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Confessions of an Author: Daydreaming

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on July 2, 2013 in Anecdote, Confessions of an Author, Writing |

Confession #6: When I’m staring out the window daydreaming (or doing any number of things that might look like time-wasters), I’m actually working.

I’ve been trying to get out of the house one morning a week to head to my local coffee shop. I order my tea and breakfast and settle down in my usual spot looking out the window. At any point during my writing session, you’re likely to find me staring at the people walking by on the sidewalk or the train chugging over the bridge. This isn’t me procrastinating; it’s me working.

Seriously, though, daydreaming is work for an author. There is actual scientific research that says that daydreaming is important, imperative even, to the creative process. Allowing the conscience mind to wander sends the subconscious mind to work on the problem (in my case, whatever story/character/language issue I’ve been obsessing over). I’ve mentioned on the blog before how my brain often works out tricky plot points in the shower, while I’m not even necessarily thinking about that story or writing in general.

Activating the creative process goes beyond daydreaming for an author. People-watching is another activity that may look like procrastination, but it’s actually great story fodder. I find people-watching gets me thinking about character, not only how a character might look, but their mannerisms, speech patterns, and their backstory.

Observation of any surrounding is great for the “What If” game. Pick a person and pose a what-if question about them. Take two teenage girls walking around a mall, one chatting away, the other checking her phone, barely paying attention to the first. Give them a what if: What if chatty girl is dating a boy, but her boyfriend is the one texting phone girl? Now that leads to a whole bunch of other questions. What is boyfriend texting phone girl about? A surprise party for chatty girl, a secret rendezvous with phone girl? How long have boyfriend and chatty girl been dating? How long have chatty girl and phone girl been friends? See what a little people-watching and “What If” game can do for getting the creative juices flowing.

For an author, reading is work too. Whether I’m reading to stay current on the book market, reading to absorb the excellent writing of authors I admire, or reading to see what kind of books out there are like mine and what I can do differently. Even when I’m reading for pure pleasure, I’m still working, though it’s more of a working by osmosis in that case.

What things do you do that may seem like goofing off but are really work?

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19 Comments

  • Mary Waibel says:

    Great post, Katie, and what great questions on Chatty girl, text boy, and other girl. Hmm, I feel a story brewing there somewhere!

    I sit in our living room and stare across the street, especially when I’m searching for that perfect word or phrase for what I’m trying to say. My husband has finally learned (I think!) not to talk to me at this point, as I get frustrated with him when I lose the train of thought I had going.

  • Mirka Breen says:

    Dreaming is so important, not just for writing, but for life. When I was growing up I was chastised for daydreaming too much, so it took me a long time to accept this. I finally learned this from a friend who dreamed up her start-up business while swimming laps at a pool, and another friend who is an attorney, and dreamed up an approach to defending a difficult case, when all her research at the law library left her stymied.

    • Definitely, Mirka. One of the things that drives me crazy about the structure of kids’ lives these days is that they get so little dreaming time. It’s such an important way to think.

  • My daydreaming happens when I’m riding my bike. Characters come to life in my mind then and a lot gets sorted out. Unfortunately, reading is work. I want to read for enjoyment, but I often find myself thinking, “Gotta get this read. I need to do a review.” I have a big huge stack to read. But it is fun getting through them.

    • Oh, I hear you about reading being work, Suzanne. I’ve tried to get away from this lately and started picking up the books I really want to read instead of the ones I feel like I have to read.

  • Meradeth says:

    Daydreaming and people watching are two of my favorite activities 🙂 I regularly just love seeing what other people are doing, their expressions, and what they’re discussing. It always helps fuel my creative side. Especially little tidbits of conversation I might catch, then trying to imagine what they’re talking about (favorite from this week “and then it ripped the penguin in HALF!” um, yeah, I got a good giggle out of that). It’s all part of the creative process (or at least that what I tell hubby!).

  • Ann Herrick says:

    Daydreaming, people watching, reading–they’re all part of the creative process. Showering and head about to hit the pillow at night are also spark creativity. 🙂

  • I so agree with this! Daydreaming is the best for plotting and my characterization. That and long runs.

  • Erin says:

    I am a total daydreamer and people watcher. My mother LOVES to shop, so my Dad and I always got stuck sitting around waiting for her at stores. We would play “create a story” about the people passing by us. I loved it, and I still play the game by myself in my own head.

    In college, my Shakespeare professor said Shakespeare observed people all the time. He had a special insight into the human psyche born of this behavior. So, people watch on, my friends! 🙂

    When I’m jamming out to music on a run, I’m working. Music inspires me and creates emotional connections I can then transfer to the page.

    Meradeth– I totally eavesdrop. So, FYI…don’t sit near me in a restaurant! Haha!!

  • I was a daydreamer from a young age, and when I began writing it was how most of my stories evolved from an idea/character to full novels. Yes, we don’t stare into space or sit and do nothing – we’re working!

  • My husband thinks social networking is “playing around” but making connections is part of this industry. I view it as part of my job. A part I enjoy a lot. 🙂

  • The social networking stuff (although I know it’s technically part of what we writers do) actually feels more like goofing off to me than daydreaming does.

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