4 Ways to Learn How to Daydream Better

3 Ways to Learn How to Daydream Better

http://wp.me/p3QOd2-6XYou wouldn’t think you’d have to teach a writer to learn how to daydream. After all, the reason you became a writer was likely a natural outgrowth of your daydreams.

Too often, however, in the mad rush of life’s busy work, daydreams are relegated to the shadowy cellars of your mind. You’ll think about them “when you have time.” When time never seems to come, however, your daydreams become a luxury you can’t afford.

But, as a writer, the one thing you can’t afford is not to daydream.

1. Keep Your Daydreams Close Throughout the Day, Not Just at Writing Time

It isn’t enough to simply sit down to write every day. Even with a foundation of good daily habits, you won’t always be able to simply conjure your daydreams.

Daydreams need time to grow, to ripen, and to ferment. They need to sit in the back of your minds all day long, floating just under the surface, only a fingertip away from your conscious thought at any moment.

If you hope to have a delicious, mature flavor to pour onto the page during our writing sessions, you need to have your stories simmering throughout the day.

2. Schedule Time to Daydream

To some extent, this is a no-brainer. We’ve all experienced those glorious rushes in which we eat, sleep, and breathe our stories for days, even weeks and months, on end. You have the luxury of letting your stories take precedence in your minds, and you’re able to run through your daily activities on autopilot. But it doesn’t always work that way.

When my schedule gets crammed, deadlines loom, and the world impinges on my solitude, my daydreaming dissipates like a cloud of steam. Sometimes I stop in my tracks, shocked to realize that my story hasn’t crossed my mind all day—and that my writing is likely to suffer as a result.

On those days when life is doing its tilt-a-whirl impression, you must make a conscious effort to keep my imagination within reach. Although you don’t want your daydreams to distract from your productivity and efficiency in non-writing activities, you do want to keep your characters walking beside you, ready to catch your eye and offer a few interesting ideas whenever you  hit a slow moment in my day’s work.

3. Triage Your Life to Make Room for Daydreaming

In his book A Writer’s Space, creativity coach Eric Maisel, Ph.D., tells about a client who traced her struggle with writer’s block back to her lack of daydreaming:

She also understood that unless she made self-reflection [daydreaming] a daily practice, her writing life might slip away again. The practice she instituted involved letting go of and mourning several of her previous activities (a few of which, once she let them go, she didn’t miss or mourn all that much)…

Daydreaming isn’t always something you can do simultaneously with other activities. It can be time consuming. You may find you need to take a break now and then, go for a walk, or maybe just stare out a window in order to get your logical brain slowed down and your creative brain revved up.

Because the sacrifice in time is always worth it in inspiration.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you think it’s possible to learn how to daydream? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. How very true this is! I’ve been working 40-50 hours week in an exhausting job. Coming home and sitting at my laptop at 6.30pm has proved fruitless.

    Yet, for my Easter break, I took some time to travel in the Scottish Highlands and OH MY GOODNESS I was daydreaming the entire time and I felt my creativity come rushing back all at once.

    We really all do need that time just to stand and stare.

  2. As a child I would rather sit by myself and dream about being somebody else, or escaping to imaginary lands than play with friends (I was shy :)). I think that’s why I started writing… to get those stories out of my head.

    But I have to admit, even though I’m older now and no longer shy (meaning I’m no longer a loner), I still daydream a lot. Right before bed, when I wake up, in long car trips… most of the time I have to remind myself NOT to daydream so I can focus on my tasks. LOL.

  3. The back burner is a good place to let things simmer for a while.

  4. Could advice. I’ve found that progress on running can be stymied by 1) Failing to daydream and 2) Fearing that we’ve used up our ideas in previous books or articles. I think we can counter that by acknowleding that 1) constructive daydreaming is not a waste of time and 2) it will lead to something productive.

    I have a “Writing Helps” gadget on my blog Family Fountain. Mind if I link this article there?

  5. Good advice, though I don’t always just daydream about my characters and story alone, but various things. While some may say the variety hinders productivity, I think it is helpful. If I daydream of only my characters, I feel myself struggling with scenes, because it is seems forced. My characters get upset if I spend too much time with them, like any intrusive guest, and ask me—not so politely—to leave. If I give them their space once in awhile, I get better results.

  6. @Bethany: The biggest problem is convincing others that when we’re standing and staring, we’re really hard at work!

    @Mia: That’s how I started writing too: I had no intention of being a writer; I just wanted to put my stories on paper, so I wouldn’t forget them.

    @Lydia: It’s amazing the things our subconscious can come up with.

    @Warren: Please do link it. Thank you very much.

    @Lorna: We can overwork stories, try too hard to figure them out instead of letting them flow. For the most part, my daydreaming is a time where I just stay tuned to my characters, instead of trying to force myself to figure them out.

