writing | writing tips

Dreams and Inspiration

January 5, 2016

Everybody dreams. Everybody has woken, shivering, in the middle of the night still brushing imaginary shadows from their face. Everybody has drifted off on the bus, wondering if the stranger sat beside them might be a secret agent, or a wizard, or any number of unlikely things.

Our dreams are limitless, in ways that the real world is not. Taking inspiration from our dreams seems natural, even for realistic fiction – and for fantasy genres, our dreams can provide a good starting point for the magical and fantastical.

I keep a dream journal under my pillow (it’s not a very big journal), along with a pen, and whenever I wake up in the middle of the night, or when I’m blinking away the cobwebs in the morning, I try to jot down the gist of what I was dreaming about.

It’s not easy, at first, to remember your dreams – your brain treats them a bit like a yoghurt carton. First it wants to scoop out the gooey memories  of your day so it can digest and make sense of them over the course of a night, and then when you wake up, it tosses out the dream.

And like a yoghurt carton, if you are so inclined, you can scoop those dreams out of the rubbish, scrape out every last morsel of inspiration, and examine it under a microscope.

That’s the first step to recalling your dreams. Be prepared for the disappointment that comes when you awaken, full of brilliant ideas, only to find that they’ve drifted out of your mind in the few seconds it took to open up your notebook. Be prepared to really rack your brain for just one moment of your dream. Be prepared to really irritate your partner by waking them up at 6AM to grab your journal from beneath the pillow.

Slowly but surely, it will get easier. Instead of being able to recall nothing but vague shapes and key ideas, you’ll be able to remember tiny, almost insignificant details and complex plots. You’ll find that your dreams become richer and more varied by the day. You’ll be able to pick out recurring themes and symbols. Now comes the easy part – using your dreams in your writing.

Start by paying attention to the atmosphere of your dream – the sounds, the colours, the feel of different objects. Dreams take us to places we can quite literally only imagine – so make them real with your writing. Say you dreamt about dancing on a cloud. How does it feel? Is it cold? Warm? Was there music? What could you see around you? The trick is to blend your real-life experiences and expectations with the fantasy of the dream world.

Of course, you’re not going to dream up a novel in one night. Drawing inspiration from dreams is the same as drawing inspiration from anywhere else – you have to build on those isolated moments of imagination to create something bigger, something better. Try merging snippets of dream together to create a prompt, or combine your dream journal with your real-life journal to create characters, places and situations that are well and truly unique.