"the TV set in my head was running constantly, never turning off."
November 5, 2015 5:51 AM   Subscribe

When Daydreaming Replaces Real Life

That’s when the game I played only when I was bored turned into something all-consuming. I had friends and did well in my classes, and I knew that the characters and stories in my head weren’t real, so I knew I wasn't insane. But something was wrong with me. Daydreaming was taking over more and more of my life. It was as if I’d lost the remote control and the TV set in my head was running constantly, never turning off.
posted by holmesian (60 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I could spend the next hour summarizing the plots of the tetralogy of movies I've created (Codependent, Black Friday, Cake and the at-the-moment untitled fourth one, which all center around the aftermath of an office shooting).

Then there's the television series about a group of recently deceased people who spend the afterlife tidying up multiple universe lines so time itself isn't destroyed.

And the TV series loosely based on my college experiences in the early 90's.

Many people who lose themselves in imaginary worlds also report some symptoms of obsessive thinking or ADHD.

Ding ding ding
posted by Lucinda at 7:22 AM on November 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


I have often wished I had this kind of creative and imaginative focus. Apparently I should be glad I've never met any wish-granting genies.
posted by edheil at 7:28 AM on November 5, 2015


Huh. This describes me to a fascinating degree. However, I sort of value always being able to tune in to a free, long-running soap opera in my head, so I'm not sure I'm on board with "maladaptive," although I suspect an outside observer would think differently.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:32 AM on November 5, 2015


I have all sorts of imaginary worlds in my head, though I mostly only go there when I'm lying in bed and not asleep yet. (And, yes, I have some trouble with obsessive thinking.)

I can understand wanting to get treatment if excessive daydreaming causes people to suffer - if it is initiated by the daydreamer. But I am envisioning a dystopian future in which people who are daydreaming to escape their mundane jobs are accused of "time theft" because their productivity is down, and are forced to take medication to increase their focus.

In a different time, obsessive daydreamers would have spent their days writing elaborate fiction. Some of which might have been quite good.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:58 AM on November 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've actually thought about whether my internal soap opera could be turned into fiction, and I've decided that answer is probably no. I don't think it would be interesting to anyone but me. But maybe I'm just selfish and don't want to share it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:03 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh. This kind of describes me, particularly if I've found time to go on a walk or do the dishes* or something else where I can disengage a little. It's basically how I write, or at least a significant portion of the non-typing part of it

I'm probably undiagnosed ADHD also though.

* parenting has upgraded this to a relaxing leisure task, assuming nobody is bothering me and I'm not rushed.
posted by Artw at 8:05 AM on November 5, 2015


This describes what I do until the point that it can't be turned off. I can see how that would be hard and strange to deal with.

The worst I get is when I'm super stressed or want to avoid dealing or doing something. I can easily waste hours playing through stories in my head. They're usually based on some TV or movie where I and others I know get to play along in whatever the story is.
I fall asleep to some story creation that I'm a part of. Done that since I was a kid.

I've grown to know that if I spend too much time doing it that it's a form of procrastination and to cut it out. Not being able to cut it out would be horrible.
posted by Jalliah at 8:05 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


As with so many things in the human experience, it's probably something that falls on a spectrum. The people in the article, including the author, are seeking out help for themselves because they find the daydreaming is negatively impacting their lives. I don't see any reason to assume they're wrong about their own experiences with it.

Agatha Christie described something similar in her autobiography, but seems to have been a mostly positive thing for her. Her autobiography talks a lot about her various running daydreams from childhood, including "The Girls", her longest-running daydream, with girls from a school, and how many years later she'd still "give" certain dresses to one or another of her characters.
posted by pie ninja at 8:10 AM on November 5, 2015


Her autobiography talks a lot about her various running daydreams from childhood, including "The Girls", her longest-running daydream, with girls from a school, and how many years later she'd still "give" certain dresses to one or another of her characters.

oh god you just reminded me of the book series I started in my brain as a third grader about kids at a boarding school

I wonder what Janice McQueen (and her twin sister Adrienne) and Jon Halbourne are up to these days
posted by Lucinda at 8:21 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah I mean, the bulk of writing (for me) occurs in my head when I'm doing something fairly mindless like the dishes or on the treadmill or making cookies. It doesn't like, escape these confines and become an obsessive, overpowering burden so that's where it gets all maladaptive I guess.
posted by The Whelk at 8:21 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Ill get right on that, boss in sim."
posted by Slackermagee at 8:25 AM on November 5, 2015


I have all sorts of imaginary worlds in my head, though I mostly only go there when I'm lying in bed and not asleep yet.

