Over the past five nights, I’ve been waking up to the same dream. It starts with me finding out that I’ve been cast in an opera. The show is hours away from opening, and yet, I don’t know ANY of my lines. I have had dreams like this before–I call them “imposter” dreams, but this one has been interesting, because in my dream, I am not worried. I put on a headset and listen to my part. I sing along. Although everyone around me is FREAKING OUT, I am as cool as a cucumber! I feel that I am prepared (even though I am clearly not).
When I woke up (for the fifth night in a row) just as I was going on stage, I started thinking about dreaming and how it relates to creativity and writing. I was very sure I was not the first writer to ponder this connection.
Here is Stephen King from ON WRITING:
In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night — six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight — so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.
Cool. I buy that. I thought about my BEST writing routine–in other words, what I do when I am really IN THE ZONE.
I like to write in my office or in a comfy chair. Both spots are like a cocoon–and that helps me feel “dreamlike.” If I’m not quite there, I can encourage this state by drawing or reading poetry or reading some good writing advice or just by sitting down, butt in chair and retyping my last paragraph. Lately, I’ve been trying to write the second I get out of bed, even before coffee! I put pencil to paper before my brain is truly awake. It seems hard, but then coffee can become a reward.
And I am a very goal oriented writer!
But seriously, this idea–that writing is like dreaming–is not just King’s either. But in our crazy mixed up world, it is often associated with a lack of drive.
As children, we are urged not to daydream. As students and workers, we are rewarded for following rules. As writers, we often spend too much time thinking about product. In THE WAR OF ART, Stephen Pressfield urges the writer to overcome what he calls “resistance,” or what I’ll call “all the conscious excuses we have for not putting words on paper.”
Sometimes, we all need a little bit of dreaming and procrastination to be able to find a story.
Writers, dreams are wild. They are like wishes. They don’t always make sense. They are unstructured and seldom finished in one night and don’t always reveal themselves in one shot. In my case, after five nights of my silly opera dream, I let myself think about what it all meant to my characters, plots, themes, and settings that I’ve been wrestling with. As silly as my dreams were, they were helping me imagine the kind of emotions I wanted to write about next.
When Robert Olen Butler is starting a new book, he uses a technique called “dream storming.”
I certainly don’t write outlines, taking that term to suggest a fixed, predetermined structure that inevitably leads to a resolution that I know beforehand. I do, however, have a system I call “dreamstorming” where I can free-associatively anticipate a wide range of possible paths for the book. Early in the process, I go into the zone of my creativity and make a long, long list of possible scenes in the book. These scenes are recorded very succinctly—no more than a dozen words—and I make no attempt at this stage to arrange them or structure them or even to resolve incompatibilities. Then I transfer these to index cards—one scene per card—and I lay out possible sequences. But those are done and redone numerous times, even during the writing of the book, and they never ossify into an outline.
So are you ready to DREAM, DREAM, DREAM????
Today, let’s try and enter that dream state before writing. FIRST, be still. Make sure you are in an environment that is conducive to DREAMING. To thinking. If you need some time, close your eyes. If you can’t write first thing in the morning, start with a quiet walk. Or meditate. Simulate that dreamlike imagination during your writing hours. (So yeah, turn off that wifi!!!) Let your imagination go.
Then write. OR dream storm. Write what you yearn for, the very secrets that sometimes, we are only willing to confront when we dream.
Have a great writing week!