In “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming”, Freud explains the sources of inspiration and imagination that creative writers use in writing their works like psychological novels. He explains and compares the concepts of childhood games and the adult fantasy world (daydreaming), which are result from a desire to fulfill a wish which remains unfulfilled because they are never physically performed or achieved. The fantasy that arises through this unfulfilled wish has three time periods: past, present and future. Freud relates a kid playing in his own imaginary world to a creative writer creating his fictional world. He describes this fantasy along the process of substitution, in which the game becomes a daydream, which is at the same time parallel to the process of becoming an adult. Furthermore, the creative writer has the ability to pull out from the reader those feelings and tensions that would stay in him otherwise by writing and sharing his own fantasies so that the reader realizes he is not the only one who has them. He is able to liberate his deep fantasies and wishes through this art form of writing without provoking repulsion in the reader. How does a creative writer do this? What is the source of his power and his imagination? The answer is his childhood's imaginary games.
First, Freud proceeds to compare a child to a creative writer. “Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or, rather, re-arranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him?” (Freud, 143-144.) Kids spend a lot of time and emotions in these games; so do creative writers in creating their fictional written worlds. “It would be wrong to think he does not take that world seriously” (Freud, 144.) Both writer and child use their imagination to invent characters, plots, and settings. Children take these games so seriously that they even forget about the real world that surrounds them. Freud states that kids are able to differentiate fiction from reality. Writers, on the other hand, do have this ability (Freud, 144.)
The reason one creates an imaginary world is that some things can only be enjoyed if imagined in one's mind. “For many things which, if they were real, could give no enjoyment, can do so in the play of fantasy, and many excitements which, in themselves, are actually distressing, can become a source of pleasure for the hearers and spectators at the performance of a writer's work” (Freud, 144.) Kids like to play as if they were heroes that got hurt but yet survived; if they really got hurt and had to go through all the troubles they imagine, they would not enjoy it at all! Similarly, readers enjoy novels because they are a source of entertainment that liberates their mind letting them participate without being really involved. Therefore, a lot of times desires ought to remain just desires because if they were to become real they wouldn't live up to the idealized image that the person had of them (Freud, 144.)
Next, Freud brings up a clear paradox about the process kids go through to become adults. One would think that in gaining age, one would only gain qualities instead of losing them. Yet when the child grows older, he will stop playing. “As people grow up, then, they cease to play, and they seem to give up the yield of pleasure which they gained from playing” (Freud, 145.) He will be ashamed and embarrassed by these games which leave his fantasies so open to the rest of the society; therefore, he will develop a substitute way to enjoy them: daydreaming. Even though he loses the pleasure of play, he now finds a replacement for it because humans do not like giving up pleasures once they have experienced them. The adult, therefore, loses his innocence. The paradox here, however, is that the child will actually become an adult and therefore fulfill his wish of being a grown up like the grown up in his games, but he will realize that it is not as great as he imagined it to be. On the other hand, the adult will not always have his wish fulfilled and that is why he will be later ashamed of his own daydreaming (Freud, 145.)
As Freud states: “The adult, on the contrary, is ashamed of his phantasies and hides them from other people” (Freud, 145.) Fantasies are humans' most intimate possession; many people even believe themselves to be the only ones having them. They differ from children games in their motives. A child's play is determined by certain wishes; for example, children imagine they are adults, so they imitate what they have learned from them or what they think adults do. On the other hand, adults' fantasies might or might not be what an adult is supposed to do in real life, and that is why they are scared of their fantasies being considered childish or not permissible (like an erotic fantasy.) Here again, we see another paradox, and that's the one brought by the fact that adults want the pleasures of children without the childishness. Therefore, humans spend both, their childhood and adulthood, wishing they were in the other one, with the difference that adults are ashamed of accepting it (Freud, 145-146.)
A key component of fantasies is time. There are three time periods involved in a fantasy.
“A strong experience in the present awakens in the creative writer a memory of an earlier experience (usually belonging to his childhood) from which there now proceeds a wish which finds its fulfillment in the creative work. The work itself exhibits elements of the recent provoking occasion as well as of the old memory” (Freud, 151.)
First, mental work is linked to a present issue that arouses a major wish. Second, this is related to a past memory in which the wish was fulfilled. Third, the fantasy of a future fulfillment of this wish completes the daydreaming process. Therefore, past, present and future are united together to create a fantasy. Freud gives us the example of the poor orphan boy that is on his way to get a job. The present opportunity to get a job arouses in him the wish to recover in the future what he once had in the past. This also brings another paradox: while both child and adult are in their own presents, the child wishes to be in the future while the adult wishes he was still in the past. But both past and future are idealized, because even though the kid doesn't know what is yet to come, the adult has definitely gone through childhood already, but he seems to have forgotten that childhood is not perfect either. He doesn't “remember” when he used to dream of being an adult (Freud, 148, 151.)
Then Freud continues to focus on those writers that create their material instead of writing based on other writers' ideas. He centers on writings that have a hero as the main character. This hero is supposed to gain the reader's sympathy and is protected by a “special Providence” (Freud, 149.) In this type of novels the hero never dies no matter how many obstacles he encounters. However, he is a true hero with a feeling of security like a hero in real life that saves a drowning person. As Freud says in his text with a quote by Anzengruber: “Nothing can happen to me!” (Freud, 150.) This represents the greatness of the ego in one's fantasies. The same happens with the fact that the female characters always fall in love with this heroic figure. The rest of the characters are separated into two categories: good and bad. This classification depends upon whether the character helps or opposes the hero. There is also a great interest in the hero's inside, which is described and looked at with much detail. The reason for this is the intent of the writer to find in the hero's personality a diversity of qualities he might relate himself and others with. Therefore, the ego of the hero is divided into many “part-egos”. This mostly happens in psychological novels and it is the example of a creative writer expressing the fantasies talked about in the previous paragraphs (Freud, 149-150.)
Finally, Freud compares the creative writer to a child inventing his own fictional world, using his fantasies and daydreaming to liberate himself in a way that will entertain the reader. Through this process, he is able to fulfill wishes. His writing is not only a substitution of, but also a continuation, his childhood games. Kids grow up and replace their games with fantasies they become ashamed of. It is through creative writing that they will be set free.
Sigmund Freud. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming”. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. James Strachey. Vol 9. London: Hogarth, 1953-74. 24 vols.