I was in conversation with one of my crit partners the other night when the topic of dreaming came up. Like many writers, my writing ideas often stem from my dreams. However, I dream purposely to write. More correctly, I dream with purpose, sometimes that purpose is to write.
The first big hurdle in coming to a place where I could dream with purpose was overcoming my understanding of dreams, and I don’t mean the content, I mean the place of dream in my life. I dream so vividly I didn’t know what to ‘do’ with them for a long time. I would often have ‘dream-hangovers’ where the feelings from a particularly intense dream would hang around for days, haunting me. I would look in the mirror and see figments of the dream-world staring back at me. In the end I decided I needed to ‘do’ something about this energy, find a place for my dreams in my life. If they were going to be so vivid and powerful why not harness that energy, regardless of whether the dream was light or dark, just own it and direct it in my waking life?
So, I started dreaming with intent. I have a little shelf at the foot of my bed. On this shelf are numerous sacred objects in there but at the top is my dream-jar. Every night I write down what I would like to dream about, this could be anything from a feeling, a place, Eric Northman or even a solution to a problem. This doesn’t mean Einstein will appear in my dream and give me a direct answer but what it does mean that I will look at my problem from the point of view of my dream – even if the dream is as abstract as an image of a feather in a fridge (yep – that one stretched my creative juices.) I use a similar technique for writers block.
On some nights I will set my dreaming intention to ‘open myself up’ to new story ideas, characters or even, set the intention ‘dream about a story deep within me that I need to uncover in order to grow as a writer’. I also always have a quill in there to symbolize my intent to write about my dreams. Sometimes I wake up with a full story or character however sometimes it will just be a colour or a feeling. No matter what it is I write it down in my dream journal. Well, now I use my iphone because iphones are easier to back up (my cloud storage must read like a David Lynch film). Sometimes just writing down the colour, feeling, or scent will help ‘break the dream’ (have the full dream become clear later in the day) but sometimes not. And it doesn’t really matter. It is the practice of always recording what you recall of the dream-world when you wake up that helps coax the subconscious or, the Akashic records forward.
Many years ago I was trained by a shaman to remember my dreams. I was also trained in dream-walking, but that is another story. I was told that even if you have no memory of what you dreamed use your first sense and a feeling to capture what you ‘think’ your night’s dreams might have been about. This gets you in the habit of recording and coaxing forward your dreaming into the conscious mind. It also tells your mind ‘I am paying attention’ (the mind LOVES attention.) My first sense is visual (other people may have touch, hearing or scent as their first sense. A good way to figure this out is to do a learning styles test). So, if I can’t remember a dream when I wake up I will write down the first thing in my minds eye (often a colour) and then a feeling that comes with it. It may not always be congruent e.g., bright yellow and sadness. But that is OK, dreams are not meant to make literal sense. And that is the point, while you can use symbols or archetypes to understand your dreams (and I often do, I usually refer to Jung), the dream-world is also a place where you don’t have to define anything or understand everything. It doesn’t require well-rounded characters or a strong plot. It is a place where your mind had complete creative freedom – and what a wonderful place to draw inspiration from, what a wonderful tool!
Sometimes, in dreams I have felt an emotion I haven’t come across in real life. These have been some of my most ecstatic dreaming moments because weirdly, these ‘new’ emotions are often paired with banal imagery so what I enjoy doing as a writer is building up a story around how this feeling and image come together. The original feeling or image may not end up in the final manuscript but they are invaluable creative inspiration.
There are other ways I prepare for a good night’s dreaming and these include putting dried herbs and essential oils in my pillow (my second sense is scent). I place these herbs and oils, with intention into my pillow. For example rosemary is good for remembering. Rose is good for love. Chamomile (especially blue chamomile) is amazing for a good rest. Mugwort is often considered ‘the dreaming herb’. Less exotic dream enhancers are banana, nutmeg and cheese (I eat the last three – I wouldn’t suggest sleeping with a cheesy banana in your pillow.)
Finally, the best time to remember your dreams is to wake during the REM cycle of sleeping. There are a number of great iPhone apps that help you wake during this period now. (And NO I don’t work for iPhone I am just too lazy to bother researching other mobile thingies.)
So, that is how dreams aid my writing. If you are looking to start using dreaming as a part of your writing practice or, you already do, I hope this post has given you some helpful ideas. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about dreaming and writing. I have included some useful links for dreaming below.
This is my favorite site for looking up the symbolic meaning of various things: What’s your sign
Toko-pa is one of my favorite dream-workers. She has a beautiful website full of images, posts and music. You can even book dream sessions with her or enroll in a course.