  7. Wow! This is cuah a powerful message. I remember when daydreaming was as natural as eating, but you’re so right, even when we’re writing, we tend to “work it” in our heads as oppposed to letting the daydream unravel itself. Between balancing real mundane task, sucfh as job, fmaily and home with writing, daydreaming falls through the cracks.
    I found myself daydreaming after spending a rare spontenous day with my granddaughter and her friend. After months of an agenda based on “purpose” I needed a pair of seven year-olds to remind me how play and daydreaming are neccesary for our mental health in addition to laying the groundwork for our own individual storytelling. Thank you. These are much needed words.

  8. The difference between conscious and unconscious daydreaming is rather interesting. Robert Olen Butler has some thought-provoking things to say about it in his book From Where You Dream. Definitely worth reading.

  9. I can tell you that without a doubt, when I’m actively working on writing or rewriting a story, I’ve constantly got my story on my mind: while I’m cooking dinner, folding clothes, driving, whatever–even watching movies for ideas! It’s when I get to the heavy editing process (as I’m in right now) that I stop for a while, which in my opinion, only allows for a breathing period for my brain to cultivate ideas for the next project–kind of how a farmer will allow a field to be dormant for a season, and the following season, it will produce abundantly.

  10. The creative brain definitely goes through cycles. We can’t be inspired or brilliant all the time. And I agree that a breather now and then is important. I usually need at least six months off from active writing after finishing a first draft. If I try to hit it again hard too soon, it flops. But I also know that if I let my daydreams get too dusty, they start to fade away from me.

  11. What a wonderful post. The more I day dream about the story, the more I write. And yes, when life gets too hectic or I have to concentrate on writing class papers, the day dreams get pushed aside and my fictional writing suffers. When I was a child, my sisters made me feel like daydreaming was a waste of time and it slowly faded away. Now, the one thing I love now about writing, is giving myself permission to day dream and not feeling guilty about it. For the day dreams turn to inspiration and inspiration into words on a page.

  12. Yes, good point. The added benefit of daydreaming is not only a better, more vibrant story, but also the impetus to write more often. When you allow yourself to get caught in the throes of a story, it doesn’t want to let go!

  13. I don’t do it enough. You’ve convinced me of the benefits and so will dutifully try to do it more this week!

  14. The good thing about this “duty” is that it’s lots of fun!

  15. Thank you for this post. Once again, your timing is impeccable with what I needed to hear today.

  16. Glad you found it helpful!

  17. So my teacher was wrong, I wasn’t wasting time in class, I was preparing myself for a future career 🙂
    Thanks, great post.

  18. What’s a little math lost in comparison with the riches of daydreaming?

  19. I want an extra button on your poll: Not Often Enough.

    I used to daydream about my work all the time. I don’t know when the dreams peetered out – I need to make the time to bring them back! Thanks for the reminder.

  20. Do any of us dream as much as we’d like? We don’t normally think of it this way, but the conscious and the subconscious work in tandem. Sometimes we consciously have to give the subconscious a little nudge.

  21. Thanks so much for validating the need to daydream. Your post has helped me give myself permission to do just that–yeaa, I feel freer already! I love the way you put it: “I have to make a conscious effort to keep my imagination within reach.” Thanks again 🙂

  22. Sometimes, when the things we need to do are things we love to do, we can end up feeling guilty – and, as a result, push those things aside. We just need convincing that these things really *are* important. So, yes, definitely give yourself permission!

  23. I like that doing nothing is doing something. I just need to keep my eyes open . . .

  24. That’s where “creative lollygagging” kicks in: if you choose some mindless task (washing dishes, folding laundry, or mowing the grass), you kill two birds with that one rock.

  25. I admit, I probably could use more daydreaming time. It’s sad how daydreaming gets shoved aside amidst life’s challenges.

  26. It’s one of those intangibles that can be hard to hang onto. We can’t exactly mark off an hour on our schedules “for daydreaming” – and so it often gets forgotten.

  27. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss having a commute.

    I used to write while doing my job as a janitor. I’d daydream, then repair to the local Shari’s as soon as I got off work (0230) and blister the notebooks with my pen until 0700.

    Then I’d write while I was on Cutter Steadfast as a deck ape, sanding and painting away. After lights out, I’d be in my rack scribbling down everything I’d conceived while chasing a deck growler around the plating.

    Then I’d write while standing watch. Or while driving to work.

    This year, though… my commute is about four minutes. It takes me longer to walk to my car than it takes me to drive to my school. (I drive because I often run errands for the school on my planning periods.)

    Result: no daydreaming. Also less time spent bending my steering wheel to resemble a taco shell at either the behind-the-wheel antics of the soccer mom in the 4,000 pound death torpedo in front of me, or the antics of our current administration spending my great grandkid’s salaries.

    But I’m finding it very difficult to really get any serious fiction writing done because of the lack of an hour a day of mind-numbing boredom.

    Maybe we need to drive to work, even when we work outta da home (And if you’ve ever seen Aqua Teen Hunger Force, you’ll get that line.) Just pull out, drive around the block a few times, and then park?

    Or better, I wrote an article on this for my writing forum a couple years ago: go for a walk and take your voice recorder. Write while you walk. I usually stick the iPod in one ear so I have theme music (can you guess how much of my stuff was written while listening to “Imperial March”?) Go for a run… anything that gets you solitude, setting, and the ability to just ponder.

