Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dreams and writing

I recently began dreaming again. For a while I was taking some medication that prevented me from dreaming at night. It wasn't until the dreams came back that I realized how much I'd missed them. Not that any of my nocturnal conjurings are particularly noteworthy (especially not the one where I'm wandering the halls of Wellesley College on my way to a final exam, having missed the entire semester of class. I hate that one.)


No matter how stressful or mundane, dreams are important to the creative process. They may even be essential. In a 2003 study, a researcher found that people who are imaginative and prone to fantasizing are more likely to remember their dreams than non-creative people. Reportedly, Paul McCartney has said that the melody of "Yesterday" came to him during a dream. 


According to another study, the REM stage of sleep (rapid eye movement) is the most conducive to making creative connections. It's also during REM stage that we dream the most, so perhaps I was right to worry that my medication-induced dream void was also suppressing my writing creativity. Normally when I wake up I do a flash review, trying to recall any fragments of dreams before they fade away. Without my dreams, I felt "flat" upon awakening. 


But now they're back. Last night's dream was nothing spectacular--I was forced to confess to an old boss that I'd lost track of an important project. Then I had to put it back together in time for a "mission critical" meeting. Ugh. I think it's the workplace version of my Wellesley-exam nightmare. But no matter: Welcome back, dreams!


Do you find that dreaming is important to your creative process? Have you ever generated a writing idea from a dream?

23 comments:

  1. I've heard other authors say a book was inspired by a dream or they dreamed the entire book. That's never happened to me.

    But when I sense that I'm stalling as I'm writing, I firmly believe my brain is telling me a plot roadblock is up ahead.(Confessions of a pantser) Instead of forcing the writing at that point, I take a break and let my mind work the problem. Sometimes this break might be only a few hours or it could last days, but since I hate deleting days or hours of work, I've learned to trust my instincts and stop writing.

    Solutions can come to me after a good night's sleep or from watching a Christian Slater movie. Either way I roll with it and trust my strange process.

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  2. I don't dream very much and I've never had any dream I can recall be an idea for my writing. My dreams are always short and goofy and most times it's easy to see how what has been going on in my life caused that particular dream.

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  3. Christian Slater, really? My brain's go-to action guy is Bruce Willis. Give me an episode of Die Hard, and I'm good for another scene.

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  4. BK, I'm like you in that I've never had a dream that was a direct springboard for a writing idea. I suspect that it's the act of dreaming, and the tendency to remember them, that is associated with creativity. But only in a general way.

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  5. The Christian Later incident really happened, but since I already bogged about it, I didn't explain. But my husband caught me watching this really bad movie about a skateboarder who gets chased by bad guys. When he asked me why I wasn't writing, I said, "Hey, I'm working here."

    While I watched that movie, the solution to my plot popped into my head and I quickly jotted down the rest of my chapters. Now I've got my husband thinking ALL my breaks are work related.

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  6. I so rarely remember dreams it's not worth mentioning. I'll wake up aware I had been dreaming, and may have fragments in my head, but they dissipate like steam as I become more alert.

    I do occasionally get ideas during what my Beloved Spouse calls a fugue state, and i refer to as dozing. It's the sate that occurs just before you fall asleep, and just before you wake up, or sometimes during a nap. I'm aware of things around me, but not engaged with them. I get quite a few ideas like that, and can even induce it if I have to.

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  7. Kathryn, I dream often but rarely remember specifics other than general themes such as the one you described. I'm getting ready to take an exam but have not studied or I'm reading aloud in front of a crowd but have forgotten how, and stumble over the simplest words. There's also the dreams where I'm trying to perform a basic task like changing the channel on the TV but the placement of the remote's buttons are different and nothing is working. And then there's the old standard: being naked in public.

    I can't recall anything from a dream that inspired me to include it in a story. But I'm determined that if I take a nap everyday, I'll suddenly awake and be struck with inspiration. It never happens, but it's a great excuse to nap.

    If you're interested in dreams and you haven't seen it yet, watch INCEPTION. Not only a great movie, but it reveals some things about dreams that you may not have known.

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  8. Dana, I have a fugue state too (I also have a state that my husband calls Tuning Out, but that's another story!). Joe, I did see INCEPTION, and loved the special effects.

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  9. I like to let the "boys in the basement" work at night. They don't always send up a dream, but when I wake up in the morning I quickly jot notes to coax out of them the ideas they've been chalkboarding.

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  10. I've had ideas come from dreams, but none that I've followed through on to write the book. I've had that never showed up for class dream frequently. I've also dreamed that I didn't finish high school, only to wake up and remember that I've got a Masters degree. And there is a meeting that I have to attend once a year, but I dream that I traveled to the location, but forgot to go to the meeting.