Same, although when I do indulge on the subway or while queueing somewhere I make sure to loudly think general apologies to any nearby telepaths just in case.


whelk i want to know more about these cookies
posted by poffin boffin at 8:32 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is my default state, exacerbated by a childhood where I was mostly left alone (only child, single parent with two jobs).

I feel like my 20s were mostly spent trying to rein in this "ability/tendency/problem" and now that I am a mother in my 30s, I spend most of my time trying to escape to a room where I can be alone to let my head wander.

OCD: check
ADHD tendencies: check
posted by annathea at 8:53 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I do this up to the point that it's never overtaken my life. I do it in line, on the train, in bed, when it's slow at my office. I've characters in my head that've been there for 20 years. I can imagine how distressing it would be if you couldn't turn it off and it affected you to the point of losing interest in real life though. In moderation, I would be very sad to lose my fantasy-life.

And I have some mild OCD tendencies, yeah.
posted by Windigo at 9:01 AM on November 5, 2015


Also, repetitive motions: as a child and a teenager, I'd could rock in a rocking chair for hours, perfecting my stories.
posted by Windigo at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Many years (decades?) ago I read a New York Times article saying 15% of the population spends at least one hour a day daydreaming. That's the first time I realized that not everyone does this.

I can usually shut it off when it would get in the way, though. It is more like picking up a book when I want to read, except the story (usually there are several running stories to pick from) is in my head, and I don't think I have ADHD. I can't imagine not being able to control it.
posted by eye of newt at 9:11 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would be absolutely fascinated to hear more about what this is like to experience. I daydream, but there's very little consistency from instance to instance unless I'm actively keeping track. When you pick up a storyline, are you "stuck" with the events that occurred previously, just like a tv show? Is there suspense, or are there outcomes you don't like sometimes?
posted by lucidium at 9:24 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would be absolutely fascinated to hear more about what this is like to experience. I daydream, but there's very little consistency from instance to instance unless I'm actively keeping track. When you pick up a storyline, are you "stuck" with the events that occurred previously, just like a tv show? Is there suspense, or are there outcomes you don't like sometimes?

What cool questions. It's got me thinking about how I do it. Most of my stories are based on actual shows or movies and occasionally books. My imaginings are based on the actual story lines and how it would work if me as a character gets to be in it. Who I play while based on myself is a role play though. I'll have super powers, or some other skill and knowledge that would work with the plot. The only way I can describe is that I explore the story and how it works because it has to make sense and as silly as it sounds be realistic enough to work. I guess I have my own internal laws of what 'realistic' is. I have to have a good reason to be there. Sometimes it is just regularly me and I imagine things like 'okay what would happen if only what I know now me is plunked into this Walking Dead episode.

Some stories I will return too and whatever came before does matter if it's just a continuation from that point. However if I don't like that point or think of something else that could have happened or should have happened I back track, change it up and figure out it from there. Some times this means the whole story line gets changed and goes off in another direction entirely or some times it means that things happen just a little different once whatever I changed is taken into account, but I go through the entire thing again. It's pretty normal to revisit the same general story line over and over.

What's interesting now that I'm really thinking about it is if my stories are connected with say an on going tv show, what happens in the show has to be integrated into my own stories so it's those ones are constantly reworked. I have some leeway though. For example some characters still get to be alive in my versions though a plausible way for that to occur has to be worked out. I also occasionally will get rid of ones I don't like but again it has to be worked out. I find with some show I look forward to watching them not just because of their story but in anticipation of how I'm going to fit whatever happens into my stories.

And yes they do have suspense, even though if I know the outcome. Think of it as the same sort of thing as how you can watch a good movie again and still get tense about what you know is going to happen.

And yes there are outcomes I don't like which might sound strange since I do have absolute control. At times the narrative just ends up in place where the only thing that makes sense is for the bad thing to happen and it just does. Just can't make it not happen because it's just not 'realistic.' Or at times in stories that are related to real life ongoing shows (tv) something happens in them that for whatever reason I can't find a way out of without messing the whole thing up and those things just have to stand.

