were so fully immersed in their stories, there would be no novels. Have you ever been told that plotting is an important aspect of writing a book? Well, guess what plotting is: Daydreaming! Every plot and character, every line of dialogue and setting and description has to be dreamed up by the writer before it can appear on the page. As a writer I spent lots of time staring at a computer screen, but I spend an equal amount of time staring into space figuring out what I’m going to write next.
In this day and age it isn’t easy to get in some good daydreaming time, what with the naysaying masses on all sides and the demands of kids/job/family/friends/life. Here are some tips on how to be the best daydreamer you can be:
Do you have a smartphone within arm’s reach at every moment of the day? Do you bring your iPad into the bathroom? Is there a television set blaring through every meal, and a laptop glowing in every room of your house? Technology may make life a lot easier for us, but it also makes it pretty hard to have some quiet time with your thoughts. If you want to have some time to think up what’s going to happen in your next chapter, I suggest turning your phone off. (Yes, smartphones can be turned off. It’s a real thing.) Take back those quiet moments sitting in your backyard or on your deck just thinking, without a laptop to distract you. Tell your family you’re going out for a walk and don’t take your cell with you. Make the time to be quiet and think about your story, because a well thought out story is far easier to write than one you haven’t thought through at all.
Even when you’re in thinking mode it’s easy to get distracted. I like to think about my book while I’m in the shower but, countless times, when drying off, I’ve realized I just spent twenty minutes re-playing an episode of The Good Wife in my head instead. That argument you just had with your sister might be at the forefront of your mind, but it’s important to learn how to make thinking about your book a priority. I’ve learned to keep reminding myself to re-direct my thoughts toward my characters and my plot when my mind wanders to easier topics. Usually I only have to do this a few times before my imagination gets hooked on one aspect of the plot or another and within a few minutes I’ve come up with new ideas, new sub-plots, a whole conversation full of witty dialogue. Sometimes your brain just needs a little reminding that it really does want to think about your book—and if your imagination isn’t piqued by your own story, maybe you should think about why. It’s possible you’ve taken your plot down the wrong path, or you haven’t made your characters interesting enough. If you can’t get yourself to pay attention to your own story, it might be hard to keep your reader interested.
Don’t Save The Best For Last
It can be tempting to leave all your daydreaming to the end of the day, when that comfy bed is just waiting for you to curl up on it and dream. Personally I like to lie in bed, stare out the window and contemplate my story, but I try to avoid doing this at the end of the day. This might seem obvious but it needs to be pointed out: daydreaming is not the same as dreaming. Daydreaming keeps your brain awake, it winds you up when at the end of the day you should be winding down. You don’t want to keep yourself awake thinking about your plot when you should be getting some much-needed rest. It can also be difficult to shut your brain off when it really gets going, and the next thing you know you’re turning on the lights and getting out your notebook to write down your ideas, or even running to your computer to begin writing your next scene. Do you really want to be doing all this in the middle of the night? If you value your sleep, avoid daydreaming in bed. It’s for your own good.
My mother used to call me a scatter-brain because I was always forgetting to do my homework and misplacing things. I used to be ashamed of it. I used to try to force myself to stop being a silly little dreamer. But that was before I saw the value in my dreaming ways. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I’d stopped daydreaming. I wouldn’t be a writer at all. So, to all the distracted, zoned-out, lay-about daydreamers out there I say, good for you! Dream away! There’s no knowing where your dreams might take you.
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