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.”



8 comments to Daydreaming

  • Yay validation! 😉

    Suddenly, things make more sense now. Thank you for the early-morning smile. 🙂

  • Amy

    So true! It seems as though the harder I push through a problematic scene, the more elusive the solution becomes. Often, it is only when I let my mind drift that all the pieces finally come together. It’s reassuring to read there may be research that supports the idea of daydreaming leading to higher order thinking.

  • I’ve always been a daydreamer, so it’s nice to know there’s research to validate that my daydreaming is (sometimes) time well spent!

  • Yes, I actually just daydreamed my way through a small narrative issue that came up in the WIP. No one watching me would ahave thought that I was working, but it was probably the most important few minutes I’ve had at my computer all day.

  • When I was a software engineer and stuck on the best way to write a process, sometimes I just had to go outside and light a cigarette and — a few moments later, epiphany! I know it wasn’t the cigarette, but the walking away and allowing my brain to un-focus, or daydream. 20 years later and life isn’t so different. When I’m stuck on something, I walk away, stare at the sky, check on my orb-weaver garden spiders and sooner or later – epiphany!

  • Razziecat

    This is a habit I’ve never really broken 😉 I still do it, and recently it’s been helping me picture scenes, and tease plot points out of the ether for my new project. Sometimes I let my mind wander while I go for a walk, letting bits of scene ideas, dialog, etc., drift in and out of my mind until the bits start sticking together.

  • The Hubs cam in one day to find me lying on the couch in the writing room, my feet up on the arm, my eyes closed and a dog on my lap.
    He stopped at the end of the sofa and said, “Ummmmmm?”
    Very softly, I said, “I’m writing.
    He laughed and walked away, murmuring, “That’s what I thought.”
    They do tend to recognize the creative process.

  • I tend to do my daydreaming and getting past writing roadblocks in the bath, or when I’m doing a repetitive task like splitting wood or doing dishes. I tend to talk out loud to myself too, which I’m sure would probably be strange to anyone that didn’t know me. There are times when I’ll pace in the dining room and talk to myself. It helps me think. I always knew daydreaming was healthy. So did mom, no matter how many times she had to tell teachers to go pee up a stump. 😉