When I was a kid, I had a habit of daydreaming. Especially in math class, I’d lose interest in what the teacher was saying, and let my mind slip away into a fantasy land of my own creation. That made-up world was as real to me as the one I was escaping. More real, in some ways, since math generally felt like a nightmare anyway. My teachers would fuss at me to pay attention and get back to work. But what they – and I – didn’t know was that daydreaming is far more important and necessary than anyone understood.
In the years since I was mentally running away from solving quadratic equations, a great deal of study has been completed on daydreaming. Researchers have determined that daydreaming improves critical thinking and complex problem solving. It increases concentration ability and short-term productivity. It may seem as if a daydreamer is doing nothing, but her brain is creating connections and extrapolating possible outcomes using the information at hand. For example, you’ve been working on a story about a woman who turns into a bear when she becomes angry, but every time she changes, she seems to kill everyone else in the story. You’ve written and rewritten and re-rewritten scenes, all to no avail. The blank page is staring at you, accusing you. But letting your mind drift into a daydream state can open up creative pathways your stress has been blocking.
This isn’t to say that all you need is daydreaming. Sitting around all day staring at nothing doesn’t produce pages, no matter how hard you work your brain. Eventually you do have to put your hands back on the keyboard and type. But now and then, it’s just the tool you need to find your way through the creative maze. A few days ago, I was relaxing with my husband. It was early in the morning, very quiet, and my thoughts drifted off to a scene I’d been thinking about the day before. All of a sudden, I realized my husband had said something to me, and I’d completely missed it. Instead I’d managed to work out where the scene had to go next. I smiled, and apologized. “I was writing,” I said. “Yeah, I know,” my husband said, “You had that look.”