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  11. I once had a terrible bout of insomnia at a writing conference - and as I whiled away the hours trying to get into a deep sleep I fell in and out of a semi-sleep state and dreamed an entire book. I got up in the wee hours of the morning and wrote it all out as an outline. I now have it on the back burner as it is set in the 1820s and would require a lot of research but I still remember the dream and one day hope to write the book!

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  12. A huge part of my novel was inspired by a dream & I actually wrote my book as a way of chasing those recurring demons from my head. Having said that, I find my most productive periods to be generated by my dreams. I keep my iPhone next to my bed & I often wake up & jot down notes from the dream I just had. I recently dreamed up a new plot for a new story. But the craziest thing I get out of my dreams is rhythm. I often dream of the rhythm of sentence structure. The sentences don't actually even have words, but rather a driving flow, a rhythm that resonates with me. Terribly strange thing to dream about. And I've written the best queries in my dreams, too. Go figure!

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  13. The book I wrote was a whole giant collection of daydreams that were made to fit the characters. It's the slow season where I work and there is lots of time available for daydreaming. So I started writing a story with a couple of characters that I had been toying with for years.

    The night time dreams I generally have are what most people would call nightmares. Maybe I should take a stabe at horror because of them?

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  14. Dreams are so interesting. I don't dream often, but when I do its extremely weird and vivid.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  15. The dreams I tend to remember either thrill me or haunt me. The thrills are dreams of flying. They are spectacular, and usually I'm disclosing my secret to someone else. The haunters, yikes. They're almost like horror shows. Usually having to do with docile animals like deer, ducks or sheep being mamed, mistreated or hit by cars while I stand by helplessly watching.

    I know. I'll go see my therapist one more time. . . (She leaves, shaking her head slowly.)

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  16. As for generating ideas? (I forgot that WAS the question!) Nope. I have insights or "visions" of ideas when I'm awake that are triggered by something I doing/hearing/seeing. Dreams act more as a barometer for my stress levels---as if you couldn't tell from my previous post. BTW--great topic for a blog, Kathryn!

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  17. I dream a lot. But never nightmares, or the weird creatures you might imagine me dreaming of. Usually I am searching for something, sometimes I see quizzical things I ponder, often I am flying.

    Last night was a particularly interesting flying dream. I started to write it out here, but realized that it was too long and so have posted about it over on my website if you're interested.

    Over twenty years ago I had a dream that I knew I would have to one day turn into a novel. It involved a king of a group of northern Chinese cities called Kwai Ler Wang Guo, or the Happy Kingdom, that is evicted from China by its aggressive neighbors and escapes to the mountains of Goryeo (medieval South Korea). When I told my wife about it, she stared wide eyed. You can read the details of why in the blogpost on my site as well.

    I knew right away that I would have to write that into a story, but at that time as a twenty something with bigger fish to fry (like becoming a millionaire restaurateur by 30) had no clue how to write a novel, nor the time and energy to do it. That, and I needed to learn to write novels first because this one could not be a first time effort, it has to come out right. Now that story is finally in the queue, and God willing, up next with both an adult and a YA storyline.

    Basil
    www.basilsands.com

    the millions by 30 never did come true, but hey, like I said, I dream a lot

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  19. I actually recently got an idea for an entire book via a dream--the whole plot. Quite fascinating. That's never happened to me before. I had to quickly write down notes when I woke up. I can't wait to write it.

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  20. Yes. I blogged about it.
    http://www.tobyneal.net/2011/03/12/living-in-the-shadow-of-tsunami/

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  21. Timothy, I've finally gotten to the point that I can remind myself in the dream that I graduated and have a Master's. It's still stressful, though! Clare, that 1820's story sounds like one you've got to write! Nancy, I'm a huge fan of the rhythm of language, and it's great that it is featured in your dreams! John, I think the best horror originates from our nightmares and fears, so give it a go! Kathleen and Basil, I usually love flying dreams, but the other night I dreamed I was perched precariously on the hood of a one-engine plane, and it was terrifying (thanks for reminding me about it, lol). Sarah, I love those weird, vivid dreams--they're the ones most likely to stick in my head. Lisa, I've never dreamed an entire plot--that sounds amazing.

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  22. Toby, I followed your link and read your lovely post about your tsunami dream. Beautiful--thanks for sharing it!

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  23. Most of my story ideas come from my dreams. Without them, I worry that my muse wouldn't have a way to communicate with me! :) My last WIP was based on one scene in a dream...the rest came to me upon waking.

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