For some people, writing is a process of recording one’s daydreams. You open up a document, let the images flow, and write. Sure, getting the words exactly right is work, and maintaining the motivation to sit through multiple drafts can be tough, but what you dream is what you write. You don’t even have to really think about it.
I always wanted my process to be like that, and for the last few months (and years, in some respects), I’ve demanded that my stories be like daydreams—what I want to write, what I want to read, what I want to think about.
That’s definitely not a bad place to start in looking for ideas, and for choosing among several ideas. In fact, thinking about what I would want to read, as if the “perfect” book could magically manifest in my hands, is a good way to start generating ideas for me. The problem is that beyond the vague initial stages of the idea, I simply do not daydream in stories. And I definitely do not daydream in good stories.
And so as I’m working on a project, and I realize I’d rather daydream about this or that random crap (or someone else’s characters, or real life people, or my own dreams and imaginary life), I start to doubt how much I like my current project. I question whether it’s right for me. I stop wanting to work on it, because it is work. Or I start wanting to work with my daydream “stories,” until I realize they’re not stories or they’re total crap and could never be published.
What this post and this revelation are about is the fact that writing professionally is work. And that means it’s not a process of daydreaming but of careful, calculated, determined work. I mean, if it is for you, that’s awesome and I’m happy for you. But for me, if I want to write things that I want to sell, if I want to be an author, I have to work on projects that are not going to be a series of daydreams. I should still enjoy the idea, should still want to read the finished product, but maybe I wouldn’t love every scene. At least, I’ll probably have to think about what I want to or need to write next, rather than being driven by divine inspiration.
One way I’ve found to mitigate this feeling is to realize that often what I love and daydream about in other people’s work is not necessarily the work itself, but instead what’s in the margins. Because daydreams are more personal, more flexible, less dependent on conflict and structure and plot. So the actual work may not be a daydream, but that doesn’t mean it can’t inspire daydreams.
Currently, my technique is to find something to daydream about that might be a part of the story’s world, or might involve very minor secondary characters in their daily lives. Or, if nothing else, might be about me in my imaginary future. The point is to find something fun and silly that you wouldn’t ever write, but which enhances or motivates your writing indirectly. And then, during your working hours, actually work on your story like it’s your job.
Just because you don’t love every minute of working on something does NOT mean someone won’t love every minute of reading it.
The reality is that living the dream means working for it.