Harvest ideas through creative daydreaming.

Me, daydreaming in the long grass and playing with my phone. I think I look a little creepy and I love that.

Generating ideas through daydreaming: we all do it. Happens in a nanosecond, probably happened when you clicked on the link opening this blog. Daydreaming has many functions to it: mental rehearsing, storing information in long term memory. Staving off boredom, escaping difficult situations, anticipating worst-case scenarios.

The thing that seems to make daydreaming more ‘effective’ or potentially useful, is meta-cognition- the ability to observe oneself daydreaming and reflect upon the content and application of the daydream. Those who can “think about their thinking” are more likely to harvest the creativity inherent in such a universal pleasure.

Too much negative daydreaming can lead to depression/anxiety disorders according to several major studies, and here’s a good article on the topic with suggestions for managing these “daymares.” (Psychology Today)

I find daydreaming essential in coming up with book ideas. Now that I’ve written seven novels, I’ve figured out a “system” to harvest ideas from creative daydreaming.

  • Read interesting stuff to put “raw materials” into the brain to daydream with. I actually think of my brain as sort of a Willy Wonka-like magical factory, where I ship stuff in one end and stories come out the other. I’m always looking for raw material for ideas—reading magazines next to the toilet include everything from Wired to National Geographic. Pinterest has also begun to be a rich source of nonverbal raw imagination materials.
  • Ask a question that you need to solve/create/develop. Put it out there, and then just let it sit around until the magical, mystical brain solves it. Framing the problem as a question seems to engage my imagination more. I write questions on the whiteboard next to my desk, and on Postit notes stuck on the dash of my car. Right now “What crime is Lei going to solve in Twisted Vines?” is floating around me in several places. I’ve also listed all the “loose ends” I need to tie up in that book. I’ve tried to actively think about it several times, but I get a feeling much like mental constipation and a sense that I need to put more “raw materials” in, that I don’t have enough information yet to write that book. I have total faith that, even though my brain hasn’t come up with plot of Twisted Vines yet, it will.
  • Take long walks with no other stimulation. I don’t get to listen to music when I’m creatively daydreaming as it seems to interfere with the random meanderings that I know I need.
  • Drive with the radio off and let the mind wander.
  • Sit and “meditate” out in nature.
  • Capture ideas “in the wild” as they occur. Best discovery ever: my voice memo and “notes” feature on my phone. That way, on my wandering walk, while driving, while washing dishes, while gardening, while folding laundry, while sitting and making space in my life for daydreaming—I never lose an idea.

These are just some of the ways I’ve found to harvest ideas from creative daydreaming. How has daydreaming helped or hindered you?

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