How many times has this happened to you?
You sit down to write, close your eyes, and suddenly your mind is paralyzed. Your imagination is a sterile white room where thoughts can’t pass through. No ideas. No rhythm. Your fingers hover mere atoms from your keys, itching for a thought to tap into. But all your mind has to offer is an eternally echoing “uhh…”
The idea of “work” and “writing” has formed some strange paradox that turns your brain into a blackhole where no ideas can escape. If you’re like me, this can go on for hours. Days. There’s some kind of pressure riding on your writing and it’s choked out your creativity.
I ran into a bad rut while writing my manuscript’s rough draft that I’m currently editing where I couldn’t get into a flow for my third act. Everyday felt like I was subjecting myself to a panic attack.
My desk started giving off a real iron chair vibe for a while.
My amazing wife suggested I step back and let my mind unwind, to let myself off the hook from writing for a day. I’m such a classic workaholic that I’m not joking when I say this thought never crossed my mind.
I took her advice, and for the first time in years, I let myself daydream.
But through my whole life, I’ve been told how unproductive it makes you in school and other areas of your life, along with its negative effects depending on your mental state. And it can be unhealthy, but only if you’re in your head more than in reality where your responsibilities to yourself and others are. Most of my life has been spent in careers where daydreaming was the bane of my employer’s paycheck. My creativity was purely a private, personal thing.
That isn’t the case now that I write full-time.
It was a funny realization, but when you spend your whole life working in non-creative industries, the idea of work and following a passion like writing causes some gear-grinding dissonance. My writing has always been a hobby. Something I did after work and other responsibilities to unwind, like playing video games or watching movies.
Creating stories is not work, especially when you’re a first-time author giving yourself permission to go after that passion. Inspiration and drive will make the dream work, but when anxieties like that strike, it sucks the wind from under your wings and you quickly hit writer’s block. No amount of passion will push that blinking cursor forward when anxiety takes away your ability to create.
So where does daydreaming fit in?
Daydreaming is recommended for almost every creative endeavor. It’s an effective method for problem solving, idea generation, contemplation/reflection, and goal driven thinking. Going full space cadet gives you a wider perspective of what you’re creating or struggling with. As a writer, you can see things from other characters’ points of view more clearly or find a character who wasn’t there. If you’re loaded down with overwhelming research, daydreaming helps to focus the information into ways you can incorporate it into your writing.
Research shows that diving into your imagination sparks alpha waves in your brain that stir up your creativity, visualization, and ability to make new connections in your thoughts. Alpha waves also reduce anxiety and stress, slowing your mind down long enough for you to get back in the driver seat. In a sense, when you daydream, you enter a trance state where your anxieties are relieved so your mind can fluidly brainstorm without any limitations or obstacles.
This is what cool kids call the flow state.
But if you just let your mind wander like an untethered astronaut in space, it’ll only get lost and you’ll have no way of getting back to where you started. Deliberate daydreaming is the key. Sitting down with a problem that needs solving or with the intention of building ideas gives your mind a direction to explore.
Your imagination will go wild without you having to constantly guide it. It’s a lot like watching a movie film itself with your thoughts and mental concepts. When the movie’s over, you take the ideas that stood out to you and play around with them. At first, your daydream session might feel like a B-movie even Bruce Campbell wouldn’t touch. As you hone this awesome creative skill, however, you’ll discover some A-list ideas that’ll make your writing feel like a blockbuster.
Sometimes, like in my case, you find a plot twist to turn your story on its head. Now your anxiety has become inspiration.
To wrap this up like an after school special:
Anxiety can slam a writer’s face into a brick wall, especially if they’re coming from non-creative careers where people treat imaginations like witchcraft. To break down that wall, take time to actively daydream when you write. The science linking creative visualization to daydreaming also shows reduction in anxiety and stress. Daydreaming as a deliberate mental activity helps you develop your creative flow state, where you’ll experience better productivity and less anxiety.
Bonus points for combining meditation with daydreaming. Setting aside time for you to clear your mind of distractions will give you more mental space to wander around in. To become the observer of your thoughts, they say to envision your mind like a clear sky and let any ideas pass like clouds. With active daydreaming, you can cloud watch your thoughts, giving them shapes and stories.