by Cat Rambo

Sometimes we write through sheer force of will, sitting down at desk, or kitchen table, or coffee shop booth in order to scrape the words out of our brains and meet our daily word count. That generation may be painful or pleasurable, depending on how the words are flowing.

There are times, though, when we must refrain from writing in order to do the things that fuel the words, that let us experience that flow.

Activities from which new words spring, silent spaces, where we let the words simmer a while long before we dare taste that brew, let alone make ink to write with.

Which is to say – sometimes you need to spend time not writing in order to let the words jostle around inside you and spill out in new ways.

Go and do something unexpected but that gives you joy

Or maybe try something that you’ve always wanted to try but have never allowed yourself the time or space to test. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe not – that’s not the point. The point is to do something new.

Make your mind muscles stretch in a way they have not before.

Museums are good spaces for these things. Go and look at a picture you love until you notice something you have never seen in it before. Or some liminal space like a bus station or airport lobby, listening to the conversations around you, putting them together in dialogue with each other.

They say you have to have written a million words in order to be any good

I don’t agree with that, because I know that talent plays a part, and so does mindful – rather than random – exercise. But perhaps you need to have daydreamed away at least that many, spent them as children in other people’s creations at first perhaps, before you branch out to building castles and fairy keeps of your own.

Daydreaming lets us spread some puzzle pieces out on the creative table and nudge them around, looking to discover what patterns emerge when one introduces a little randomness and makes things collide that have never touched edges before.

At night, when sliding into sleep, I sometimes wander through the worlds in which I write, thinking about the streets, the stores, the shores and superhighways. Sometimes I come out of those dreamquests with my pockets stuffed with storybits; other times my hands are empty and all I remember is splendor, and not a scrap of detail. Both trips are equally valid, equally part of a creative life.

Know this. The moments that you stare off into space, you may well be working as hard as when the words are spilling out, fever quick and just as hot.

Daydreams are not optional; they’re mandatory, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Short story writer and novelist Cat Rambo’s most recent book is fantasy novel Hearts of Tabat from Wordfire Press. President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, she is the founder of the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, connecting new writers with advice and mentorship from the best in the field of fantasy and science fiction. Find out more about her books, classes, and fiction on her website and in her blog.