Now that I write some of this out I can see how it might seem pretty odd to people. Oh well.
posted by Jalliah at 10:08 AM on November 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also, repetitive motions: as a child and a teenager, I'd could rock in a rocking chair for hours, perfecting my stories.

My brother and I both did this. The rocking was very soothing. We'd both rock in place on long car rides too, daydreaming and not talking. I am very grateful my parents were chill with this, and even set aside a room with two old rockers for us to silently retreat to. The only thing they did was set a timer. We got an hour of unstructured "rocking time" every day where nobody interrupted us, then we were expected to participate in family life, do chores, do our homework, etc.

I never wanted to write down any of my stories; I just wanted the decompression of crafting my worlds and working out the characterizations, backstories and plot developments. I fully credit my daydreaming tendencies with my project-management abilities, TBH. All that time spent as a kid keeping track of countless details in my head worked beautifully as a grown-up in charge of complex editorial properties.
posted by sobell at 10:29 AM on November 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I fully credit my daydreaming tendencies with my project-management abilities, TBH. All that time spent as a kid keeping track of countless details in my head work beautifully as a grown-up in charge of complex editorial properties.

Wow. Light bulb moment.

I'm a project manager. It's just something I've always been naturally good at. Never even considered that connection before.
posted by Jalliah at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Huh. I am also a project manager, and I also tend to do this. (It's generally not a negative thing for me, but I can definitely understand how it could.)
posted by pie ninja at 10:39 AM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


My daydreams used to be uncontrollable event loops. Sometimes they kept me awake for a couple of days. At night I watched the movie--I was in the movie--and during the day images overtook me at every opportunity--any time I didn't need to actively interact with someone. In those days, I mostly lived alone and away from people, so I was in a constant state of exhaustion from a lack of sleep. At some point I began to study writing techniques. One of the authors wrote something to the effect of "...just visualize the scene and try to copy it down. You can edit it later." He meant that a well-considered backstory would generate action in the scene, but I took the advice and applied it to my obsession.

Combined with compulsive reading, this helped to break the obsessive feedback loops, and I (more or less) got control of my insomnia. I am still a serial sleeper, though. Anyhow, I still daydream, but now I pick the scenes, and reset them for editing until I get bored and move on. I entertain myself on long drives this way. Daydreams are like paragraphs, complete scenes not linked to any complicated narrative.

I seldom write fiction anymore, but I let the daydreams run wild. I've learned to visualize essays, so I can figure out what to leave out, what to leave in. A side effect of all this was that I realize that my memory is tremendously fallible. When accuracy is required, I use notebooks (journals) to put things in order.

My favorite indulgence is dreaming of flying....but I can't seem to do that as well in daydreams as when these dreams happen during sleep. I grasp at them while wakening, but I feel the perception of reality thinning, slipping away. The last perception to go is the idea that I could actually do this (fly) if I could but remember how....I begin by raising my arms, growing progressively lighter, until....
posted by mule98J at 11:30 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


When you pick up a storyline, are you "stuck" with the events that occurred previously, just like a tv show? Is there suspense, or are there outcomes you don't like sometimes?

Oh no, it gets revised and rewritten all the time based on my opinions, what movies/books/TV I've seen, life experiences, etc. Think of it like a hunk of wood that's constantly polished and sanded over and over, the 'cloth' being the daydreaming. The shape shifts, but keeps the same general form.
posted by Windigo at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do this as well, although not so much that it interferes with daily life. I was much more engrossed in it as a kid and used to pace compulsively. I had a pretty poor home life growing up and this was one of my primary means of escapism, which I think is why I was ashamed of it for years. It's helpful to hear others' experiences and destigmatize it in my mind. As I've worked on my anxiety I've found myself fantasizing less, but it ramps back up in periods of high stress, especially anything related to family. My fantasies are always established media or fanfiction - well-written author-insert fanfiction of my favorite books or films will suck me in every time.

OCD tendencies? Check
Project manager? Check
posted by zenzicube at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not to dismiss anyone who finds this unpleasant or intrusive, but having an ongoing fictional world you're creating sounds markedly less annoying than something that is similar to this, but instead of creating purely fictional scenarios, you're replaying and reliving events from your past and trying to correct things that went wrong, like an obsessive and regret-tinged Quantum Leap. Ugh!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:18 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold—
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!


