To Achieve More: Daydream More

I’m deep into working on Arctic Rising at full pace once more, after spending a few weeks with Arctic Rising on a back burner, getting fewer words in per day, as I focused mainly on a novella for a secret project (hopefully you’ll get to hear more about that soon).

I’d left the book at a bit of a junction, I wasn’t entirely sure how to get over the next four or so chapters to the next big piece of action I had plotted out. After writing what bits I could at my secondary office (the local coffeeshop) yesterday, I came home to an empty house. Emily had taken the kids out to visit her dad. After I finished up my freelance work for the day, I set about tackling the tricky chapters I was facing.

I did this by shutting the computer off, plugging my headphones into my iPhone, and laying down on the floor for half an hour.

My goal was not to sit and actively think about the next four chapters, but to just lay there and not think about the chapters and let my mind wander and free associate.

Eventually the back brain began to return to the issue of what the next few chapters could be like. Ideas bubbled up, and I just daydreamed and kept daydreaming until I began to come up with some ideas that just plain psyched me up.

After that I began to mull the ideas, critique them, consider them from various angles, which created a second round of good ideas, until I felt that ‘aha’ moment come where I knew I’d found a really nifty way to move my character along to the next mile marker in the book. It involved tossing out some bits that I’d thought would happen, and changed some dynamics, but it was cool.

I’ve been reading a lot of neurophysiology books of late, about the nature of creativity and productivity. I’ve started to actively try to create more and more moments in my life to allow creativity. One is to only work on a project when I’m excited to do so: structured play. To prevent boredom, I rotate several projects in and out, and let my hindbrain cook a project while its out of rotation. I’ve been setting aside time to read every night, regarding it as important creativity seeding time. No matter what, I will read. I’ve been breaking out my legos three times a week and building random structures, just for fun. There’s been no ‘point’ to it, it’s to occupy my brain and let it have fun. I’ve taken walks whenever hung up on plot points.
As a result, even though I have less energy and physical strength than I did when I first left to freelance due to my recovery from health issues, I’ve been strangely energized and enjoying the day to day work of being a writer. The moment is fun. It’s a lot more play than work.

And I’ve been productive without burning myself out. In the last ten months I’ve written a novel, three novelettes, two short stories, half of Arctic Rising, and a whole book about writing (Just A Draft, my agent is currently looking it over while we decide what we should do with it, which is why online posting of it is currently paused). It’s not as productive as other people can be, but it’s been a very good pace for me, particularly since I’ve fit this around a bunch of freelance work over the last year.

Yet, on many days, from the outside, I look like a lazy dilettante, ending work early because its frustrating, and working on something else merely because it is more fun. Going for walks because I’m bored. Playing with children’s toys.
But as I’m learning from books, the idea that you should throw yourself against the wall over and over again is, as far as what scientists are learning about creativity, will net results, just not good ones. And for me, with a strong blue collar work ethic, its been hard over the last year to grapple with this concept.

Play more to be more creative. To be more productive.

Sounds crazy. But I can’t deny the results.

13 thoughts on “To Achieve More: Daydream More”

  1. Not crazy at all, and there’s fifty years or so of creativity research that shows you’re right (more than that if you go back and read Brewster Ghiselin’s “creativity histories”, which I recommend just for the sheer range of the weirdness in the way creative people have found to get into the play space where good things happen). The best stage design teachers I had all were passionate about building models before drawing plans and renderings, and every one of them quietly said, “Well, I could do it with just the drawings, but the best part is presenting to the director, when you set up the model and play with the little toy actors on it,” or as one teacher I particularly loved said, “The best sets are the results of grownups playing Barbies.”

  2. Talk about timely. I was sort of glaring at myself (in my head) today about why I don’t want to work on any of my freelance projects and even writing the novels seems like work. I think it’s a too much work and not enough play kind of thing and thank God I’ve got a vacation coming up in a week or so–and I told my wife to force me to only check email in the morning and in the evening, not every 10 freakin’ seconds like I tend to do.
    Sometimes I take a laid-back approach to creativity and it seems to come. Sometimes I do something similar to what you’re doing, telling myself, “Okay, you need ideas on how to solve this problem. Go to it.” Both work, but sometimes you have to call forth the magic, I guess.

  3. Great post! I am a huge believer in taking walks and other large and fine motor activities to free and activate the creative parts of your brain. For those of us with the gift of creativity, it does its best work in the “background” making random associations. This is one reason that I feel 2+ hours a day for yoga is a great investment of time. I also find that reading a book can boost my background creativity. Two things that do not work for me are listening to music and watching TV. Listening to music makes me want to go play my violin and make music–it redirects my energy. Watching TV is too engrossing. It turns the creative stuff off. I can turn TV into a learning activity by actively analyzing what I watch, but for me TV does not result in random bursts of ideas. I think video games are the same way, but I don’t play them very much.

  4. As Mark said, this is timely.
    When I started doing the ‘Story-a-Week’ Challenge at the start of the summer, I was pumping stories out, week after week, one after the other — and they all sucked big-time. It was only the ones I took my time on, ‘played around in’ for awhile, that got me excited about writing; these are the stories that I consider any good.
    The ones that were written out of self-imposed obligation have gotten personal feedback from an editor or two, but usually in regard to the writing style — competent writing, they say, but shit stories, poor plotlines.
    Legos are the greatest toy of all time. Went to the Mall of America with my family last summer, and brought home a set of Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter. Just thinking about it tempts me to tear it apart and build something new, original.
    Maybe model a scene from my latest story? It takes a geek to write science fiction, hehe.

  5. I look forward to “Just a Draft” being made into a full-fledged book. I’ve very much enjoyed the RTFs, and honestly wondered a time or two why you never compiled them into an eBook and sold it via Smashwords/Amazon. Best of luck!

  6. Tobias, can you give a title or two of the books you’ve read on the subject?

  7. Thanks Beej: I’m not a smashwords fan, but yeah, one option is to Apple/Amazon sell it, but my agent was really interested in seeing the complete book, so he’s playing with it right now while we think about some other options. Hopefully something will come to light sooner rather than later 🙂

  8. Alex, I’ve occasionally done set, costume, and light sketches for some stories; it’s a good way to get complex detail straight. Not to mention that if you’re alone in the house you can move the paper dolls around on the cardboard space station and make cool noises, which gets back to what, for many of us, was the first attraction of SF …
    I think it’s fair to say that most good stuff involves playing with it a lot before you set it in a final form.

  9. Rob, Drive by Daniel Pink, is the best one. Summarizes and goes back over a lot of what I was picking up in the other books. It’s the best start.

  10. Funnily enough, I’ve just started Drive, it follows in a fairly long line of similar books I’ve been reading – I’d be very interested in seeing more on the books you’ve read in this area.
    Ben / @weevab

  11. The main reason I mentioned Smashwords is because they automatically distribute to Barnes & Noble’s nook store as well as Apple’s iBookstore with the same edition/price, so it’s kind of a three-fer since they don’t charge upfront fees to upload.
    If given the choice, though, I avoid Smashwords as a reader. I’m not a fan of their interface.

  12. That’s a very interesting story, and food for thought. I’ve recently (in the past day or two) been mulling over the plot and characters of a story idea I’ve been kicking around. The story, in my head, gets off to a great, exciting start… but then I don’t know where it goes from there. I haven’t yet come up with the “what does it all mean” of it.
    So your thoughts on giving over to free association and structured play (though I’ve no time in my current schedule for “structured play”, or play of almost any other kind, for that matter) give me a good starting point on how to think about the problem in this particular story.

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