Friday, February 21, 2014

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.

And the Talmud:

A dream uninterpreted is like a letter unopened.

So,  have you ever dreamed a story? A character? A setting?  Beyond that, have you ever dreamed
precognitively? Or dreamed an illness that was an accurate diagnosis (this happens far more often than we think, it's fascinating.)

- Alex


All the information on this blog and more is in the writing workbooks. Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories, and more full story breakdowns.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

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Unknown said...

Hello Alexandra,

glad to have you back.

Technically speaking, I never get inspiration from dreams, but I do use my subconsciousness all the time.

Daydreaming, while sometimes dangerous, is my preferred way to get ideas for writing, both as starting points and as problem resolutions.

In fact, I use your great advice on learning from movies this way. I rarely analyze movies and TV shows in detail. But every movie I watch, and every TV show, webcomic or novel, and also non-fiction, will set some subconscious process in motion that will create "spontanous" ideas for worldbuilding, characters, plot points, scenes, dialog, etc.

I love it when the solution to difficult story problems comes not from shoehorning, but from dreaming up something awesome. And often this solutions are really oportunities in disguise (which I somewhat prefer to those masked as problems).

Regards from Munich, Germany

Unknown said...

All of my books comes from dreams! My sci-fi debut that comes out in April was based on a vivid dream that lasted all night. I've had plot problems fix themselves in dreams, and I also have a lot of precognitive dreams about various personal and global things. I've dreamed several NFL outcomes down to the score, so my hubby jokes that he should take me to Vegas.

One fun writing related example was when I dreamed a specific author (who I've never met) smiled at me and said "welcome." About two months later, I found out my book sold to this author's publisher. I'm very protective of my sleep time and keep a journal next to the bed so I can write things down before I forget them. Great post!

Charlie Quimby said...

One year I decided the capture my dreams every night for a year. I finished with seven thick journals and was only skunked 2 or 3 nights.

For people who want to try it, I'd add a few other tips. If at first nothing comes to you, leave some quiet time. Don't try to force it. If still nothing, reflect on themes that have recurred in past dreams. Mine often involved transportation, water, playing music, the color blue. Present these to your subconscious and see if something arises.

Once one dream surfaces, the others tend to follow as if on a thread. Write fast, do not be literary and don't analyze. Just describe and move on.

I still haven't read the entire year's worth, but I dip in periodically when I'm stuck or in need of something different.

The main thing is to adopt a routine and discipline and then not try too hard.

Emily Kimelman said...

Thanks for the reminder about paying attention to your dreams. I figured out the end of my first book through a dream. I'd written myself into an improbably, ridiculous corner and thought about it constantly until one day I woke up with the final 3rd of the book in my head. All I had to do was write it down.

Unknown said...

"Alexandra Sokoloff" has been included in the A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that I hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's great to have you back, Alex. I thought you'd left the country or were involved in international espionage or I don't know . . .

The dreamwork discussion is fascinating. You say there are many great books out there on this stuff. Are there any you might recommend?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the great info. I come here all the time to get writing tips and I think you are wonderful for all the free advise.
thanks again.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzie Quint said...

This reminds me of something I read a few years ago that if you don't remember you're dreams, you're possibly deficient in B6. Just thought that was worth mentioning.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Timothy - I totally agree, the subconscious brainstorming that goes on when I watch or read seemingly random movies and books is a process all in itself. And I love your alternate definition for 'problems" - I needed to hear that today!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Kristi, you sound like an expert dreamer. I've heard a lot of authors talk about dreams they had about getting a contract from a specific publishing house - that seems pretty common, really. We are so tuned in, we author types!!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Charlie, thanks, those are some excellent tips on recall. I'll be trying the one about common themes myself.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Emily, it's amazing how that works, isn't it? If only I could always remember to just ask.