Writers: Top-Notch Daydreamers

In the February 2011 issue of Writers Digest (yes, I’m months and even years behind on my writing periodicals), David Morrell writes about paying attention to your daydreams for writing inspiration. He says:

Daydreams are our primal storytellers at work, sending us scenes and topics that our imagination or subconscious wants us to investigate.

I love this idea of daydreams being something of a “wiser force” that knows what topics we need to delve more deeply into. Like most writers, daydreams are as crucial to the life of my writing as water is to the life of my body. In fact, I was a top-notch daydreamer long before I became a dedicated writer. And it was a desire not to lose these daydreams that led me to scribbling random scenes in my journal; a desire to spend more time in these daydreams that made bedtime my favorite time of day, when I could go deeply, and uninterrupted, into those daydreams.

In my past, daydreams were far more than a “pre-writing” tool, though. They were a coping mechanism. I escaped into them when I was teased at school, when I was an insomniac teenager frustrated by too many hours in the dark, staring at the ceiling, when I was walking beans under the summer sun, when I was mowing lawns, and, later, driving the hundreds of miles between the cities where I lived and the country where my family lived. In many ways, my writing was a mere byproduct of these daydreams, perhaps even a justification for them. I don’t always love writing, but I’ve always welcomed daydreams with open arms.

Perhaps too open, at times. Because until about five years ago, I preferred all those daydreams to my waking life, and my waking life was quickly drifting away from me. When a personal cataclysm broke my daydreams wide open, I had to find ways to integrate myself back into the real world. This was terrifying for me, as I feared that fully embracing my real life would mean sacrificing my daydreams, and perhaps, in turn, my creativity and my writing. And without those traits, I wasn’t quite sure who I was. What in the world would my mind do, without all those daydreams?

I started listening to audiobooks to fill the void, and I started thinking about my own life. Daydreaming about my past, and my potential futures. When my daydreams centered around me and not imaginary people and events, I started to feel self-centered — but I let it happen, anyway. The daydreams about my life began to interweave with new ways of examining my experiences. The line between fiction and fact became blurred again, with one distinct difference: I was using imagination to integrate and make sense of my life, not to hide from it.

Back when I spent a significant amount of time and consciousness hiding from my own life, I was afraid that truly embracing said life would make all those beautiful, tantalizing daydreams disappear. Would the falling in love of my dreams ever shine as brightly after I’d fallen in love with a real person, and dealt with all the real-world complications that went with it? Could I really confine myself to living just one life?

I could, and I did, and I’m ever-grateful for it. Sometimes, I still drift off to imaginary places and spend hours in the company of imaginary people. But these daydreams no longer tempt me to shut out reality. Now, the daydreams feel like welcome, inspiring little vacations or retreats–after which it’s always comforting to come home, no matter how lovely it was to be away.

And as for my writing? I think it’s only better for having tethered it a little more tightly to reality. I love daydreams, and I love living my life, but what I love most of all is knowing I really can have both.