Daydreaming: Carefree Creativity or Pointless Procrastination?

My mom always called me a procrastinator. I was the kid who was up until midnight desperately trying to finish the diorama of the first Thanksgiving. No matter how early I started collecting tiny pilgrims and popsicle sticks, the project always came down to the wire. Sure, I may have spent a few evenings out playing baseball with the neighbors, and maybe I could have skipped that extra episode of Saved by the Bell, but I would not have finished any earlier. It turns out I wasn’t procrastinating: I was being creative.

Even when I was outside playing ball, I would take a quick moment to scoop up the perfect “Plymouth Rock,” and while watching TV my mind often wandered to how I might make a miniature turkey or how to make the twigs remain standing when I move the platform. I’m not trying to convince you that every moment was spent thinking about my projects. Sure, I had my fair share of avoidance. However, there is a difference between procrastination and goofing off, and one of these is beneficial to creativity.

Psychologist Dennis Palumbo explains the difference of procrastination and goofing off in his post In Praise of Goofing Off. “Procrastination, as I see in my therapy practice every day, is a product of an artist’s inner conflicts around his or her creative gifts. Fears about failure, questions about one’s sense of entitlement, doubts about competence, concerns about the potential for shameful exposure.” Procrastination is your inner critic telling you that you aren’t good enough. (For ways to combat that jerk, see my post Meet Grace: the Voice in My Head.)

Goofing off, on the other hand, he explains as the “absolutely essential component of a successful creative person’s life – the down time, when you’re seemingly not doing anything of consequence.”

In Johan Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works, he explains how the left brain (the analytical side) and the right brain (the creative side) work to solve problems. When we are faced with trying to solve any problem, our left brain spits out all the most logical answers relying on connections the brain has made in the past. It is when all the obvious stuff has been exhausted and we relax, often doing something else or starting to daydream, that our right brain finally speaks up and provides the less obvious and creative solutions to the problem. Think of your left brain as the loud-mouth, know-it-all that thinks he has all the right answers, and your right brain as the soft-spoken, astute observer that patiently waits for the moment when the loud mouth finally shuts up before he provides his insightful solutions. That is what daydreaming does for creativity. It allows your soft-spoken right brain to provide creative solutions.

As Joyce Carol Oates recommends, spend more time looking out your window to further your creativity.

(Oh, and mom, those tears that I let flow around midnight weren’t about procrastination or finding creativity. They were because I was tired and knew you’d do a good job finishing up my project. =-)