- A Midsummer Night's Dream
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:33 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unlike many others, she has found a productive way to channel her obsession—in her case, by creating a website that helps others learn more about it.

Reading this article, I kept wondering, why aren't they writing these stories down? Why aren't they writing novels or scripts, or drawing comics, or doing something to bring these stories out of their heads and put them to use in the real world? I daydream endlessly, and if I didn't write or draw or do anything to vent this stuff, I'd probably be miserable about the stories in my head too. They can be an overwhelming distraction, but I am glad they're there and the idea of taking drugs to suppress them kind of horrifies me. You never want to be less creative; you want to be more productive.

I don't mean to minimize the suffering of these people, but I couldn't understand why trying to turn this stuff into art never came up once in the entire article. (The closest we got was the mention of psychiatrists telling her that her creativity was a gift, an idea which she dismissed.) They're taking drugs, they're avoiding TV and Youtube, they're staring at a single leaf on a tree, they're doing all this stuff to make the stories in their heads stop. But why don't we hear anything about them publishing novels? Why is there no part of this story where she talks about actually trying to get a job writing for General Hospital?

Is there something about this condition that prevents people from being able to turn it into art? If she said, "Writing stories didn't help, I couldn't keep up with the endless chatter in my head," I could understand that. But there's no mention of her or any of these other people engaging in creative pursuits. She even singles out the woman who runs a website about the condition as one of the rare people who has found a productive way to use her obsession!

Like Shakespeare said, artists are crazy. They may not be as crazy as the man who sleeps in the gutter and thinks the birds are sending him coded messages from God, but artists and crazy people are on the same continuum. Tolkien spent his days filling notebooks with tales from an imaginary world, inventing entire cultures and languages. That's what crazy people do. If you can put your craziness to use in the world, if you can entertain people with your craziness, congratulations: you are an artist.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:14 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh. I also do this, have since I was very small, and I have ADHD, and I sometimes rock a little bit when I'm really concentrating on something deeply engaging, and right now I'm a junior project manager.

So. That's weird.
posted by palomar at 3:25 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reading this article, I kept wondering, why aren't they writing these stories down? Why aren't they writing novels or scripts, or drawing comics, or doing something to bring these stories out of their heads and put them to use in the real world?

My favorite part of the creative process is when whatever I'm doing comes out of my head. But if I hated the resulting changes -- they always happen -- I could see skipping that stage altogether.
posted by gnomeloaf at 3:29 PM on November 5, 2015


I do this. Does it mean I should become a project manager? Because I'd rather not.
posted by emelenjr at 3:42 PM on November 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


emelenjr: I think you're OK. Agatha Christie did this too, and she never became a project manager.
posted by pie ninja at 3:53 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can imagine very few things that I would be worse at than being a project manager. I mean, calligrapher, maybe. Basketball player? But I would be pretty much the worst project manager in the world. It's all I can do to remember to eat and brush my teeth.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:56 PM on November 5, 2015


What do people think about in idle moments if not playing with their mind dolls? Sports scores? Blipverts? Cat memes? Hairstyle aspirations?

I've always figured everyone does this, but that some people articulate more of what they find in there than others do. Maybe for some it flows along largely subconsciously?

To add to the anecdata, I usually have a few original productions going on mentally, interspersed when stuff gets stale with my own take on existing properties I'm fond of. Sometimes I revisit tried and true oldies from years back, particularly if I'm tense. If I'm really stressed I might dip in and out of the imaginary elsewhere several times during a live conversation, especially if the person I'm talking with speaks with a low information density payload.

I am not a character in such productions. It is preferred but not required for me to pace in circles. I am also a lucid dreamer.

Elsewhere can be meditative but I can also use it to rile myself up, when required or desired, by catching myself up in the action such that I cackle or cry or start sweating profusely. That can be a nice release.

Also there's a "blue movies" channel but we won't talk about that. Surprised it never came up in the article, though.
posted by Construction Concern at 4:03 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Reading this article, I kept wondering, why aren't they writing these stories down? Why aren't they writing novels or scripts, or drawing comics, or doing something to bring these stories out of their heads and put them to use in the real world?

