Goofing off has long been maligned. We’re told as kids that we need to knuckle down
and concentrate. Goofing off and daydreaming are things that got us scolded.
“Pay attention!’ our teachers would say.
“Get your head out of the clouds!’ our parents would yell.
“Focus!” our coaches would scream.
This is all fabulous advice for learning a subject or trying to hit a baseball. However, as
a writer, I’ve found that such curtailments of our thoughts can be counterproductive.
Daydreaming is not only something vital to the process of writing, but it’s something that
must be encouraged.
So why did I entitle this post “Goof Off” if I’m talking about daydreaming? Because to
the layman, daydreaming looks a lot like goofing off. I have several ways to do it. I
might sit in my chair and simply gaze into the unknown haze of whatever crosses my
mind. Similarly, I’ll go on long walks with my dogs and just let my mind drift. My wife,
my boss, or my children may say that there are better things I could be doing in such a
moment, but it’s hard to impart to others just how much I’m working by goofing off.
Stories don’t just come to writers. TV shows and movies often portray the creative
process as if it’s angels singing in grand chorus while a light shines down on our faces,
but that’s not how most of us work. I have to let my mind wander and try to work stuff
out. Sometimes a good story comes out, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I can’t find out if
I’m “focused” on another task.
Here’s what I mean – my latest novel, Salvation Day, came about as a result of long
walks with my dogs. My oldest daughter had just been born, and she had a myriad of
health issues. Anyone who is a parent knows that children can be equal parts joy,
pride, frustration, and worry, and I was caught in the worry stage for most of her early
life. I’m a person of faith, but nothing tests faith like potentially horrible things
happening to your children. While walking my dogs, I used the time to sort through
what I was feeling.
I began to wonder why God would allow such misery, as well as how I would react if my
daughter died. My mind then worked its way over to my wife and how she would react.
As a naturally paranoid person, my thoughts strayed towards the worst case
scenario(that happens as a defense mechanism so that I can prepare for the worst,
even if the worst rarely comes). To me, the worst would’ve been not only my child
dying, but my wife being so consumed with grief that she ends her own life.
Once sanity returned – my wife is far stronger than I am, so she would never do such a
thing – I began playing further with the idea. Suppose something like that happened but
a man had the power to confront God Himself with the anger such a situation would
create? What would that look like? How could that come about? Would Hell be involved? Could someone actually do something about such vengeful thoughts towards
God? What kind of anger would a person have to lose himself in to make him want to
confront the Almighty? All of this speculation led to Salvation Day.
Even with all of that, there was a lot to work out, which meant more goofing off. And
that’s how I’ve found the inspiration and details for all of my novels(I’ve published two,
and I have three more ready to be published in the next year or so). It’s like playing out
a movie in your head, only you get to have influence over the direction(I say influence
rather than control because most writers know that they’re merely transcribing the
movie they see in their heads onto paper rather than making something up out of whole
Without goofing off, we’d miss out on some of the better books of history. Can anyone
honestly say that HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds was little but a daydream put on paper?
Or that A Christmas Carol could be thought up while someone was focused on doing
taxes? Goofing off was the key component to bringing those from the mind to the
What’s more, daydreaming has to be more than just the idea. Any idiot can come up
with the basic premise to a story. However, to make it something worthwhile to an
audience beyond family, detail needs to be added, and goofing off helps fill in those
holes too. For example, in Salvation Day, I knew from the first moment I had the idea
what the beginning and end of my story would be, but I had no idea how to get from the
start to the finish. Daydreaming was the primary way I filled in the blanks. I found
myself giving my wife all the excuses I could to walk my dogs or be out on the back
porch staring at the mountains near our house. These sessions allowed my mind to
wander and took my idea from just something kind of cool to a story I could put on
paper and which other people might enjoy.
Don’t let killjoys drag you too far back to reality and tell you that you aren’t doing
anything useful, for as a writer, goofing off is incredibly useful. It’s the canvass on which
we paint our universes, but we must be allowed to do so. Without it, we’d be denied so
many fun stories.
Goof off. Daydream. Let your mind wander. I promise that the real world will be
waiting for you when you’re finished.