WRITING LIFE: Pay Attention to your Dreams

There are all these romantic myths about great artists painting or writing frenziedly in the middle of the night, but the truth is that dreams hold the key to our most creative energy, and the only way to tap that creative elixir is to sleep.

In our goal-oriented, efficiency-minded, hyper-productive culture, it can be difficult to justify getting into bed at a reasonable hour, let alone taking a nap during the day. I myself only nap when I’m thoroughly exhausted and need to let my tired brain crash. I rarely remember the dreams that may come out of that state.

But when I am relaxed enough to go to sleep early, releasing myself to the gentle mind massage of the dreamland, I am often astounded by the scenes and stories that emerge out of the ether of my brain.

Maybe it’s true that brain activity is simply pulses of energy, as the neuroscientists tell us. But it often seems to me that through dreams my little individual brain connects up to vast energetic landscapes, the spirit realms that shamans tell us they access through portals into alternate realities.

In my dreams I can step out of ordinary reality, revisiting landscapes from my childhood, or walking on trails that I don’t recognize, but which seem eerily familiar, as if from a past life, long gone but not quite forgotten.

Time and space are much more fluid in the dream world. A moment can extend for an eternity; I can move from one place to another in the blink of an eye.

This is, when you stop to think about it, just what we are capable of doing as writers. With words as extensions of our imaginations, we can revisit landscapes long gone (histories; historical fiction); invent stories yet to be lived into (science fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction); conjure up people, places and events that never existed (fiction); or retrace the steps of our own or others’ experiences (autobiography, memoir, biography).

In our sleeping dreams, we do all this and more, effortlessly. Each one of us displays the most brilliant creative imagination in our dreams—in the dreamland we are all artists. The challenge is to tap into and channel this creative brilliance in our waking hours.

As a writer, I try to stay alert to what is happening in my dreams. I don’t always succeed in remembering enough to write them down, but I usually can at least retain the mood of the dream and a few stray images that I can continue to ponder in the early hours of my day, before the pressures of daytime reality sweep me away.

I have no doubt that my dreams give my waking imagination depth and boldness that I could not achieve any other way.

Night-time dreams also give wings to our daytime dreams: our passions and longings, sometimes barely articulated but keenly felt, like wishes so tender we hardly dare to express them even to ourselves.

By night, I dream of riding a strong, solid horse across a wide bare landscape. By day, I give myself permission to take riding lessons, and dream of someday taking a camping trip on horseback.

As a writer, it’s my job to allow the dreams to flow from my mind out through my fingers on to the screen or page where they can be shared with others. Writers, like inventors in all media, have always been out in the vanguard of humanity, stretching the boundaries of known thought and leading the way towards new ideas. We are the flag-bearers, the trumpeters, riding boldly out in front and inspiring others to live life more fully.

Somewhat paradoxically, to live our waking lives most fully, we must allow ourselves to let go and relax into the vast teeming landscapes of the dreamland.

Pay attention to your dreams.

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