Speaking for myself, none my fantasies would translate well into any story-telling medium. There's no narrative structure to my fantasies and I'm sure they'd be incredibly boring to anyone but me. I tend to fantasize primarily when under stress and the resulting fantasies are often related to the stressor, a way to obliquely explore or work out the issues - so like cheap, imaginary therapy. I'm sure I could channel them into something creative if I had the drive to, but ever since I entered science, any creativity I have has been funneled into making pretty graphs and PowerPoints.
posted by zenzicube at 4:32 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there something about this condition that prevents people from being able to turn it into art?

None of my daydreaming will ever be productive, per se, but it's necessary for me to be productive. I write and edit for a living, and for fun, and I am far, far more likely to meet my deadlines if I can keep a separate document open and just dump in random text fragments and daydream vignettes. The daydreaming-before-deadline is a way of centering my brain. Doing that ritual helps me move on to work my brain has labeled as "productive."

Sometimes the ideas I'm daydreaming on do make it into story pitches or paragraphs. I figure a lot of creative work requires flow state and daydreaming is basically cross-training my brain for flow.
posted by sobell at 4:44 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do this, too. Those of you who don't, what do you do instead?
posted by acrasis at 7:09 PM on November 5, 2015


This is fascinating as a counterpoint to another comment thread from people who don't have any internal monologue at all.

I don't have any narrative imagination like this. I could probably write a story if I tried, but it would be an entirely conscious project, trying to think what people might say or do in a situation.

What I do have is:
  • Short, repetitive snippets of music, and
  • Verbal editing and re-editing of possible solutions to problems or answers to questions or things I could have said
It's all very audio-oriented. No visuals, no characters, no plot.
posted by enf at 7:24 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there something about this condition that prevents people from being able to turn it into art?

I have talents/have worked in more than one creative area. But I've sometimes felt that very head-in-the clouds, daydreaming personality is at odds with the kind of practical, organized drive that takes people to even higher levels of success.
posted by NorthernLite at 7:36 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not a project manager.

I'm an assistant production manager.

What? I said I had mild OCD tendencies.
posted by Windigo at 9:15 PM on November 5, 2015


Is there something about this condition that prevents people from being able to turn it into art?

I was an illustration major, so no, it didn't prevent me from being creative.

But my daydreams are often detailed scenes in a larger shifting work. It doesn't need to be honed into a story and shared, to be 'productive.' It brings me pleasure to wile away my down-time moments with these fantasy stories, thus making my inner life richer. I am sure I also work through issues I face in my real life through these daydreams, as I can insert my characters into the situation I am working over and I can more easily see it from an objective standpoint. So since my dream life has never affected my real life, and has only enhanced it, I feel it's valid as it stands.
posted by Windigo at 9:20 PM on November 5, 2015


I wonder whether this is related to the kind of "thinker" you are, and that most of these people are very visual thinkers. For me, my thoughts are very much an internal monologue, necessarily involving words... I find it difficult to visualize anything without first mentally describing what I want to visualize in words first. So I can't really have a daydream like a TV show unless it's a TV show with an incessant narrator.

I do tend to let my wind wander a lot though, and it's always some kind of a conversation with myself in my head. I'll make up stories but they won't be as rich as the ones being mentioned here; my inner author isn't very good at being descriptive. It sounds pretty cool to be able to visualize stories so well though... I'm quite jealous! But yeah it's not so cool when it starts to affect your ability to live normally...
posted by destrius at 9:22 PM on November 5, 2015


I've done this my whole life to some extent, but especially when I was a young introverted teen. I would read and re-read books constantly, weaving my own personal character into the plotlines, chapter by chapter. This was long before I knew of fan fiction or that the term Mary Sue was a thing (that originated in Trek fandom), but I did happen to do it with pretty much all of the first fifty or so books in the classic Pocket Books series of Trek novels, which solidified my love for and feeling of connection to the original crew a few years before TNG ever came out.

Predictably, my character was quite badass and competent, so when she took over as head of security on the Enterprise, the red-shirt mortality rate went way down and the ship stopped getting taken over by intruders all the time. Although she also turned out to be a surgically altered half-Romulan agent, so there was that, but her sympathies towards the Federation and affection for the Enterprise crew were quite genuine. Being a Romulan and therefore long-lived, she was obviously still around in the TNG era and not terribly impressed by Yar or Worf (at least in his early years).

