Pay Attention to Your Dreams

Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid it made you question reality for a bit? Or one that lodged so deeply in your gut that you felt sure it was telling you SOMETHING, that maybe, just maybe, it might even be prophetic? And have you ever noticed that no one else seems to get what a big deal this dream was when you relate it?

I hate to break it to you, but most people only find their own dreams interesting. And why shouldn’t we? Not only are they all about us, but they can sometimes give us insight into things we didn’t know we knew. But I do advise refraining from relating your long, crazy dreams to your friends and coworkers; I think we’ve all had the experience of feeling our mind glaze over when someone begins a sentence with,  “Once I had this dream that . . .” (Exception to this rule: people like hearing about themselves. If you had a dream that your best friend shaved her head and moved to Madagascar, by all means, let her know!)

The funny thing is, the things people often find dull or boring in conversation can be endlessly fascinating on the page. So while you shouldn’t tell everyone your every dream, don’t let them go to waste, either.

I’m a strong proponent of writing vivid dreams down first thing in the morning; usually they’ve lost their impact by lunchtime. Writing them down not only allows you to hold onto that otherwordly experience, but it also helps you untangle the delightfully twisted symbolism of your psyche. AND writing down your dreams makes you more likely to remember your future dreams, and believe me, you want to keep those dreams coming. It’s not just that it’s darn interesting to be the star of your own art film every night — dreaming, even nightmares, are healthy for you. One study conducted on people who suffered from depression discovered that those who dreamed vividly and remembered those dreams were more likely to recover from depression, even without the help of therapy or medication. Some mental health professionals even believe that we would go crazy without the nightly unraveling of our unconscious.

But what does all this have to do with writing? Dreaming is a lot like reading: it can suck you in so deeply  that you don’t even think of coming up for air. And when it’s over, you can ache to go back or breathe a sigh of relief that you can return to your regularly scheduled life. And in both cases, you’re left with the uncanny feeling that you have definitely experienced something phenomenal and you’ve come away changed–even if the rest of the world doesn’t understand that it happened.

Because of this, your dreams can make an almost seamless transition into your writing. Although people don’t want to hear about your dreams every morning, they’ll be happy to read them disguised as poetry, fiction, or music — because if done right, these venues don’t just “relate” the experience. They make the receiver a participant in the experience.

One of my recent novels was inspired by a dream that later became a scene in it; the queer SF short story that finally began taking root in my mind was also inspired by a dream I had months ago (and I knew I should do SOMETHING with that dream, though I couldn’t imagine what at the time). Stephanie Meyer claims that a dream that later became Chapter 13 of Twilight inspired the whole series (love or hate the books — and I’ll refrain from telling you my stance on them — you can’t deny that she must feel pretty satisfied that she didn’t let that dream go to waste).

Whenever I write something inspired by a dream, I feel as if I’m “cheating,” because I didn’t “really” make that up. But if I didn’t make it up, who did? All art is really a connection to the subconscious anyway, and you might as well take advantage of the movies that play exclusively in your mind. So dream big.