On the benefits of daydreaming

Southern Reach Trilogy author Jeff VanderMeer recently wrote an illuminating piece for the Chicago Review of Books, dispensing eight nuggets of advice for the Internet’s nugget-eating machine.

I’m usually not into things like this—writing advice is its own industry nowadays, most of it needlessly complex or overly specific; read and write a lot will do in most cases, I find—but VanderMeer makes a very good point here, in so many words: Sometimes you’re writing even when you aren’t. Daydreaming, it turns out, can be just as effective as tippy-tapping away for hours on that infernal keyboard.

First, here’s what he actually says:

The amount of time you spend writing isn’t necessarily as important as the time spent thinking about what you are going to write.

I’d recommend reading the whole thing. But this is some miraculous advice from a successful author: A condemnation of the “Just write, dammit!” mantra that pervades everything you see, read, and hear about what it takes to be a successful writer.

Of course you have to write. You wouldn’t be an excellent civil engineer if you never built a bridge. But it’s just as true that thinking about your writing—that is, your plot, your characters, your themes, that one scene driving you up the wall that you just can’t get right—is just as effective as the act itself. I’ve had more ideas come from staring at the ugly, hulking cell tower while walking my dog through the neighborhood than by sitting blankly in front of the monitor, hands lifeless on the keyboard.

All I’m saying is, sometimes we can write without our fingers.

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