A not entirely different character also helped win the War of the Lance, was pivotal in saving the Moonshae Isles from Baal, and also hung out with Drizzt when she wasn't hopping around the Outer Planes or sailing through Spelljammer space...it's probably for the best I never wrote my versions of any of those stories out. She was quite the adventurer, though and she still secretly lives in my head.
posted by Pryde at 9:26 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


enf: "people who don't have any internal monologue at all."

I can't imagine how quiet their lives must be. That actually spooks me a little (with a small side helping of envy).

As others have said, this is me right up to where it's detrimental. I have spent and do spend uncountable hours entertaining myself in this fashion. I have used this for creating stories that I've written, or for seeing different ways a situation IRL might play out. After reading TFA, though, I'm relieved to know I've got an off switch I can use at will.

And poffin boffin, I'm glad I'm not the only one apologizing to telepaths.
posted by bryon at 10:15 PM on November 5, 2015


It doesn't need to be honed into a story and shared, to be 'productive.'

Well, to be clear, I wasn't saying there's anything intrinsically wrong with daydreaming that just stays in your head. I do plenty of that too. But for these people daydreaming appears to be a kind of disorder, and I was wondering why they can't vent some of that in creative pursuits instead of just suffering in lonesome silence. They want to be less creative, but to me it makes more sense to try and do something with your overflow of stories.

For those of you with Mary Sue-ified versions of TV shows or books playing constantly in your head, why not write some fan fiction? It doesn't have to be pro quality, and maybe you can entertain people and make some friends that way. Or why not put in the work to learn how to shape a narrative, and turn your imaginings into something that might actually be shareable with the world?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:38 AM on November 6, 2015


I don't think this discussion would be complete without me telling everyone to go and read Brautigan's "Dreaming of Babylon" ASAP.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:49 AM on November 6, 2015



For those of you with Mary Sue-ified versions of TV shows or books playing constantly in your head, why not write some fan fiction?

Oh gosh, let me hunt up my old Buffy the Vampire Slayer fic I wrote when I was a teenager........
posted by Windigo at 6:40 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the insights Jalliah and Windigo! The idea of revising and revisiting a thing with yourself inserted, but still being constrained by an internal "realism" is very relatable, but it sounds like your stories have much more of a life of their own compared to what would typically be a pretty deliberate daydream for me. (Something like a really involved esprit d'escalier fantasy.)

> Those of you who don't, what do you do instead?

I kinda do it occasionally, but like I say it's usually more prosaic, like acing a dream job interview. 50% of daydreaming time though I'm thinking about what I might make for dinner, imagining a product that would fix something that's just annoyed me, having a pretend argument with myself about some opinion, or trying to design a game I'd like to play. The other 50% is mostly "I sure am looking at that fire / water real good".
posted by lucidium at 6:57 AM on November 6, 2015


why aren't they writing these stories down? Why aren't they writing novels or scripts, or drawing comics, or doing something to bring these stories out of their heads and put them to use in the real world?

Easy: frequently it's Mary Sue-stuff that you can't do anything with or even admit to IRL, or it's something like the General Hospital fantasies (no, odds are you probably can't get a job writing for a soap opera or your other favorite show), or it's a great idea that you can't ever execute with the brain, body, and life you have in this lifetime.

My current daydream is turning my NaNo novel into a musical, but do I have any musical or theater skills or contacts? NO, so this will never ever happen and it's pointless. Especially when I probably won't even finish the plot of the thing after 50k (see below), and will realize that it sucks and is unfixable.

Or...frankly, if you have an actual fictional idea you think you could do something with, once you start writing it down it starts to completely suck and the fantasy and idea are ruined forever. Actually having the brains, skills, talent and drive to create a fictional world that works for others isn't as easy as you'd think from making up shit in your head.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


why aren't they writing these stories down?

For me:

I've thought about it, and I've tried. I can't do it as a written story, though, because (a) my imagining these things is more visual than actual words, and (b) when I do write, I feel like I have to write in first person, and when I write in first person, I have to write EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT THAT IS GOING THROUGH THE PERSON'S HEAD AT THE TIME.

