Mention fantasizing to 10 people, and only a handful will admit they indluge in it. Few in our achievement-oriented culture like to acknowledge in themselves the Huck Finn caught "daydreaming again."

It's an easy bet that most people also will think you're talking about sex. While important in telling you something about yourself, it is the subject of only one of many fantasies to be drawn on in a creative inner world.

Your fantasies may not be conscious, or you may want to keep them secret. Yet if you pay attention to your inner self, your could realize it's your greatest resource.

To explore the relationship of fantasizing to creativity, four professionals in psychology and five highly creative people -- a musician, dancer, children's book author, painter and research scientist -- were asked to talk aobut their fantasy lives."

"Most people fantasize," says Dr. Stewart Aledort, a psychiatrist in private practice in the District. "It's part of the food we live on."

It may be labeled daydreaming of a negative process best ignored. And "not everyone," says Aledort, "wants to come out of the closet about fantasizing."

"When people realize that other well-adjusted, intelligent persons fantasize and are enjoying it, they will stop being ashamed of daydreaming," maintains Marketa Ebert, a George Washington University doctoral candidate in psychology.

"One of the reasons we hear little about the fantasies of creative artists and scientists is that, in general, society disapproves of stretching the mind beyond reality."

Even for those who call themselves "non-creative," fantasies may act as a refresher between periods of work. Daydreams are often a clue that you've had enough work for a while, or perhaps that your work is boring.

Dr. Donald I. Davis, a psychiatrist and director of the Family Therapy Institute of Alexandria, compares fantasizing to going to the movies, except that the movies are on the inside.

"Of all thinking behaviors," says Davis, "fantasizing comes cloest to the subconscous." Fantasies may focus on internal conflicts, but more often, "They may just be a way of satisfying curiosity" about the unknown.

During periods of anxiety when a person has no control over the outcome, fantasizing, says Ebert, may provide a pleasant interlude. "It's certainly better for your health than worrying."

Ebert draws the line, however, when a person fantasizes about something unpleasant that may never happen.

She urges her clients to use fantasy to build self-confidence. If you imagine you are someone who speaks well, you will, she says. Imagine that you'll shake and stutter and you'll do that.

Integrating fantasy and reality, says D.C.-Baltimore clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Hunt, is useful in making future decisions. He advises people, for example, planning careers to imagine where they would like to be in five years. They can then assess their skills and plan steps to reach that goal.

One of the hallmarks of creative people is the ability to slip back and forth between fantasy and reality. Albert Einstein is a good example. Aware of his limiting genius, he kept one foot firmly grounded in reality when he reached beyond current knowledge to find answers.

Fantasy can hinder creativity if the dreams are too unrealistic, says Jim Morris, director of performing arts at the Smithsonian Institution.

Morris sees many of his dreams come true on stage, but one special fantasy -- presenting "Gotterdammerung" -- remains in his fantasy life. The obstacles are clear: "Stage not big enough, not enough money, not enough rehearsal time, orchestra not large enough."

Balancing fantasy with the discipline of experience -- knowing what is practical -- is the secret, says Morris, to transforming a version into reality. He finds "an enormous store of creative energy when boxed into a limited situation."

Morris connects his fantasy life with achievement, rather than escape. "Dreaming for the pleasure of it seems strange to me. I dream active daydreams -- physical and emotional highs in the world of music."

Sometimes he relives perfect moments during his operatic career in Europe or with the New York City Opera. Or he dreams of duplicating a climactic moment of a recent performance, when a singer held a certain note magnificently, then timed the pause perfectly to two heart beats.

Sometimes my ideas do go away," says Morris, "but they come back to haunt me until I take care of them. I have learned to listen carefully."

Dr. March E. Lippman, head of the Medical Breast Cancer Section of the National Cancer Institute, says he has always lived parttime in an imaginary world. His big (day) dream is to unravel the mysteries of breast cancer. He is now searching for a way to stop the growth of tumors.

When experiments that should work do not, Lippman takes the experiment apart and creates an idea he can test.

If answers don't come, "I turn my thoughts upside down and let my mind drift . . . Hard work alone is only applied science."

Lippman finds unhassled time and space during his daily 10-mile run. "Essential," he says, "to thinking right." He stretches his mind "as far ahead of me as I can, to see where it will take me."

Lippman feels that he must pay attention to images that well up repeatedly.

Children's book author Barbara Wallace finds daydreaming a good way to get over an impasse. "I let the problem sit in the subconscious until it pops out. I am not thinking about it -- or I think I'm not. But it's obviously been working inside of me."

To cultivate the ability to fantasize, Wallace suggests a less-programmed life. Time alone, she maintains, fosters creativity.

Maida Withers, associate professor of dance at GWU, believes in thinking aloud to someone else to draw unconscious perceptions to conscious level.

The Smithsonian's Morris agrees: "Let words work for you. You don't know what you mean until you say it. To quantify a thought or an emotion, verbalize."

One of Withers' daydreams of pale green floating light evolved into a dance in which laser beams around the dancers' ankles created magical flurries of light.

Psychiatrist Aledort believes that the best adjusted and most creative persons are always in touch with the child in him or her -- the playful little boy or little girl.

Says acrylic painter John Kofler, 70, who has been painting for 50 years: "I hope I never grow up." In a fresh, child-like way, Kofler constantly observes the world around him.

"You are always the artist," he says. "Be sensitive to all experience and pay attention to what's happening to your body. A child will do this, but it gets conditioned out of him (or her) by adults."

One Kofler painting is the result of his observing a modern dance performance.

"Something stirred in me. When I went away, I put what was left in me on canvas -- movement and color in abstract swirls. I used my color, my movement, my figures -- not theirs."

When you take fragments of ideas and recreate, says Kofler, "they then belong to you."

Jerome Singer in "The Inner World of Daydreams" writes that sexual fantasies may mean that we crave more affection in our lives. Or sensual dreams may simply make us aware of a strong attraction or a need for variety.

Morris believes that sexual fantasies may be related to our absorption with many different stimuli.

"If you work with music, the theater or dance, you are continuously being stimulated or seeking to stimulate others. You really love it when the audience in a roar of applause comes to its feet. You like it when you feel yourself standing up to applaud. Those stimuli are not substantially divorced from the sexual, I think."

So far as some people's fear of fantasies, Davis says, "Delusion sounds a lot like normal fantasy and that scares people. In fact, there is very little, if anything, in psychotic behavior that nonpsychotic people are not capable of, to some degree."

In case you need to be reminded, you''re in trouble (suffering something like paranoid delusion) if you fantasy life has become "the real thing."

And, says artist Kofler, "You can't just fantasize and then expect to paint or write. But you will develop skills if you have something to say."