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Occupational Hazards of Being a Fantasy Writer

During the month of June I drove right past my street at least four times on my way home from the grocery store. My eight-year-old daughter, who is no stranger to this phenomenon, would say something like, “Mom! You passed our street again! Did you leave the planet?” While that sounds like a snarky, rhetorical question, the answer actually is yes: I did leave the planet. In fact, I leave the planet several times a day, and she’s just lucky I missed our street only four or five times last month.

I’ve just learned that there is actually a personality disorder that accounts for my behavior: Maladaptive Daydreaming. According to daydreamingdisorders.webs.com, the term was recently coined by Dr. Eli Somer, Ph.D. I’ve borrowed a quote from the website to dispel fears that I’m highly delusional:

“It’s important to note at this point that people with this problem are not psychotic; we DO NOT confuse fantasy and reality. We are quite aware (sometimes painfully aware) of the difference between the two. We know what is real and what is not. This illness is instead like a cross between a compulsive habit and a severe addiction.”

I actually have a fairly minor case of Maladaptive Daydreaming as it turns out. Many people are incapable of holding down a job or maintaining a relationship as they dream the majority of their lives away. (I am lucky that my part-time job does not demand intense focus; I have become quite adept at transcribing recorded conversations with amazing accuracy while thinking about something else.) However, I am prone to slipping into a daydream as soon as I get in the car or start listening to music. And, I’m sorry to say, if a conversation starts to lag, I’m afraid my eyes may glaze over as my responses become monosyllabic. Yes, I’ve left the planet again.

Before I became a writer, daydreaming was just that. I spent a large portion of my childhood imagining fantasy worlds and characters. When at liberty, I would act them out, but at school or in the company of adults I was regulated to keeping it all inside. But now I’ve found an outlet for all of that dreaming, and I’m actually making money (slowly) doing it!

The problem is, it’s hard to control. I can’t, for example, set aside an hour or two for scheduled daydreaming. It spills over into every aspect of my life, and is now my number-one occupational hazard of being a fantasy writer. My husband has to repeat things (and gets really annoyed with me), I miss turnoffs, I neglect housekeeping and prefer staying in to socializing, all because my brain will sneak in mental writing every chance it gets. Until I discovered Benadryl, bedtime was the worst. I’d stay up half the night writing in my head, oftentimes getting up at 3:00 a.m. to nail down a scene.

There are other occupational hazards that aren’t quite so consuming, but are equally irritating to my friends and family. When I’m on a good writing jag, I have an internal narrator that insists on narrating everything I observe and do in literary prose. Nothing, much to my husband’s chagrin, is sacred, even sex. While I don’t actually write any of it out for anyone to read, when he remembers that I have the tendency to do it, it makes him self-conscious. I have also betrayed secrets and exploited bizarre personality quirks of friends and family in my novels. Best not to tell me, for example, that your mother-in-law is bulimic and vomits loudly every night after dinner while everyone pretends nothing happened. (That’s in one of my WIPs). Oh, I also have a highly visual imagination and have absolutely no control over the fact that I must visualize everything. So again, unless you want me to imagine your latest sexual exploit, better keep mum.

While I’m on the subject, I might as well apologize for those times I preferred imagining movie trailers for my novel adaptation instead of talking to you because you happened to put a movie score in the car’s CD player. I’m sorry I made an intense study of your mouth while you were eating as I searched for the perfect metaphor to describe the way you chew sideways. I’m sorry our latest sexual encounter turned into a pirate kidnapping in a bad Harlequin, and I’m sorry I left the bag of food at the Burger King drive-through window. Again. I’m sorry your mother’s gigantic mole was featured in my latest novel, and that I couldn’t help our daughter with her homework on Sunday nights because Game of Thrones was on. I’m sorry that all of my emails contain a pedantic showcase of my extensive vocabulary while yours are ripped to shreds by my inner proofreader. I’m sorry the house if full of dragons and fairies, that your family thinks I’m weird, and that sometimes I awaken in the middle of the night convinced I have magical powers.

The thing of it is, I just can’t help it. It comes with the territory.

Title image by anndr.

