Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Do You Use Dreams for Inspiration in Your Writing?


I’ve been planning this post for a while, but since Lane brought up the subject of dreams, I thought “no time like the present.” (The pic is Jacob's dream in the OT of angels climbing a ladder to heaven.)

Do you tap into your dreams to find inspiration at the keyboard? Many writers, classic and contemporary, have used dreams to help them discover a plot or to simply find inspiration. Robert Louis Stevenson claimed he received the seminal idea for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a dream. Amy Tan allegedly takes a manuscript to bed when she can’t find the right ending. Maya Angelou feels that her work is going well when she has a recurring dream of climbing stairs in an unfinished building. Stephen King, William Styron, and others also claim to find inspiration or ideas in their dreams. Many writers keep dream journals.

One kind of dream I’ve been fascinated with for years is the “lucid dream,” which goes back as far as Tibetan Dream Yoga but which has gained popularity in modern times thanks to Stephen LaBerge’s research at Stanford University’s Lucidity Institute. (See link in sidebar as well.) Essentially, lucid dreams are those in which one becomes aware that one is dreaming, with blurry images replaced by crystal clear 3D images indistinguishable from waking reality. Once lucid, one can, with a little practice, interact consciously with the dreamscape. It can be used for personal exploration or just plain fun—Disneyworld without the pricey ticket.

Regardless of what type of dreams we have, what if we could talk to our characters or incubate plots while we sleep? The idea is tantalizing.

Many great writers, past and present, have said they are mere vehicles for what it is that needs to be said. I sometimes wonder what I’m supposed to write as opposed to what I want to write. I wonder if the answer is in a dream.

Picture: Public Domain

23 comments:

Julie at Virtual Voyage said...

What an interesting post. I have often recorded dreams in Journals over the years - but never tried to take that further, though find lucid dreaming is akin to the waking dream of some creativity states.

I went to a day seminar last year on the subject of dreams, stress and depression (European Institute of Psychotherapy) it dealt with the need for the brain to finish unfinished stimulus (related to the startle reflex) - and why we don't need to remember the dream cycles we have during the night.

I go with the theory that people/incidents in dreams are usually parts of the self represented in metaphor, so dreams
are able to reveal things which are masked to full consciousness, but which the subconscious has picked up. Make more sense in a post than as a comment!

Lane said...

Interesting.
I sometimes hope that if I think about my characters enough during the day, I'll dream about them but sadly that hasn't happened.
Having said that, I take 15 min 'time outs', where although almost dozing, sleep isn't actually reached. There's a clarity in those moments where plot conundrums can be solved and characters sharpened.

The 'lucid dream' is fascinating and as 'Julie at virtual cottage' says, if dreams are a metaphor for masked reality, think of the untapped material. Mind you, judging by the comments on yesterday's dream post, much of it is indecipherable horror.

I think I'd better pay more attention to dreams (yah, more sleep). If it works for Ms Tan and Ms Angelou, it's good enough for me.

Billy said...

Julie, it's a weighty subject indeed. I agree that dreams represent parts of ourselves expressed metaphorically.

Lane, that "in between" dozing state--called the hypnogogic state--is one of the portals to lucid dreams and is also regarded as a well of creativity in itself (okay, yes, I was really into dreams a few years back. Guilty.). McCartney says he got the idea for "Yellow Submarine" while in this half-awake state.

Scott from Oregon said...

I love that state just because it feels so good to hang out there. Half asleep, half awake, vivid pictures floating through the mind...

(and no side effects!)

It is one of the reasons I love afternoon naps so much, when I can get the time...

SzélsőFa said...

I've heard abut lucid dreams, but I don't think I have ever had any.
I'd also gladly use dreaming as source of inspiration, but my dreams are ah-so-boring.

Billy said...

Scott, I live for afternoon naps since I work from my home.

Szelsofa, unless I keep a dream journal (which aids in the memory of dreams), mine also tend to be rather vague.

Casdok said...

Some interesting thoughts there!

writtenwyrdd said...

I get some really good ideas from dreams. The biggest problem (which echoes my 'real' life) is that I tend to not get to the endings of the story, but get stuck in the middle of the dream! I know how it's supposed to end, but keep getting distracted and going off on tangents in the middle of the dream quest.

My real life is like that, too. :(

writtenwyrdd said...

Billy, I've been wanting to ask you if you'd ever had a collection of your poetry published? I love your poems and was hoping to give them to a friend who is a huge poetry fan, but, alas do not find your poetry via the internet.

Billy said...

Casdok, thanks for stopping by. When I have time to incubate lucid dreams, they're a lot of fun. It's easy--coach class for wannabe mystics.

Billy said...

Written, I have never collected my poems, which were published in dozens of journals across the country (most of em respectable:)... but always wanted to. In spare time (what's that?!), I have tried this past year to select certain ones that share the same style and can be subsumed under a cohesive title. In progress, as they say! You are so kind to ask! You have made my day -:)

writtenwyrdd said...

Do get off your heiny and get one together, lol. Xmas is only 10 months away!

ChristineEldin said...

Hi, I saw you at Jason's and haven't been here for a long time.

Interesting post. I've had a few lucid dreams, and absolutely love the sensation.

I find I do wake up early morning with creative insights into what I should write next. This is also very nice, but I need to keep a journal as you suggest.

Love the painting!

Billy said...

Christin, I felt exhilirated the first time I ever had one, and it took me a little while to control lucid dreams ... or else they dissolve quickly. Thanks for stopping by.

Billy said...

Written, I did, I did. Off the heiny -:)

Charles Gramlich said...

Dreams that I've had play big roles in a lot of my stories. I get a lot of imagery from them. I posted on one of my dreams in my December 26, 07, "A Dream of Fire." I was going to try to link the post directly here but I don't seem to be able to. But anyway, in my archives for December 07 it is the 4th one down.

Billy said...

I found the entry in December, Charles, and have left a separate response. Thanks!

Sarah Hina said...

I haven't experienced lucid dreams, but just today, a line came to me in a dream that might serve as the beginning of my next novel. Exciting stuff. :)

Have you ever seen "Waking Life?" It's a Richard Linklatter film that is one, extended lucid dream. I loved it, although some people I know thought it pretentious.

I'm in awe that you're able to control your dreams, Billy! I will do some more research on this...

Bernita said...

I do limited lucid dreaming, sometimes just to end a dream if it's a bad one.

Billy said...

Sarah, I will look up that film. It sounds fascinating indeed. The "control" part of lucid dreaming is harder to master than just becoming lucid. Some people find the whole process easy, while others need to practice a few techniques first. I'm glad you get a line or two sometimes that might serve as a departure point. Dreams, I think, are creative in nature.

Bernita, many people do indeed use lucid dreaming to control bad dreams from what I've heard, and in the two best books about the subject by Stephen LaBerge, he talks not just of dreams as creative tools, but as tools of exploration, plus he has extensive chapters, as I recall, on using these dreams to control the negative moments of REM. I'm glad you brought that up.

Lana Gramlich said...

Cool post. I sometimes use dreams for art inspiration (more often than not subjects for abstract paintings.)

Billy said...

Lana, I think artists in general pay more attention to their dreams since dreaming is such a creative activity (for whatever reasons science offers) and can juxtapose different scenes and ideas. I have no doubt that visual artists can use these wonderful REM events as well :)

Lana Gramlich said...

You're probably right in that. Makes sense. :)