This idea has been with me for a very long time. Most authors have something to say about dreams, or they’ve written something that was based on a dream, and here’s mine: I’m deeply jealous of my dreaming self. She’s so much more creative than I am – she tells better stories than I do, ones that are so removed from any of the rootstock of my own fictional life that they look and feel genuinely creative and new…
I went through a phase, maybe six weeks, when I did not dream. I didn’t do anything while I was asleep but sleep, and I would wake in the morning, clear-minded but without any sense that time had passed since I’d fallen asleep. (I am not a morning person, normally. I’m muddled and drunk on dreams.) I’d get up and go through my day without really looking forward to going to bed at night, because I didn’t get that basting time in my own mind that sleeping usually represents. The time was just… gone.
This phase terrified me. I still fear it coming back, though it was many years ago and it didn’t last that long, in the scope of things, but it was like forgetting how to speak or suddenly discovering that my best friend was imaginary. The first night that I returned to the swirling stew of dreams that is a normal night’s sleep was a relief that I can’t begin to describe, and I’ve never taken dreaming for granted, since.
It’s my understanding that not everyone dreams, and I feel sorry for them. I know people who hate dreaming because it interrupts a restful night’s sleep, and I feel sorry for them, too. Dreaming is the most vibrant, potent, alive part of my day. There’s no social convention curtailing emotion, and there’s no reality curtailing… anything. I can feel anything; I can do anything. So can anyone else.
I can fly.
My dreams are quest-y and puzzle-ridden, and it’s not unkind to describe them as stressful, but stressful and stimulating are the same thing, underneath, aren’t they? It’s all in how you take it.
At any rate.
I love dreams. It’s worth mentioning that before I set out on the rest of my thesis.
Ten-thousand hours. I wrote about it here, and I still believe it, when it comes to the mechanics of translating a story into words that create a story on the other side of a writer-reader exchange. (Isn’t that what words are for? Moving ideas out of my head into yours? Anyway.)
The process of creating a story, though, is a different skillset, and it’s very earnest and honest and realistic to say that the only way to learn how to tell a story is to experience a lot of them. Read a lot. Watch a lot of TV. Watch live storytellers and listen to them on the radio. All of these things teach your brain how stories work and how people exchange stories. This is a good thing to do.
One of my favorite gurus of being a professional writer says that you have to trust your creative mind and turn off your critical mind while you write, because your creative mind has been absorbing stories since you were first learning language – the same process as learning language, really – and your critical mind only has X years of English classes where you learned how to figure out why a piece of literature is important. That your creative mind has such a big head start on the critical mind that it must be the one driving the process of writing if you have any hope of actually getting the complexity of a story wrangled from inside of your head, into words, and back into someone else’s mind.
I agree with this, but it overlooks, I think, the playground that dreams represent to your creative mind. It’s why writers are always drawing from dreams, trying to capture the mystic elusiveness of dreams. They have no rules, no boundaries, no guidelines, and no objective. Just play.
Dreams have a discontinuous feel to them – the backstory just materializes when you need it, and you know what’s going to happen even as the dream turns and forgets everything that came before. Stories are bound by rules of continuity, but if you’re looking for the how of creating them, there it is. Stories come into existence the same way that dreams do, with a knowledge of what’s going to happen next paired up with what’s going on now and the things that need to have been true to get where you are. You can apply all the discipline you want, outlining and planning a novel, but the creation of fiction requires weaving something out of nothing, running up and back along that timeline and stringing things into each other, character, conflict, setting, imagery.
Believe it or not, your brain knows how to do this. (Unless you don’t dream. Then I’ve got no clue how you create fiction, and I… I feel sad. Dreams are such fantastic play. How do you live without them?) It practices hour after hour at night, and it is expert and drawing threads together in unexpected ways, finding foreshadowing and acting on it, creating and manipulating character motivation. It isn’t magic. It isn’t mysticism. It is practice in an arena where nothing can to wrong.
Books and dreams may not be roommates, but they definitely wink at each other in the hallway.
What I’m reading: Unreleased Sherlock novel by Liz Hedgecock
What I’m watching: Old school music videos. (Eve, JLo, Kid Cudi)