Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dreams and your writing


Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have come up with the plot for Dr. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during a dream.

I may never hatch the Great American Novel in a dream, but I recently discovered the importance of dreaming to my creative process.

I’ve always been an on-the-nose dreamer. There are few hidden messages in my dreams. If, in my day job, I’m trying to solve a gnarly problem related to the worldwide web, I will dream of battling a giant spider web (get it?). If in real life I’m trying to stop eating sugar, I’ll dream about diving into a pint of Chunky Monkey. And so on.

My dreams, while challenging, invariably end on an upbeat note. I may spend the night outwitting shotgun-toting bad guys, but somehow, the dream always ends with my escape. I’m quite the REM-state John McClane, with the requisite nine lives.


But then came the day when I temporarily stopped dreaming, thanks to the Happy Blue Pills. And all of a sudden, it became much harder to get the creative juices flowing. The words came more slowly. I had no energy for writing.
At the time, I had no idea what was causing my writer’s block. I was getting plenty of sleep, right?

Then one night, I forgot to take the sleeping pill. That night, I dreamed for the first time in weeks. And for the first time in weeks, I woke up thinking about my story. And I began to write.

Phew! It seemed miraculous. That was the morning I poured all the little blue pills down the garbage disposal.

I did a little research, and found little hard data to back me up on this, but my theory now is that nocturnal dreaming is essential to the creative process.

So I’d like to know from other writers and creative types: do you dream at night? A lot? Do dreams help you solve story problems directly, ever? Do you dream in color (which used to be considered the hallmark of creative people)?

14 comments:

  1. I've an avid dreamer for as long as I can remember, both into bad student staring out the window sense and in the nocturnal eyes closed it happens all by itself sense.

    Without a doubt dreaming a source of creativity, or creativity is a source of dreaming, either way...it's without a doubt.

    I always dream in colour, usually full lifelike colour, sometimes in surreal colour, but always in colour.

    I have also felt pain, cold, hot, hunger, thirst, and desire in dreams. Whether they be nice dreams, pink floyd style weird dreams, or flat out nightmares, they usually seemed very real.

    Several vivid dreams I've had included being shot or hurt in some manner. I've always hoped they weren't literal. In some dreams I've been tempted to stray from fidelity but always ended up staying faithful to my wife...hopefully that's a good omen that'll never change.

    Sometimes dreamed turned prophetic. There was a period of time several years ago I kept dreaming of being at my wife's funeral, or being alone raising my sons. After a number of these, and they wouldn't erase from my mind in the morning, I told my wife. After several more, she went to the doctor and we discovered her blood pressure was at critical levels. Doc put it bluntly, "you could drop dead any minute". They couldn't even do a stress test. She got treated and the dream turned out to be a warning and not a straight up prophecy....thank God.

    My theory of dreams:
    If you dream and forget the details within an hour after waking, it was just some subconscious entertainment.
    If you dream and remember details past several or even days your body, or even God, is trying to tell you something...pay attention.

    Thanks for the platform....I'm going to sleep now to see what's on the mind-o-vision. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I dream and dream, but they are gone within minutes of waking. I try to remember them, but it's harder all the time for me to remember anything.

    I do remember the other night I dreamed I was in a room with about 20 people who were awaiting execution. A mixed bag of individuals. I figured it might be prophetic and they were probably McCain supporters.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Who doesn't dream in color? It's weird if I don't. I wonder if the same people who say that dreams are supposed to be in black and white are the ones who say that dogs don't see in color? They actually do.

    Anyway, I am a frequent dreamer, though I often don't remember what I dreamed about unless I happen to make a conscious effort to think about it immediately upon waking. Generally in all the cavewoman grunting at the alarm clock, I lose the thread of whatever it was. My husband takes great pleasure when I happen to wake up partially when he comes to bed. I usually spout something totally outlandish and nonsensical.

    In any event, I usually don't dream about my work (which is too bad, as I'd like to dream more about my heroes...), but I do try to go to sleep thinking about it. Frequently I'll wake up with what to do next when I'm stuck, so apparently something is working while I'm snoozing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kait, I'm with you on the nonsensical explanations. If I wake up from a dream and my husband is awake, I'll explain the whole dream to him. Then he'll say in a sleepy voice, "And you see meaning in this?" The meaning usually fades with the dawn. John, I've had several waiting-for-execution dreams. I hate those! They're the most hopeless ones. I never get executed, but I don't escape, either.
    Basil, amazing dream about your wife. I wonder if our waiting-for-execution dreams means we need to go in for a checkup?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I know I dream, but it's extremely rare for me to remember one, at least since I stopped having the recurring, adolescent dreams of not knowing where my class was, or of always having one class I never get to and the final is approaching. (That one was very popular for several years.) I'm left with the impression of having dreamed, and maybe wisps of the dream's contetn that disappear as soon as I try to grasp them enough to describe.

    Something must get knocked loose in my sleep, though. It's common for ideas to come to me in my morning shower. Not just writing, but other problems that may have been on my mind.

    Definitely in color.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dreams - they are the boon and bane of my existence. I get plot ideas, resolve things, get inspiration from them but I also find I get weirded out and unsettled - particularly by dreams that remain only half remembered in the morning. I certainly think they hold the key to my creativity.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I guess I still back in adolescence, dreaming of missing class, but as a teacher, showing up unprepared or undressed!

    No "creative" dreams --
    I feel like I'm missing out on a lot ... what do you guys eat or drink before bedtime??

    ReplyDelete
  8. I definitely dream in color, but I only average about 3.5 - 4 hours of sleep a night. So I may be having dreams, but they're usually so deep I don't remember them. I get a lot more sleep (and a lot more creative) during the 2-month break I get each summer. For some reason, the stacks and stacks of papers I am constantly grading and can never get through are my own living nightmare.

    But yeah, I got that technicolor dream-thing going for me...which is nice.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I dream in color and almost every night. But I can only recall a few instances where the dreams helped in my writing. Most of the time, they fade quickly and are impossible to remember. I wish it were that easy that I could just go to sleep and dream my way out of a plot issue or character flaw. But I still have to do it the old fashion way with the help of my good friend Jack Daniels. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  10. That, and a scoop of 31 Flavors always helps, too, Joe (grin)!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I was on muscle relaxer for TMJ two years ago and had incredibly vivid dreams as a result. Unfortunately none materialized into a novel.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I did have one dream turn into a short story. For some reason in the dream, I was a senior detective in Europe in 2035. Lord knows where that came from.

    My most frustrating dream related experience involved a dream where I'm performing on stage with a comedy troupe. The audience isn't responding, so we do an improv game, and it kills. The audience laughs their heads off. I can remember saying, "We better write this skit down." And when I wake up, I can remember everything, but the winning sketch. My psyche can be very annoying. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Karen, back in the 80's I took some kind of similar medication, but it gave me incredible nightmares. I still remember a couple of them after all these years! D, I never came up with a story in a dream, but I did create a song, once. And of course, couldn't recall it once I woke up.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The ones with plots are rare, and the ones with plots that make any real sense are rarer. It was a particularly vivid and detailed dream, and I have no idea where it came from.

    ReplyDelete