How Fantasy is Killing Your Imagination and Robbing Your Productivity

Donald Miller

I’m getting into some debatable vocabulary here, but I want to point out a stark difference between imagination and fantasy. I’m hoping a simple dileniation might help those of you with active imaginations.

I’m capable of living almost exclusively in my mind. I can walk and daydream for hours. But some of these daydreams haven’t proved helpful. And the ones that aren’t helpful are daydreams about my own glory.

C.S. Lewis delineated between the two in his book “Surprised by Joy.” In the book, he talks about his early days imagining “Animal Land” which was a world he made up with his older brother. The time he spent imagining Animal Land, he noted, was great practice for becoming a writer. But fantasies about his own glory, he noted, (he would often spend time fantasizing about being a good dancer) was only practice for becoming a fool.


*Photo by Rhys Asplundh, Creative Commons

If I’m daydreaming about where a chapter might go, or an idea for a future book, it’s a good thing to let my mind run wild. But If I’m daydreaming about winning a Pulitzer prize, well, that’s of no use to anybody.

Writers who achieve literary glory are often professionals who have fallen in love with the writing process rather than their own words. And I think the same is true of any other professional pursuit.

When you think about the more than one-hundred books produced by G.K Chesterton, or the dozens produced by C.S. Lewis, both insanely imaginative writers, the only explanation for the volume of their production is a delightful commitment to their craft. I doubt either were given to distracting fantasies about their own greatness.

But how do we overcome the temptation of fantasies? The trick is to become more distracted by something healthy than we are by something unhealthy. In other words, when a writer falls in love with the process itself, he or she more easily lets go of the longing for self glory. Looking in a mirror and telling ourselves we won’t think about ourselves so much will never work. We are, as a matter of fact, looking at ourselves as we try the trick.

And in that truth there’s a gentle conundrum, to be great, we have to stop caring about being great. What we should care about is the work. And the more we care about the work, and the more we lose ourselves in the work, the greater our work will become and the more glory we will receive that, in turn, we honestly don’t care about. Ah, the rub.

And yet it’s an evolution of thought I hope to attain more and more as the years pass through me.

-Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.