The other day I read this blog post about the power of doing nothing, about how stopping for a break every now and then makes it that much easier to go. While I was reading, I was struck by a passage the author quoted, specifically this part:

And what do you “do” during these [stopping] times? Again, nothing. And just how do you do nothing? Just hang out, breathe, walk, sit, mess around, pace, gaze out the window, wander down the lane, observe, notice, daydream, take a break, slowly drink a glass of water, be still, practice smiling, stretch…. The list is limitless; it is limited only by our lack of comfort with what we might call “down time.” — From David Kuntz’s book, Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going

What really struck me was the part about daydreaming. It’s only a single word in the whole passage, but it called out to me. Because it turns out that I have been already stopping this whole time. You see, everyday I make the conscious decision to daydream, sometimes for as much as an hour or more a day.

I know. This sounds like a huge waste of what could be otherwise productive time. Trust me. I’ve thought this too.

I tend to daydream in bed. I do it as I drift off to sleep at night, and then I do it again after I wake up in the morning. It’s the morning daydreaming session that often seems the most wasteful, yet I’ve learned that the mornings I skip it are my least productive. It turns out that daydreaming is where I hone my writing.

Since I was a small child, I have daydreamed about writing and books. I loved the books I read so much, that I used to imagine myself as a character in some of my favorite stories. I would then mentally watch the stories play out with this new character. The Madeline in my daydreams never did anything that affected the story’s central plot, but she would influence the interactions around her. In fact, what I was doing was writing fan fiction — extremely narcissistic, self-centered fan fiction — but fan fiction none the less. The point is that nearly a decade and a half before I self-consciously put pen to paper to write my first story (I didn’t start writing until I was 22), I had been practicing writing and plotting and dialog for years.

Nowadays,my daydreaming tends to center around the books I’m writing (and occasionally the ones I’m editing). In that thirty or forty or hour and a half that I lay in bed, I bring up the scene I plan to write that day and play it out in my head. Then I change something, and I play it again. And again. And again.

The result is that by the time I actually put my fingers on the keyboard to write, I’ve already written that scene as many as twenty or thirty times in my head.

Admittedly, daydreaming instead of physically writing and rewriting isn’t for everyone, but next time you’re stuck, try closing your eyes or staring out the window, and watch your book or scene like it’s a movie. You might see something new. At the very least, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that all those parents and teachers were wrong. Daydreaming is not a waste of time.

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