Creativity is not something that drops out of the sky and hits you in the head. It seems that way, sure, but that feeling you’re experiencing – that eureka moment – is simply the crystallization of things you have been mulling over in your head for a long time. Your brain has had a bunch of puzzle pieces and has been twisting them this way and that and then, all of a sudden, you see how they fit. Boom – a fully realized idea.
If you’re an author, one of the things you are constantly (constantly) asked is “where do you get your ideas.” It’s a hard question to answer, and most authors produce a variety of half-true or vague answers. Ultimately, though, I’m not sure there is one precise answer to this question. You may as well ask “why are you like this?” or “where do you get your dreams from” – the true answer is long, complicated, and uncertain. I think, in the end, we get our ideas just by letting our mind wander – by daydreaming. I don’t think authors are alone in this, either.
Daydreaming is an essential part of being creative, I think. You need time to do it, you need to do it often, and if you don’t do it, ideas become harder to come by and less interesting. The problem with this need, however, is just how little society values the act of daydreaming. If somebody sees you sitting still, staring into space, odds are they’re going to give you something to do. They’re going to pull you out of that head-space where you are building that “eureka moment.” One of the challenges of being a person who tries to use their creativity to make a living is the jealous defense of that state of mind that seems so useless but is, in actuality, so essential. You can, very easily, get to the point where you feel guilty for “wasting” your time. That’s not good.
Some things I struggle with that negatively affect my ability to daydream:
I spend entirely too much time on Facebook. I need to learn to put that stupid smartphone down (I hate those things and yet I’m addicted to them like everyone else). I need to look out at the world actually around me and let my thoughts drift. Why bother engaging in political arguments when nobody has the least intention of changing their minds? Does the world really need to see that clever meme and do I need to be the one to deliver it? No. I need to step back – my thoughts are often too noisy with the roar of the Internet.
I’ve got a lot of things going on in my life, all at the same time. Some of them are endeavors that encourage creativity, but most of them just take up head space. Now, as it happens, I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing my work and home life away from my daydreaming (for this reason I’m pretty atrocious at remembering to do household chores or keeping things like recipes or grocery lists in my head), but still there isn’t much call for me to be quite as busy as I am. I could cut back on certain non-essentials (some gaming, for instance) and probably be better off.
Will I, though? Hmmm…let’s see some of the other categories.
Not Enough Books!
One of the colossal ironies of being a college professor and writer is that you love reading and yet, suddenly, you find yourself with very little time to actually read for pleasure. I mean, I do read – I read tons and tons of student material every year and I re-read just about everything I teach each and every semester. This adds up to the word-count equivalent of about twenty to twenty-five novels a year. I do typically wind up reading another 7-10 novels per year on top of that, but basically about 70% of my reading is either student work or books I’ve read several times before. I need to make a concerted effort to read more for pleasure – to read more widely, too – because nothing gets a mind going like a good book.
Permit Myself the Time
Lastly, and probably most importantly, I need to stop feeling guilty when I sit back and let my mind wander. I need to embrace this process and not apologize for it. This is hard, because there are so many other things that I could be doing that are considered more “constructive.” I need to tell myself that daydreaming is constructive also. Because it is! It builds the worlds and ideas that make me successful as a writer, as a teacher, and happy as a person – it is worthwhile energy. Hell, all of us should do this more often.
I’ve restricted my comments here to myself, since I am reluctant to make assumptions about other people (maybe none of these things constitute a problem for you), but I do suspect that I am not alone. I’m here to tell you, from one dreamer to another, that gazing off into space and imagining things is okay. Now, get out there and look like you’re wasting time! Who cares what they think -both you and I know what’s really happening.
Just don’t miss your stop on the train. That sucks.