by Sarah Schembri
As a writer working from home, I know how creatively draining it can be when you don’t get out of the house to go to the office.
I’m not complaining. Working from home allows me to create my own schedule and to work in complete silence, which is ideal for me. But over the years, as my schedule expanded and my obsession with word count got out of control, writing became “just work” rather than a time when I could be my most creative self.
How I Lost My Sense of Wander
It was only when I came across Madeliene Rose’s stories and her obsession with daydreaming that I realized I was missing out on the one good thing I did when I traveled to work—let my thoughts go.
I had lost my sense of wander—a crucial thing for any writer—because I woke up and started working immediately. I had become so focused on writing and being productive that I failed to remember how important it was to be still and let my mind wander.
Daydreaming is important for everyone, regardless of the industry they work in, but as writers, making time to daydream is essential to developing stories and tapping into our creativity. According to a 2012 study, for example, engaging in simple tasks that allowed the mind to wander helped facilitate creative problem solving.
Daydreaming also helps us to forget, which can be crucial when we are struggling with issues like plot or characterization. Sometimes, we just need to set that controlling part of the brain aside and allow other parts of the brain to help us out.
“We tend to think of our minds in the driving seat and our brain activity as following,” Anthony Jack, a cognitive scientist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, told the National Geographic. In fact, during daydreaming, the mind cycles through different modes of thinking, helping us to make creative connections.
As our brains run wild and we forget what we were doing, we gain respite from all the chaos happening around us and in our minds. The challenge can be getting into that daydreaming zone in the first place.
Here are some helpful methods I’ve found.
Give Yourself a Mental Break
When nothing you write is good enough or worse, when you can’t even come up with a good sentence, give yourself a mental break.
When you become obsessed with what you are writing—the plot, the characters, the style—then not thinking about these things and allowing your mind to run wild is your best approach.
Research backs this up. According to a 2012 study, daydreaming is the key to solving complex problems. Researchers found that after participants took a break from a difficult task to do something easy, their performance improved by about 40 percent when they returned to the original task.
“The findings arguably provide the most direct evidence to date that conditions that favor mind wandering also enhance creativity,” said lead author Benjamin Baird of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Have Conversations with Your Characters
Daydreaming is more than just wild thoughts. It can be a space where you concoct every possible scenario.
What better way to figure out what your characters are likely to say in certain situations than by having conversations with them? Why not argue with one and figure out what is true to his character and what is not?
Eugenio M. Rothe, a psychiatrist at Florida International University, told the National Geographic that many times the “dialogue” that occurs in our minds while we’re daydreaming accesses information that was dormant or out of reach before.
“This accounts for creativity, insights of wisdom and oftentime the solutions to problems the person had not considered,” he said.
Why not take advantage of those voices in your head? Let your characters speak, and see what they have to say.
Find A Place for Your Story to Unfold
We live in a world where being busy is glorified. This can be detrimental to a writer.
Daydreaming is a way of allowing yourself to ignore phone notifications, to-dos, and word counts, and simply wait for your characters to come to life.
Long walks in nature or simple chores that don’t require mental effort (like hanging the wash or washing the floor) are activities that allow you to slip into the daydreaming world, so you can figure out how you want the story to unfold.
The shower or bath is also a good place to find your story. Author Scott Berkun explains that though we get ideas all the time, they are from the conscious mind, and that the more creative subconscious needs some coaxing.
“It’s only when we have quiet time,” he says, “going for a walk, getting some exercise, or taking a shower, that our conscious minds quiet down enough for our sub-conscious to be heard.”
He notes that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist, defined the time when we allow the subconscious to work as “incubation,” that time when the subconscious is “free to work on our behalf and deliver ideas back to our conscious minds.”
This is why a shower is a good place for creativity. There are no distractions, unless you are listening to the television blaring from the living room!
See the World You are Creating
More than just a space where your characters can come to life, daydreaming gives you time to see the world you want to show in your writing.
Some authors use pictures to help them dream up that other world. Writer Tessa Ivascu, for example, states that she imagines herself in a setting similar to a picture she’s found to encourage her mind to drift away.
Others simply lie down and relax. Says writer Suzanne Rindell:
“But I also remind myself that it’s okay, too, to sometimes lie flat on my back on the carpet and stare up at the ceiling as I try to picture the shape of a character’s nose, or the turn of events in the next chapter, or a detail about the setting.”
Let yourself wander through the world you see. It can help your brain to make connections you are failing to see when you are at your desk struggling to write.
Getting Past the Distractions
We live in a world where distractions are everywhere, schedules are always full and technology makes us feel like we are competing with the whole world when it comes to our work.
Daydreaming can easily be given a back seat.
Learning to get lost in wander again, as we all wandered when we were kids, is essential to keeping your creativity alive.
If you have the privilege of working from home as a full-time writer, then finding an hour every day to go out for a walk is ideal. Some of the most famous writers in history took long walks for this very reason. You can also perform low-effort tasks like doing laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, or cleaning windows.
If you are not a full-time freelancer and you have to travel to work every day, take advantage of it. Don’t start replying to emails on the bus or the train. Instead, look outside the window and get lost in what you see. Then later, while at the office, get out and go for a short walk for lunch or sit somewhere quiet and look at the sky.
Whatever helps you to daydream—turning your phone off, watching strangers walk by, cooking—make time to get lost in wander. It’s the best way to reconnect to the magic that drew you to writing in the first place.
Do you make sure to fit daydreaming into your writing schedule? Please share any tips you may have with our readers.
* * *
A fashion lover and a book hoarder, you can find Sarah Schembri in a garden somewhere, reading a book and rocking the latest trends. Follow her journey on Instagram.
Madeliene Rose, “Daydreaming through the fashion and literary worlds,” http://madelienerose.com.
Benjamin Baird, et al., “Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation,” Psychological Science, August 31, 2012; doi: 10.1177/0956797612446024, http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/08/31/0956797612446024.abstract.
Christine Dell’Amore, “Five Surprising Facts About Daydreaming,” National Geographic, July 16, 2013, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/07/130716-daydreaming-science-health-brain/.
“Daydreaming really is the key to solving complex problems,” The Telegraph, November 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/9695290/Daydreaming-really-is-the-key-to-solving-complex-problems.html.
Skott Burkun, “Why you get ideas in the shower,” Scott Berkun, May 9, 2011, http://scottberkun.com/2011/why-you-get-ideas-in-the-shower/.
Drake Baer, “4 ways to make your showers more productive,” Fast Company, December 9, 2013, http://www.fastcompany.com/3023020/leadership-now/how-to-make-your-showers-more-productive.
Tessa Ivascu, “6 Steps to Productive Daydreaming—Part II,” SecondActive, http://www.secondactive.com/2009/08/6-steps-to-productive-daydreaming-part_11.html.
Suzanne Rindell, “Writers and Guilt: Daydreaming,” WriteTypeLife, July 23, 2015, http://www.writetypelife.com/read/2015/7/23/writers-and-guilt-daydreaming.