Monday, February 15, 2010

The Dream Journal

Speaking of where we get ideas...

In the workshops I teach, I always tell writers that if they’re not writing down their dreams, they’re working WAY too hard.

The Price, which has made me quite a nice sum of money in book sales and film options, came from a recurring dream. Parts of The Unseen were from a dream. Several scripts I’ve sold came directly from dreams.

And I'm not talking about just initial story ideas. Your dreams can help you all the way along as you write your WIP.

Our subconscious minds are tireless, and so eager to do that work that we ourselves would postpone until Doomsday if we could.

DON’T do all that work yourself. You don’t have to. Let your subconscious and unconscious minds in on the process. There really are story elves, and those are they. Them? Uh, whatever.

If you don’t generally remember your dreams, then you’ll have to work at this a little to coax the dreams out. Keep a dream journal (another trip to the bookstore! Yay!) and pen beside your bed every night (this tells your dreaming mind that you’re serious about remembering.) Or use a tape recorder if that’s better for you.

As soon as you wake up – in the morning, or in the middle of the night, whenever – stay still and relaxed in your bed and try to remember your dream before you get up or think about anything else at all. Try not to move.

At first you may remember just the vaguest details. The color red. There was snow. Your wife was in it – maybe. A woman, anyway. WHATEVER you can even barely remember, write it down. Even just the feeling you wake up with in the morning. You have to court your dreams at first, but if you demonstrate a commitment to remembering, your dreams will become more and more vivid (until it can be exhausting to try to write them all down, but we can deal with that when we come to it.).

One dreamwork trick I find useful is that if you can’t remember a dream at first, slowly and gently roll over into the position you were sleeping in before you woke up (if you’ve moved). This sounds crazy, but if you do this, the dream may drop right back into your head and you can write down all the details.

A classic dreamwork technique is to focus on a particular question, for example, a story problem, while you’re drifting off to sleep. You may well get the answer in your dreams.

And once you get started, don't forget to review the dreams you've written down. You will always find surprises, recurring themes, characters. I was doing this this weekend, rereading dreams, and was startled to see this very intense little girl keep popping up. Wow, there she is again. Hmm. What am I supposed to do with that, I wonder?

There are many, many great books on dreamwork out there if you want to investigate further. Dreams are enlightening for much more than your creative work - as Jung said:

The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctuary of the soul, which opens into the primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego, and will be soul far beyond what conscious ego could ever reach.

Have you ever dreamed a story? A character? A setting?

- Alex

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How to write a novel from start to finish (part one)

What is genre?

What's your premise?

The Price
(more on premise)

What is High Concept?



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17 comments:

R.J. Mangahas said...

I've dreamed a few stories. And some of them kind of rattled me. They weren't too pleasant, but they seemed so real.

As for keeping track of them, I actually have a notebook on my nightstand, just in case.

Greg James said...

Hi Alex,

A nightmare that I had way back in 2001 became the climactic scene for my first manuscript and I recently had another one, very grim and very lucid, that's going to be featured in the manuscript I'm researching at the moment.

In one of the most disturbing I've ever had, I 'saw' Lovecraft's colour out of space steadily rotting a landscape, the trees and the people in it down into a livid, living mulch.

Just don't tell the doctors about that one coz them'll take away my cookies ;-)

Trace said...

I've dreamed of story ideas before. Sadly the story never quite lives up to the dream/nightmare.

I keep dreaming of spiders. Big spiders, little spiders, spiders in webs, spiders on walls. But always just one spider per dream.

Sydnee said...

The outline of my current manuscript came from a dream. I was just imagining a bunch of random objects and abstract ideas when suddenly a Batman/Catwoman type scenario came to mind. I just lost the skintight costumes but kept the cat and mouse aspect of it.

I really should take your advice and get a Dream Journal. Ideas come to mind at three in the morning much more often than I would expect.

Joylene said...

I was stuck on my Vietnam manuscript way back in the late 90s, and one morning I woke up with ending: my two protagonists in Chili talking on a secure line with the FBI director. It was such a realistic dream that it actually spooked me at first. But I guess I must have forgotten, because it never occurred to me to do this again. Thanks, Alex. You are the best!

RhondaL said...

I decided to give a dream journal a whirl. I rarely remember my dreams, or I discount them as my subconscious nattering.

But last night, I put a notepad and a mechanical pencil by my bedside.

I woke up about 4 am because the cat likes to wake us up by playing with items around the bed. Whatever dream I'd had vanished as I struggled to wrest my dream journal's pencil from his mouth.

I finally liberated the pencil, much to his grunting dismay. I hid it under the covers with me and fell back to sleep with the pencil clutched in my hand.

That he didn't dive in after it is a wonder because he usually thinks a ploy like that is simply part of the game.

But I woke up with the pencil still in my hand. I also remembered enough of my dreams to jot down some details.

I half wonder if clutching the pencil in my sleep hadn't helped?

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

R.J., what I find is that there's no "just in case". When you actually train yourself to write down any dream you can remember (within reason) - and read back over them, it's sometimes the seemingly innocuous ones that are the most mindblowing, in retrospect.

Kind of like writing days, actually...

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Oh, Greg, I won't tell the doctors your dreams if you don't tell them mine.

I love it when dreams supply that scene you could never have thought of yourself. So obliging, the subconscious.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Sydnee, it's so odd about the 3 am thing, isn't it? It's called "the devil's hour".

But the devil has his gifts...

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Trace, ugh, don't get me started on spiders. Luckily I don't dream them.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Sydnee, I have no doubt holding the pencil helped you remember dreams. Despite the cat.

I swear, I've lost some of my best because of one of my cats, who has a habit of patting my cheek until I wake up if she wants to be fed or whatever. If I don't wake up right away, the claws come out...

Hard to remember your dreams when you're bleeding.

Stuart said...

You know, I'd been struggling for an ending for a short story I was writing. I'd written most of it, and really liked it, but just didn't know how to end it. My original ending was rubbish and I wanted something better. Anyway, Thursday I had to get up early (4.15 am) as I was working away and while I was eating my breakfast (Sugar Puffs), still half-asleep, the ending came to me. I wrote it up the first chance I got and now I think the story works really well.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Stuart, congratulations, that's such a great feeling!

That state of half- consciousness early in the morning used to be my favorite time to write. I really should try getting back into that schedule, because it really can be magic, just like that.

Jeanie Ransom said...

I've been in a dreamwork group for more than a year, and get so much personal insight from working with my dreams. My dreams are much more interesting than my waking life. After hearing one of my recent dreams, my youngest son (13) said, "If you wrote a book of your dreams, I'd definitely read it." Maybe my son has something there -- I've been writing children's picture books for the past ten years and have been itching to try something a bit dark and psychological. Hmmmm...I think I'll sleep on it.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Jeanie, I couldn't agree more - my dreams are much more interesting than my waking life.

And my waking life is pretty damn interesting.

Go for the dark psychological! My favorite kind.

Taffy said...

I have a dream blog now. I look back and find many stories/scenes for any MS I'm working on.
Quite a few of my MSs are based on my dreams.
I was shy about writing a story based on my dreams. But after reading how Twilight got it's start, I boldly wrote 4-5 stories or outlines.

Zen said...

Great Advice, Alexandra. I've always believed that dreams have some beautiful purpose.

I have a wonderful collection of lucid dreams written down. Most of them hidden from the world. ;)