So I thought about doing it as a screenplay, and then I realized my storylines aren't really...coherent? Basically I do big "scenes", and then sort of gloss over the filler scenes, and you can't do that in movies.

Plus what jenfullmoon said - I don't know anyone in the movies!

In the Stephen King novel Tommyknockers, one of the pieces of alien technology that is developed is a psychic typewriter. I would KILL for one of those, but my results would probably still suck.
posted by Lucinda at 8:22 AM on November 6, 2015


My internal stories and thoughts in general are in the form of a kind of mental shorthand most of the time, that's a blend of images, concepts, feelings and occasional words (think sentence fragments rather than whole sentences). It's seemingly pretty fast and efficient, and very self-referential.

I don't have a running internal monologue in standard language most of the time, but the idea of one isn't completely strange to me and with effort a little effort I can start one for laying out more complex thoughts that I need to communicate in the real world. Basically it becomes an imagined one-sided conversation with someone (usually a specific someone) in my head where I slowly unpack my shorthand into something that will actually be coherent to another person.

Getting thoughts out of my head and into the world is almost like a process of translation and is probably why I prefer written communication to verbal (it's harder to do in real-time). I'd love a psychic typewriter that handled this too!
posted by Pryde at 9:45 AM on November 6, 2015


The upside to this is being able to drive for hours without a radio or sit in a waiting room indefinitely without a book, phone, or magazine.

And you can have my fantasy husbands Cullen Rutherford, Alistair Theirin, Phil Coulson, John Watson, Rupert Giles, Fox Mulder, and Leonard McCoy when you pry them from my cold, dead brains.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2015


When you pick up a storyline, are you "stuck" with the events that occurred previously, just like a tv show? Is there suspense, or are there outcomes you don't like sometimes?

For me it's more like a videogame where you can have different save files in which you've made different choices and thus subsequent events play out differently.

I'm usually juggling about half-a-dozen timelines during any given week, with dozens more that I've dropped but might get back to someday if something reminds me of one of them or I just get bored with the current ones.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


For those of you with Mary Sue-ified versions of TV shows or books playing constantly in your head, why not write some fan fiction?

Because AO3 is already cluttered with too many terrible self-insert wish-fulfillment fics. I don't need to add my own dreck to the pile.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:47 AM on November 6, 2015


Well, of the people answering here, daydreaming may be a fairly constant thing for you but I'm not getting the feeling that it's ruining your life the way it's apparently ruining the lives of these people. (Pardon me if I'm wrong.) I can see giving up on doing something with your stories if you feel you have that option, but if the stories will not stop, as they won't for those people, it would seem like they would have a much stronger motivation to make it work somehow.

I don't know if anybody here can answer the main question I was asking, which is, since the people in this article are apparently beset by these daydreams to the point of misery, why is there no mention of them trying to vent that stuff in creative pursuits? I'm not saying, "Well, why isn't she writing for General Hospital?" But I am wondering why there's no mention of her even trying to write for a soap, or publishing fanfic about soap characters, or doing something with all those stories that isn't just trying to suppress them?

I do daydream plenty, but I guess it must not be as constant or vivid for me as it is for some of you. Long drives without the radio are pretty torturous for me, for instance. If I'm deep in the midst of cracking a story I can use that time to daydream, but otherwise my mind will drift to real life worries and being angry at myself for being too broke to fix my freaking radio.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:38 PM on November 6, 2015


This is a great dissociative behavioral hack for abused/neglected kids that need to get through school/church/extracurricular activities.

I would be hesitant to have a functional coping behavior listed in the DSM as some kind of mental illness or disorder, but I am glad they're studying the neuroscience of how and why this behavior occurs.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:04 PM on November 6, 2015


I apologize if any of my posts here seem insensitive. I don't quite understand it, but I'm not trying to dismiss the suffering of these folks.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:09 PM on November 6, 2015


"...I'm not getting the feeling that it's ruining your life the way it's apparently ruining the lives of these people."

Oh, it's definitely ruining my life. When you can lie in bed all day and all night for weeks and never get bored there's not a lot of motivation to get up or do anything. It's very difficult for me to complete a task or even read a long piece of writing without spacing out. So I can very much identify with the people in the article who said they feel like they're living two lives and that their fantasy life has crowded out their real life to the point where they only interact with reality when they're forced to.

