People often ask me for writing advice, and they’re surprised when the first thing I tell them is to keep a dream journal.
In fact, many people look downright suspicious, perhaps fearing I’ll go on to advise them to use healing crystals, or only to write when Mercury is in the ascendant.
But keeping a dream journal is perfectly sound, if neglected, writing advice.
The best thing is that the process works even if you’re one of those people who never remembers dreams.
I know. Because I used to be one of them, until I trained myself to remember.
The mind is more malleable than we realize.
What is a dream journal?
A dream journal is just a book that you keep next to your bed, so that you can write in it as soon as you wake up.
And I really do mean as soon as. A dream is a slippery fish. If you delay at all, even just for a minute to brush your teeth or plan your breakfast, it’s gone.
The idea is to write down everything you remember of your dreams.
When I first started, this was almost nothing. Then, it was just a few vague impressions. With more practice I began remembering more and more details.
Now I can cover pages of my book each morning, often reaching back beyond my latest dreams to recall some from earlier in the night.
There are several reasons why every writer should keep a dream journal.
1. Get fantastic story ideas. If you keep a dream journal, you’ll never be stuck for ideas.
Your mind effortlessly creates stories every night. Most of them will be boring, or unusable, or just plain weird.
But every now and then, your sleeping mind deals you something that makes you reach for your pen with thumping heart.
Paul McCartney famously dreamed the song Yesterday, so clearly and fully that he was sure he must have heard the tune somewhere before. Luckily he wrote it down anyway, and it became one of the most popular pop songs of all time.
2. See the world differently. The best stories or scenes are often those in which familiar things are presented in a fresh way.
What better training for the imagination than dreams? In dreams, you may find yourself in a mundane situation at work, but your boss is an old school friend you haven’t seen for thirty years.
Or you’ll be making breakfast in your apartment, but the apartment is now inside your parents’ house.
I had a dream recently in which Paris was not in France, but in the United States. I still think there’s a great story in there, if I can work out how to tell it.
3. Get inspired. If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve probably had that incredible experience where the words come to you so easily that you feel you could write all day.
You write things that shock you, things that seem to come from somewhere else. You’re in a state of inspiration, wonderful while it lasts, but depressing when it stops and you realize you can’t recapture it.
In the past, people attributed this to God. ‘Inspiration’ comes from the Latin inspirare meaning ‘to breathe into’.
People believed that God breathed into them, creating works of genius that they merely had to put on paper.
If you don’t believe in God, then believe in science instead. Sigmund Freud gave us the id, and Jung took it a step further, positing the existence of a collective unconscious.
Dreams provide a natural access point to these subliminal realms, enabling us to tap into a source of endless inspiration.
4. Break writer’s block. Finally, if you keep a dream journal, it means that the first thing you do each morning is to write – with no pressure, straight from the subconscious.
It’s very difficult to have writer’s block when you write a couple of hundred words first thing every morning. It sets you up for the day much better than filling your head with traffic reports, weather forecasts or the jingle-jangle of pop songs.
So go ahead, give it a try. All you need is pen and paper, and a few minutes each morning.
Don’t judge or analyze your dreams. Just write them down.
You probably won’t get gold-dust right away. Your notebook will probably fill up with the mundane, the nonsensical and the embarrassing.
But over time, you’ll start to see the benefits. Your writing will become more creative, and ideas will come to you easily rather than having to be dug out at great cost.
And who knows, maybe one night you’ll dream the next Yesterday and be able to fund your writing for the rest of your life.
“Have you ever tried keeping a dream journal? Or have you had good story ideas in your dreams? Leave a comment and let me know!”
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