I am going to abandon any pretense to scholarship in this particular commentary. Scholarship would defeat the purpose, which is creativity, not that the two never go together, but there are times when we need to rely on intuition first, and figure out the rationale later. That happens a lot with writing, and it explains why some of the world’s best writers and artists are naturals who also happen to be willing to work very hard at their craft. But they know when to let their minds wander.
I read somewhere—this is where the scholarship is abandoned, because I have read this several times and never bothered to note where—that the human mind can actually be more productive and creative when daydreaming than when concentrating on a problem. It seems we need to give our minds a rest from time to time, not because our minds actually rest, but because when freed of a narrow focus on the grindstone, the mind works harder than ever in what appears to be a state of daydreaming. Our synapses work best when they are allowed an opportunity to fire randomly and find associations between ideas we normally would never have connected. Einstein did this a lot, we are told, and so we all learned from him the theory of relativity.
I am currently in the process of revising a major report. I am also trying to hatch an outline for a future book. I am going through the same struggle that usually occurs—a period of uncertainty about how I am going to tackle the assignment, make sense of reams of information, impart a sense of purpose to the manuscript, make the first chapter leap off the page, and so on—knowing all the while that somehow, at some point when I think my brain has ceased to generate any new or usable ideas, I will be standing in the shower or walking down the street, and it will all become clear to me, and I will want to run for the nearest phone booth to don my literary Superman costume and soar into the atmosphere, sure of my solution to a problem that has dogged me for weeks. It is a leap of faith from mental fatigue and a fear of declining creativity to sudden euphoria. It usually happens when I stop worrying about exactly when I will find my solution and let my brain take over at a pace that suits all those neurons that have been waiting to fire without being prodded mercilessly by their anxious owner.
Of course, we all have deadlines. I impose them on writers delivering manuscripts to me for publication, I live with my own deadlines and those imposed by others, and often they serve to spur us to stay focused, so it is also a leap of faith to say I will not worry about a deadline long enough to let my subconscious, creative mind take that leap and to count on it to produce an idea that may have been eluding me for weeks or months. Sometimes it actually works to decide once and for all that you don’t give a damn. Your subconscious mind knows otherwise, and if you have been diligent enough until you decide to cut loose, that subconscious mind goes to work when you least expect it.
If, to the modern, supposedly scientific mind, this all sounds like nonsense, so be it. The world is full of paradoxes, and human creativity is a strange thing. So let your mind wander. If it has focused long enough on a problem, it will probably do something remarkable in your sleep. Even in your dreams.