I also worry that the decreasing amount of attention I pay to reality in favor of my daydreams is hindering my ability to tell the difference between reality and my nightdreams. More and more often, I find myself thinking about something I remember and then with a sudden jolt realize that the memory can't be real and thus must just be something I dreamed once. For example, I have a vivid memory of finding an abandoned casino on one of the backroads of my town of ~1500 people in rural Virginia. Of course that never happened because no such place could possibly exist here but the only way I know that memory is false is because logically it cannot be true -- which leads me to wonder, how many things might I be "remembering" that aren't as obviously false?

"...since the people in this article are apparently beset by these daydreams to the point of misery, why is there no mention of them trying to vent that stuff in creative pursuits?"

Even if you ignore the copyright issues (since many of us daydream about inserting ourselves into other people's worlds to interact with other people's characters), we know that our daydreams are such cringingly stupid Mary Sueish fantasies that no one would want to read them even if we weren't too embarrassed to share them.

I know enough about what makes fiction work to know that my daydreams are missing several important elements. The crap I think about all day couldn't even fly as fanfic, much less be worked into something original that I could publish.

"Long drives without the radio are pretty torturous for me ... being too broke to fix my freaking radio."

That's the thing. My radio works fine. I just have no incentive to even turn it on because what's going on in my head is infinitely more interesting. Music or NPR is just an annoying distraction.

I feel that way about pretty much every form of interaction with the external world these days -- the only reason I've been feeling sociable enough to reactivate my MetaFilter account and comment on posts again is because my friend broke her back in a car accident and thus I'm over at her place five days a week to take care of her. That enforced prolonged daily contact with other human beings has dragged me back into the real world enough to rekindle my interest in interacting with people online as well, but prior to this I'd completely stopped socializing (including quitting all social media) with anyone except my husband and could have continued that way indefinitely if my friend hadn't gotten hurt. And even that I had to hear about thirdhand over a week after it happened because I hadn't seen her in six months. Once she's recovered enough to be home alone again I'll probably just go right back to being a hermit.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:52 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know if anybody here can answer the main question I was asking, which is, since the people in this article are apparently beset by these daydreams to the point of misery, why is there no mention of them trying to vent that stuff in creative pursuits? --Ursula Hitler

The storylines in my head are long and complex and sometimes connect to each other. I have gone past the Mary Sue stage for the most part years ago and I am often an undistinguished character in them. They are science fiction, spy/adventure/travel/love stories. I don't 'write' them in my head, they just sort of happen, though I can often point them in general directions or shut them off if they get boring (which is how I got out of the Mary Sue stage). As I said I can fortunately shut them off (though I've had a few sleepless nights when a story gets especially exciting--this sounds strange when I read what I just wrote, but I guess it is like a really good book you can't put down).

Since the stories are somewhat complete, you'd think they'd be prime for writing down or converting to some sort of creative outlet. But I just can't. I've tried to write one of them down once and came up with a complete blank. Nothing. Not a single word. Maybe it is just a different part of my brain. Maybe I should just try practicing writing in general, taking a class or something, and maybe try sobell's idea and just write down random fragments in a journal.
posted by eye of newt at 8:12 PM on November 6, 2015


For everyone worried that their writing isn't good enough for general public consumption I recall your attention to the fact that not only does the entire Twilight franchise exist, but also the shitty names changed via find and replace Twilight fanfic, the execrable 50 shades.

Whether or not you want to devote time and energy to the incredible stress and frustration extravaganza that writing can be is up to you, obviously. But your writing? It's probably pretty good.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:07 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


poffin boffin: I think that comment deserves to win some kind of award or be posted on the front page of MeFi or something. Because for most of this month I have been smacking myself for not being able to write a plot (yes, I have been told this and pretty recently too) and it is driving me nuts that I somehow write stories that aren't even half baked, don't have tension or desires or problems that need solving, all the requirements of an interesting story, etc. I feel like there's a goddamned mountain of problems with my writing a novella-ish story that I can't even start to figure out how to fix.

BUT HEY, AT LEAST IT AIN'T TWILIGHT.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that Twilight and 50 Shades are hits ONLY because of their emotional and/or physical porniness, and I'm not writing any of that, so....?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:57 PM on November 10, 2015


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