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Daydreaming and the Mundane Mind - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Daydreaming and the Mundane Mind
Sometimes I am amazed at what other people don't know, like this:

Surprise! Daydreaming Really Works the Brain
Got a tough problem to solve? Try daydreaming.</p>

Contrary to the notion that daydreaming is a sign of laziness, letting the mind wander can actually let the parts of the brain associated with problem-solving become active, a new study finds.

For me, daydreaming is one of my heavy-lifting mental processes, damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. It's one of the most powerful things I do. There's a certain part of my mind that I disengage for this, but otherwise, almost everything that I am comes on line at full steam. The impression of speed and weight and flight is tremendous. Imagine a locomotive ... with wings. That's what I was doing the other day when I knocked out 5000+ words of story, and then more or less collapsed because my body couldn't keep up with my brain. It's exhilirating.

That version really only works when I'm writing. I can do a lesser but still very useful version for problem-solving or brainstorming. And I can warn people that the more you use your imagination and your daydreaming, the stronger they get -- and there are drawbacks to that. Worrying is essentially an extrapolative function, and the stronger your imagination, the worse the tendency to worry and the harder it is to stop. Also, the stronger your imagination and the more powerful the lateral connections, the harder it is to choose the focus of your creativity or attention and the harder it is to keep focused on a particular thing. Like a huge free-spinning engine, it wants to whiz around like crazy. Most of the time I can exert a reasonable amount of control, but sometimes it just zooms off in a direction of its own and all I can do is hold on for dear life. And sometimes the power steering goes out and I am left trying to manhandle the monster engine by brute force, which is exhausting.

Now, I'm okay with this arrangement. I realized early on what was happening and a fair bit of why, and decided that I was willing to pay the price. That sort of awareness seems to come naturally to a certain flavor of writer. But I could well imagine more mundane folks being caught wholly off-guard after some well-meaning attempts to teach them brainstorming techniques caused their worrying to increase or their focus to waver.

So if you're working to develop things inside your own head, pay close attention to them, not just the intended effects, but the side effects. Sometimes there are ways to ameliorate the side effects, but if they're innate to the objective -- caused by the same force you desire for some other reason -- then you will either have to cope with them or give up on your goal. You'll be better equipped to make the right decision if you know what's going on in your head.

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5 comments or Leave a comment
fayanora From: fayanora Date: May 16th, 2009 12:47 am (UTC) (Link)

My brain works on several circuits at once, probably a result of my mulitiplicity, and so some part of my mind is always wandering. I've had times where I was busy at work and the moment it got quiet some fully-formed idea or an entire stanza of a poem or a complete poem would pop into my head, some part of my mind I'd been unaware of having made it while I was working.

I also used the knowledge of those other circuits at one of my old jobs, the one where I was taking customer service calls for Sprint/Nextel. On particularly difficult problems I would engage all the different circuits I could in at once towards solving the problem. It helped a lot. However, I did have another problem: if the problem they were working on was hard enough, my mind would sometimes tie itself in knots. There were times I was part-way through a sentence and one of the other circuits would spot some new data and in a rush to incorporate this new information my mind would come to a screeching halt mid-sentence and not start up again until the mess untangled itself.

I even had this happen a few times outside of work, once while I was walking to the bus stop. I just kept walking, because the Autopilot engaged, but my conscious mind was stuck for several minutes. It's a weird sensation... time continues, and I was aware of the situation, but I couldn't talk or even think in words until the knot became untangled.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 16th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)


I get some of the same effects from multitasking. I almost always have some of my attention on creativity in the back of my mind. One thing I've learned is that big projects, like books, burn up a lot of attention all the time until they are finished. It's like running a big virus scan on a computer, everything else slows down until it's done.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: May 18th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes!

LOL! I like that analogy.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 17th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes ...

I write slower when I'm not in the flying, white-hot thick of inspiration. Revision is slower too, and often frustrating, but it's a necessary step.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 18th, 2009 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Writers and daydreaming

Writers are prolific daydreamers, and they "get" the concept and power of daydreaming immediately.
This study adds to the mounting evidence from neuroscientists and psychologists that daydreaming is our most creative state of mind for idea generation and problem solving.
I'm amazed that this thought process has been relatively ignored when it plays such a critical role in our lives.
If you're interested in reading more about daydreaming, my book on the topic has just been published: Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers.
I interviewed many people, including prominent daydream researchers and writers of both fiction and nonfiction. I hope it gets people discussing the topic and contemplating their own daydreams.
I've always been a major daydreamer and resented the fact that it was so maligned by the powers-that-be when really it's a glorious human capacity.
Hope you don't mind the plug, but I think it's relevant to the topic. You can read more about it at DaydreamsAtWork.com
Amy Fries
5 comments or Leave a comment