Okay, so now you have coffee topped off in your mug, the laptop is open, the tear-soaked outline of your next story (it's going to be BRILLIANT & PROVOCATIVE) is in front of you, Freedom is turned on, you've told everyone in your life to GO AWAY LOL :-) XOXO via mass text, and you're ready to jump in and write. You've got 2 hours carved out. Because we all know that the only way to be a writer--and get your relatives to stop asking the "When is your book coming out?" question--is to just effin' do it. Hell, you even cut off your last sentence halfway through, Hemingway-style, so you wouldn't have any excuse to avoid or put off your writing routine.
You're forgetting something.
Yes, you put your phone in airplane mode.
No, it's not your anniversary (that's happening next week though so better hit the indie bookstore for some romantic poetry collection after this).
I'm talking about daydreaming.
Before you say AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR DAT (and annoy me), ask yourself: When was the last time you sat in a cafe, in a park, by a lake, or in your living room looking at the ceiling and let your mind just wander around?
Look, I get it. Nobody wants to say at the end of their writing routine, "THAT WAS SOME AWESOME AND PRODUCTIVE STARING AT THE SKY I DID TODAY." But you need to make time each week (even 1-2 days a week for a 30-minute or 1-hour session, building up to habit) to do this, because this is where you start to improve as a writer.
Daydreaming is a crucial step in every writer's process, and too many writers actually put it off or tell themselves they incorporate daydreaming as they type. No. Don't do that. You're gonna do something that appears similar to daydreaming as you write anyway, because your brain works as you make stuff up and press delete and put in a different word and then a new phrase and stop to look something up, etc. You're not a monkey fiddling with keys...you're an architect in the moment (maybe an architect of a crappy gingerbread house, but still).
Daydreaming--the act of allowing your brain to relax and engage your imagination in different scenarios to remember past memories or experiences and hypothesize new ones--is foundational.**
5 Reasons Why You Need To Work That Super Happy Fun Daydreaming Time Into Your Writing Routine This Week (and Next Week, and The One After That, and So On and So Forth)
1. Daydreaming actually helps you work out plot holes and find solutions.
If you are stuck in a scene or a plot hole and feeling overwhelmed by the idea of unraveling a large chunk of the story to find the solution, step away from the computer. Don't try to write a new solution and press Delete again. Pressing the Delete key too many times anyway will do a number on your self esteem. By changing up your behavior and your environment, you'll re-stimulate your brain and voila! chances are, you will unlock the answer.
2. Daydreams help you find unique voices for each character.
If Old Man from Mississippi Backwoods character and 6 Year-Old Painter Prodigy character respond to each other with the exact same dialogue, then Houston, we have a major problem. Go through one of your stories or scenes right now with two or more characters. Are they all using the same dialect, phrases, or manners of speaking? Do any of them have quirks such as interrupting constantly, foul language, not finishing their sentences, using simplified or complex words? Or if you are early in the process and all the characters sound suspiciously like your last characters in your Internet ennui story, it's time to let your brain relax. You have to daydream and visualize building these characters. Voice is one of the hardest things to nail when drafting a novel or story. Why? Because we can describe how someone looks or walks or what they ate for breakfast, but voice breaks up the story, keeps it moving, makes it come alive. It's the first place where readers will sniff out something fake.
So take the time to deeply imagine these people, and get away from any of those Character Building worksheets or whatever you printed out of your How to Win a Pulitzer in 30 Days or Less. Don't write anything down. Let the characters loose. Let them figure their own damn way out. And while they're doing that, they'll probably open their mouths to say something to you. And then you'll know.
3. Daydreams get you out of your story schtick.
So you published this awesome story about tiny lizard people in The New Morocco Collective Review, and lo and behold, your next published story was about tiny fairy people, and the third successful story was about normal-sized people walking around with tiny musicians who play their personal soundtracks. At this point, you've hit the max in your bag of tricks. Do you like...ferrets? Then for the love of God, write a ferret story with NO TINY PEOPLE.
Or if you're ready to crawl out of your Crumbling Suburban Marriage Novel k-hole and surprise the world again, take some time to mine the rest of your passions and experiences. Some authors can continue to explore one plot or one theme very well. Doesn't mean it astounds every time. Besides, are you going to look back and be bored with your ouevre when this is all said and done?
4. Daydreams make you smarter.
It's true, according to some peeps here and some peeps here. In Psychology Today, they write: University of British Columbia researchers Melissa Ellamil and her colleagues (2012) found that it’s the temporal lobe in the cortex that generates creative ideas. The default network decides whether to like those ideas or not.
The "default network," the brain structures that generate their own stimulation and where daydreaming originates, can then help you whittle down the best plot solutions, determine whether that character's voice is truly authentic to their actions, and even tell you NOT to write that talking-vampire-babies screenplay, after you play it out in your head. Save yourself from yourself.
5. Daydreams help you build your goals and hold yourself to a higher standard.
Not gonna lie--sometimes my daydreams solely include me stepping on stage to accept a National Book Award (and damn, I look fabulous in Dolce & Gabbana WHAT UP). I don't even know if the NBAs are awarded on stage. Whatever. The point is: how do I get from where I am now to that stage? By constantly improving as a writer. How will I do that? By writing the best books I possibly can. None of this 7th-grader-werewolf-in-love-"I felt a flutter in my chest" nonsense. That's a great book for someone else to write, and it will probably make money, but that will not get me to my ultimate goals. My standards are set, the bar is raised with each book. My story will be the best I can create; it will be smart, engaging, thoughtful, entertaining, and moving. If my books don't move me, how can I expect them to move anyone else?
Daydreams get me to the scenes or the ideas where I feel truly moved. Where I feel something. That's when I know which parts of the story are real, and not just fancy language I laid out on a computer. It's the kernel of what will drive that story or that next scene, and make the reader feel and remember something.
(BONUS: Reason #6...eyeballs need a break from little screens and busy cafes and office memos and everything else. WHO NEEDS LASIK.)
In conclusion, darlings, build daydream time into your writing process.
I am a fan of scheduling a writing routine and sticking to it. Some people don't like that, but it works for me. Daydream Time is lunch breaks during the week (yes, I've put that on my co-working Google calendar, no shame). It's habitual now. I feel weird if I DON'T have time to just let things play out on their own in my brain. And then I get cranky and people don't like me and relationships fall apart and CATS AND DOGS LIVING TOGETHER! MASS HYSTERIA!
I prefer going on walks in a place that doesn't have a lot of traffic--such as the botanical gardens or a local cemetery--with some music on that jives with my novel's themes & atmosphere, and just let my brain go all Desperately Seeking Susan on me. I almost always come home with a new idea, sentence, or scene to jot down and kickstart my next writing session.
**Drinking is another crucial step. KIDDING! (sort of)