    I’ve noticed also that the harder I work out, the more I tend to write. When I trained for the JO’s I could crank out about 6,000 words a day of fiction. (Pretty much anything to take my mind off of how much I hurt everywhere.) Problem was, I was too tired to write more than basic outlines and snippets. Cohesion was impossible.

    Daydreaming is important, exercise is important. Maybe marry the two? If nothing else, maybe there will be fewer fat writers waddling around hogging all the dang twinkies. Brother can’t get hisself any hostess now!


  28. My daydreaming suffers in the winter when I can’t (read: don’t want to) take evening walks. My walk way down the road to the mailbox is my official daydream time. It helps me decompress after my writing session before supper, unwinds my tangled thoughts, and pumps me for the next day’s writing.

  29. Great reminder post!

    This is where having a dog, especially one who needs a lot of exercise, is a good thing. I HAVE to get outside for a good long walk with Polly, every single day, rain or snow or heat or whatever. And in turn, she listens to all my stories and ideas and thoughts.

    How great is that?!

  30. My black Lab has given me plenty of walking opportunities too, although I tend to be more distracted when walking him than just walking by myself.

  31. Very wise advice!

  32. Thanks for stopping by!

  33. Ha,Ha my Gramps used to call me Dilly Daydream.

    I sit in the vineyards and let my brain cell float around. The exercise does it good. 🙂

  34. How very true!! I have realized that the more time I take to daydream, the better (and more!) I write. However, I hadn’t thought about making it an intentional priority…thanks!

  35. @Glynis: Something about being outside always stimulates my imagination too. In the summer, I lay on the grass and watch the clouds and just let my mind drift.

    @Lisa: In my experience, if I don’t make a conscious effort to get things done, they usually don’t happen!

  36. Great advice, K.M.! With two little’uns running around I hardly ever get time to myself. Then, when I do, I panic myself into accomplishment and unfortunately accomplish the wrong things – like downing a handful of Triscuits or soaking up the Millionaire Matchmaker.

    I just want to relax and unwind so I can be free to write. It isn’t working.

    What I forgot, somehow, is that writing can be relaxing, and that it can help me unburden myself. I’d like to get to the point where I think if it as fun. Time to untether from preconceived notions in the manner of The Shipping News and stand naked in the wind.

    We were taught that daydreams are a waste of time. It will take some time to unlearn that.

    By the way, LOVE this: “If we hope to have a delicious, mature flavor to pour onto the page during our writing sessions, we need to have our stories simmering throughout the day.”

  37. It’s regrettable that so many authors have learned to feel guilty for taking time to write (and, by extension, daydream). It was something I had to work hard to overcome myself. If for no other reason, though, writing is worth it simply for its cathartic effects. It *is* fun and rewarding and unburdening, but only if we allow ourselves to look at it that way.

  38. Yesterday I made time for short story writing. It had been a while since I’d done this because I’d been focussed so much on my blog and my non-fiction writing and – yes – daily life.

    Initially I drew a blank. It’s because I hadn’t daydreamed in far too long. I had to edit an older story to get back into the swing of it.

  39. Something I always find helpful is giving myself time to warm up at the beginning of my writing session. I plan scenes in a writing journal, edit, and go over notes.

  40. Anonymous says

    Not nearly enough. I daydream a lot, but not as often about my stories as I’d like. When I do, I take the role of one of my characters. This, I think, is common with writers who do this. I also like to stage it as if it were a movie, which, I guess is the definition of daydreaming. It sometimes helps me to answer (and sometimes ask) the questions about where the plot is going next.
    Nadine Liamson

  41. Ditto for me, on both counts. I see the world through the eyes of my character, and I often see it as if it were a movie unfolding.

  42. Annie Lynn says

    The older you get the less you daydream, thanks for the reminder to start daydreaming. 🙂

  43. It is a pity that we often think of daydreaming as something we should grow out of. Most of the best things in childhood are something we should carry with all our lives, not grow out of.

  44. This was lovely to read. I so agree with you. It’s one of the reasons I need to have a dog – his need to be walked provides me with built-in time every day that can’t be given away (an unwalked two year old golden retriever is a problem!). And it’s always amazing to me what bubbles to the surface when I’m on the trail by the river in the woods in the sunshine, or rain.

  45. Being outside is particularly conducive to my daydreaming. Something about all that fresh air and sunshine, I think…

  46. Ah! Solitary walks, part of the work?

  47. Thanks so much for this. I’ve been in coping mode in my real life and the imaginary worlds have been largely ignored as of late. As soon as I saw your headline, I realized I have not been day dreaming at all. Time to schedule it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I hear you. It’s so easy to let the “wonder” slip from our lives as we put all our focus into adulting. I need the reminder from time to time that I not only have permission to daydream, but that it needs to be a priority.

  48. Great post, but I’m actually the opposite from this. Lol. I need to balance my daydreaming out with other daily tasks that I do during the day. I do too much daydreaming quite often.

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