In case you still had any doubts:
Writing and the Creative Life: Mind Wandering
by Scott Myers
What no [spouse] of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”
– Burton Rascoe
Ah, staring out the window. Staring into space. Staring at… nothing. At least in this world. But as any writer knows, this activity and these moments can be where some of our most creative work gets done as we tap into our imagination in a special, even powerful way.
Some would call this ‘daydreaming’ which carries with it all sorts of baggage, much of it negative. The suggestion is that when we daydream, we are notworking, we are slacking off, lost focus, caught up in mindlessness, instead of mindfulness.
After all, real work requires paying attention, bringing our entire consciousness and mental faculties to bear on the problem at hand, right?
For a writer… maybe not.
A recent article called “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming” (published in Frontiers In Psychology), written by Rebecca L. McMillan (lead author), Scott Barry Kaufman (co-author) and Jerome L. Singer (honorary co-author), delves into a mental phenomenon that describes, I think, what writers do as we stare out the window.
The basic concept is positive constructive daydreaming. What is that? The concept derives from years of research and study by Singer and can be described as “characterized by playful, wishful imagery and planful, creative thought.” From the article:
Singer and colleagues report many of the costs associated with mind wandering, yet the central theme of Singer’s large body of work is the manifestly positive, adaptive role that daydreaming plays in our daily lives… Singer’s research produced evidence suggesting that daydreaming, imagination, and fantasy are essential elements of a healthy, satisfying mental life.
A writer would likely argue this type of daydreaming is essential to a healthy, satisfying creative life as well!
While the term ‘positive constructive daydreaming’ may be an apt description for scientists, I prefer another one that is often used about this phenomenon:mind wandering.
So much of what we, as writers, do is let our minds go wandering, detaching from this world in order to journey into that other realm, what I like to call the ‘story universe,’ the domain of our characters.
As it turns out, that concept of detachment actually has a name in psychological circles:
Individuals can choose to disengage from external tasks, decoupling attention, in order to pursue an internal stream of thought that they expect to pay off in some way… But some mind wandering occurs because we actively choose to decouple from external tasks and perceptions and focus instead on an internal stream of thought with full awareness both of the choice being made and the contents of consciousness.
When a writer goes mind wandering, we “decouple” from the “external” (tasks, perceptions, focus) and enter into an “internal stream of thought.” Most writers I know would likely refer to this as our subconscious.
However we typify it, this phenomenon of decoupling or detaching from this world and going into that world is something entirely common to the writing process.