What are you doing tonight? During commercials for “The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon,” or maybe right after you put down your game controller, be sure to grab your computer or iPad. There’s work to be done while you’re sleeping. Yes, those seven to nine hours of sleep can be productive in a way that you probably never thought. You could be writing while you are dreaming!
It sounds pretty challenging, but the more you practice, the better you will get at interrupting your sleep to write the content of your dreams. You might think, “Why do I want to wake myself up from a good night’s sleep?!” Well, several well-known authors, such as Maya Angelou, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Isabelle Allende, and William Styron, all use(d) various techniques to enable creativity in their dream life. Further, Amy Tan, widely known for her best selling novel The Joy Luck Club, is a lucid dreamer—that is, someone who can consciously manipulate the course of his/her dreams. Wouldn’t it be great to always be able create the identity of the person who is following you down that dark street?
Like these authors, I encourage you to use your dream life for inspiration, to become your muse, for writing poetry, fiction, and even nonfiction. So many times our dreams are about what happens to us in real life, so you could certainly write nonfiction. However, from teaching a writing workshop titled Writing and Dreams, I have found that many of the stories center on horror, as we all seem to vividly recall many of the details of our nightmares. Such is the substance for Stephen King’s works. Whatever is generated from your dreams, you select what you want to work with and to what degree.
How to Journal Your Dreams
The best way to begin is to have your writing material next to your bed with a light nearby. Keep a journal on your computer and wake yourself up with an alarm every hour and a half during the night to record your dreams. Be sure to jot down as much as you can such as plot, characters, mood, dialogue, themes, or anything of interest. To aid in falling back to sleep with ease, avoid turning on the light and stirring too much in your sheets. Remain drowsy.
Once you have performed this writing exercise a few times, you can’t help but be amazed by the material you will collect from your subconscious mind. I have come to love my visits to a strange, historic, brown house that seems to beckon me every few months in my dreams. I must write about it!
Ultimately, I have learned to limit my recordings to weekends, so I have less interrupted sleep. I recommend that you take the time during the week to “play” with your journal entries and see what you can craft from them. One entry or several can bloom into a story or a novel. It’s all from your dreams. Finally, I recommend consulting Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose for all writers of stories.