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Daydream believer

Posted April 01, 2016

It’s vital the writer prepares their imagination before writing. If the imagination isn’t primed, the writer will spend their writing time staring into space, or chatting on social media, or doing other things.

The first thing to understand is that daydreaming is a vital part of writing. It isn’t wasted time. In fact, it’s the imagination talking to the conscious mind. If a writer spends no time daydreaming, they are shutting off from their imagination and breaking the bond of creativity. So daydreaming is essential.

There is free-form daydreaming, and there’s structured daydreaming. Both are part of the creative process. How they are used will depend to some extent on the individual writer.

Every writer has their own unique process. Some things will be true of most writers. Daydreaming, for example, is a given for most writers. But how that is put to use can vary from writer to writer. Each writer has to learn their own process. So I can only speak for myself when I talk about the two forms of daydreaming.

In the period before I begin to work on a project, I use free-form daydreaming to find out what my imagination is working on. The project might be a novel or an essay or a memoir or any other kind of project that calls on the imagination. During this period, my imagination will present me with dramatic scenes which become the nerve points of the project.

I know when I’m ready to start writing when my imagination gives me an opening scene or an opening sentence that refers to the conflict at the heart of the narrative or essay.

Once the project is under way and my imagination is committed to it, I structure my daydreaming by dreaming about the plot events and dialogue I am going to write in my next writing session. I used to do this the night before. Now I do it in the morning. I’ll lie in bed for two or three hours, daydreaming like this. Then I get up and write 3000 words.

If I don’t prepare my imagination this way, I will be lucky to write 100 words, each one will be wrenched out of me, and I will delete them the next day.

Each writer has their own limit to the number of words they can write per session. Some, like me, write a lot. Others, like Ian McEwan and Alan Bennett, write only a few hundred.  Graham Greene set himself a daily limit of 500 words. He never strayed from that limit in the many decades of his writing life.

But no matter what your limit is, you will reach it best by priming your imagination before each session.

Sydney Smith is a writing mentor, teacher and author of short stories, essays, and The Lost Woman, a memoir of survival. She has written The Architecture of Narrative. She offers writing tips at If you have a question on any aspect of writing, please visit her blog.

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