Notes Of A Storyteller: The Art and Danger of Daydreaming

Do you have a weakness for brainstorming? Do you sit at your desk for two hours, picturing great stories unfolding in your head? Do you flee from the toil and drudgery of actually writing something? You’re not alone. This happens to me each time I begin a new story. If I had a chapter for every fifteen minutes I’ve taken to kick back and daydream, I would have written more novels than James Patterson by now.

The problem is that I want to be better than James Patterson. In fact, I want to be better than every writer that has ever lived. It’s an impossible goal, but I’ll be chasing it for the rest of my life. If I want to be better than the rest, I need to sit down and think about what I’m doing. Not every sound product comes from a sound idea, but I don’t plan on taking any chances. Before I write anything, even an outline, I need to swim through my own head for a minute.

Daydreaming is an odd thing. I’m not kidding when I say I have taken two hours in the past to do it. It is extremely dangerous. When you do it right, it is immensely rewarding and refreshing. When you do it wrong, you do it wrong. You can tell. If you keep trying to do it when you’re doing it wrong, you will only get worse. Obviously, you won’t have a word on your manuscript to show for it. In the end, there’s not much more I can tell you than that.

Unfortunately, we writers have deadlines and there is only so much daydreaming that we can do. Eventually the idea has to jump from mind to page. It is this transition that has killed a lot of good material, not the least of which is my own. Daydreaming makes me horribly lazy.

I’ll be sitting at my laptop, tracing out what seems like a brilliant plot in my mind. Suddenly I will look at my laptop. The clock has jumped forward half an hour.

“I need to get going,” I’ll mutter, typing out a few lines. If they sound dissonant, I’ll growl and try something else. If they click, if they sound nice, I’ll rush forward with them, no matter what they say. A few paragraphs later I might emerge and realize that I didn’t put down what I meant to put down.

And I’ll get so frustrated that I’ll start daydreaming again.

There is only one thing to remedy this: deadlines. Put pressure on yourself. It took me three years just to decide I wanted to publish The Quest. Brainstorming is essential, but so is action. The most beautiful thoughts on earth won’t do you any good if you don’t do something with them.

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