“Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men a creative power, which if it were available in waking, would make every man a Dante or Shakespeare. ”
–Frederick Henry Hedge
I think it foolish to attempt to interpret dreams—for we do not all use the same playbook—but clever in the extreme to allow them to guide your hand when you write.
While not everyone remembers their dreams, everybody does dream. You can see the rapid eye movement of a sleeper and rest assured that the person is off in a world of imagination or of recreation. For a fiction writer, learning the trick of harnessing your dreams can be an extraordinary gift. But how do you do it, especially if you don’t believe you dream at all? While there is no single, sure-fire way to be sure to capture every dream, here are some good ideas:
- Decide to dream, and decide to remember. Making a conscious effort to remember your dreams is the first step. Tell yourself of your intention when you go to bed.
- Wake yourself. This one is tricky, especially if you believe you cannot exist without x hours of sleep. But, if you can manage it, set the lights in your bedroom to come on before sunrise. Have a quiet alarm wake you (not a radio alarm, as the sounds of talking can deaden your experience). A watch alarm works well.
- Leave a pad of paper near your bed, perhaps on a nightstand, with the words “What Did I Dream?” at the top. The pad will be a place to jot your dreams, but more importantly, it will be a gentle reminder of your goal to remember. Experience shows us that dreams are strongest in our minds immediately upon waking, and they fade quickly thereafter.
- OR, use a digital recorder to make note of your dreams immediately upon waking. You may need to experiment to see which works best for you. If the recorder is easy to use, and you are comfortable with speaking your dreams, this is by far a better way to maintain the memory of your dreams.
- OR, tell your spouse or partner about your dreams. Getting into the habit of discussing dreams is an excellent way of holding on to them.
- Increase the number and clarity of your dreams by recording and discussing them. This really works. Practice is the key.
Once you’ve begun to collect dreams, either in their entirety or in fragments, you can begin to look for ideas in them. Even the most bizarre of dreams has something that you can latch onto as a writer.
Consider looking for:
- Dreams that touch your emotions. If a dream makes you happy, or angry, especially if that happiness or anger carries on with you during the day, that dream is worth a closer look. Situations that stir your emotions will likely stir those of your reader.
- Look for clever twists in dream-story lines. The unexpected person who shows up, the animal that displays greater understanding and aid, anything out of the ordinary.
- Keep in mind that while dreams are often surreal in effect, the basic premise of your dreams may not be… in fact, usually are not. These streams of thought can be very useful.
- Even when a dream is convoluted, unlikely, odd, or twisted, there is often an underlying story-line to be harvested.
- Always take whatever you can get from your dreams. And, always record what you take. An idea may seem to far out upon waking, but later on, when you’ve had time to think about it, you may find a useful bit emerging.
Finally, get this. Remembering and using your dreams for your fiction writing can be very rewarding. More importantly, as you get into the habit of taking cues from your dreams you will find the process becomes easier. Like all skills, dream recording takes practice, but if you stay with it, I think you’ll be glad you did.