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13 Comments

  1. Avatar ChrisMB87 says:

    I’m surprised by how poignant and open you are about this, but I can totally relate to some of these things. I’ve never been diagnosed with anything like that, but I spend way too much time daydreaming and not enough doing. It gets especially bad if there’s a lull period at work and the coworkers I’m with are ones that I don’t talk to, but I don’t think I have what could be called a condition. I just figured my imagination’s overactive.

    At least you now have an understanding of it. I just hope your family is accepting of it and, chagrin aside, is patient with you.

  2. OMG!!!!! Someone finally said it and put a name to IT. I thought I was losing my mind. There’s an actual name for it. Thank you.

  3. Avatar Dan the Funky Scarecrow says:

    I empathise 100% with your situation. I deliberately chose a path in life in which every job I’ve ever had is menial and requires minimal concentration, the better to allow my imagination to roam free. My wife, paragon of awesomeness that she is, has learned to live with my air of permanent distraction and frequent slides into ‘Yes dear’ not-paying-full-attention-to-the-here-and-now.

    The spouse/partner/significant other of a writer, even an aspiring one such as yours truly, has to live with a person who’s often far less than half there and the fact that there are people in this world willing to put up with us is something we should all give thanks for every day. Especially to the person incredible enough to put up with our frequent vanishings into worlds of our devising.

    Those who love and live with writers the world over…

    YOU ROCK!

  4. Avatar Kati says:

    “My eight-year-old daughter, who is no stranger to this phenomenon, would say something like, “Mom! You passed our street again! Did you leave the planet?””

    This reminded me so terribly of how my boyfriend will get after me when he realizes I’ve been feigning my conversations again. The poor man is so patient with me.

    I remember working at a factory making wooden windows back in high school and scribbling notes on extra material. It was especially funny because I wasn’t allowed to take materials home without a note from my manager. It was interesting trying to explain why I needed a 2 inch by 5 inch piece of oak.

    I keep a notebook with me now of course.

    Thanks for this article, it’s nice to know there are fellow “space cadets” out there very much “in their own little world”

  5. Avatar Warren says:

    Sorry? I tried to read this but I was thinking a generation ship lost in space….hmmm.

  6. […] blogs simply to remind me that I am not alone in my quirky-writer traits. A perfect example is this post, which discusses the occupational hazard of Maladaptive Daydreaming. Before I became a writer, […]

  7. Haha! So it has a name. I feel slightly less crazy now that I know it has a name. I’ve always been a ridiculous daydreamer and I sometimes worried that I should have grown out of it by now. Not that I mind, it definitely helps with my writing. Thanks.

  8. We should all start our own support group! ; )

  9. Avatar Bets Davies says:

    Maladaptive Daydreaming is not in the DSM-IV, just so you know. To be bitchy about it.

    Other than that, I’m not exactly sure why you are apologizing, especially to us. I zone fast. I don’t even need to be doing a thoughtless task. I can be controlling and helping 31 students and my mind will still go off on its own. When people ask about the state of my house (or make fun of it), I explain that I don’t clean when I am working on a writing project. So when is that? Feb. 29.

  10. Avatar Holly Dae says:

    Oh wow! I’m not the only one. I do the exact same thing although not to the degree you do. I can control it more. But I can’t listen to music, rather not socialize, and you best believe situation I observe throughout the day will end up in my novel.

    Is this just a writer thing or something? I was honestly beginning to think something was wrong with me. I have the exact same problem trying to focus because my mind is always on writing something.

  11. Avatar amy says:

    Yes I have this, I am a writer too I think its comes with the job, we need to have over active imaginations. I would say I day dream 60% of the time I am awake, it’s getting worse now I have more time in the day (I used to have a full time job, I’ve been freelance for the past 8 months).

    I slept in until 1pm today, I was day dreaming and was too engulfed in my story. But I don’t have it too bad, I still have a job, pay the bills and get stuff done. I’m very introverted too, now that I can I am spending more and more time alone – and enjoying it too. If I told anyone this they would think it to be very unhealthy. If the world was incredible exciting maybe I wouldn’t live so much in my head. But the real world can sometimes and often be dull and when it is I’ll retreat to my imagination and have some fun.

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