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Use Your Dreams To Be Endlessly Creative

Do You Want To Use Your Dreams To Be Endlessly Creative?

Do You Want To Use Your Dreams To Be Endlessly Creative?

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.

 

Why bother?

 

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.

 

Try it!

 

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!”

 

About the author:

Andrew Blackman is a former Wall Street Journal staff writer, now living in London and concentrating on fiction. His second novel, A Virtual Love, tackles the theme of identity in the age of social media.Visit his blog for a free e-book detailing short story contests with a total of $250,000 in prizes
Image: Keep a dream journal courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

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56 thoughts on “Use Your Dreams To Be Endlessly Creative”

  • Tim O'Dell says:

    I used to keep a dream journal many years ago. It certainly gave me some weird and wonderful ideas! Unfortunately, I got out of the habit of writing it, after filling several notebooks, but your article has just given me the motivation to start again! Thank you.

    • Hi Tim

      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad the article gave you the motivation to start again.

      Did you keep the old notebooks? Would be great to go back over them and see what good ideas are in there, hidden among the weird stuff!

  • Kath says:

    I use to be the dream queen, i wish back then i kept a dream journal, now hardly remember anything. might give it a go thanks enjoyed the read.

    • Hi Kath

      It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we sometimes seem to remember our dreams and other times don’t. I’m the same as you – I seemed to remember more when I was younger. But I find that the journal helps to ‘train’ the brain to remember. Hope it works for you!

  • Tim O'Dell says:

    Hi Andrew. Unfortunately I was young and single when I kept them, now marriage and successive moves have reluctantly seen them being thrown away. It is surprising that I can still remember a few snippets that I wrote down, and I even wrote a few short stories based on them, but a fresh start is definitely in order.

    • Ah, that’s a shame. I’m moving myself at the moment, and having to shed lots of my older notebooks and journal, along with a lot of other stuff, so I completely understand! The important things I scan or photograph, but there’s so much I’m just letting go of. It hurts, but has to be done. I’m glad you can remember some of the snippets. Best of luck with starting afresh!

  • Debra says:

    I used to keep a dream journal, now my dreams are scattered among the many journals I have. They were still in the weird stage and at times I moved away from keeping them for fear someone would find them and look at me funny. They do that anyway because I can come up with some of the strangest stories… Time to bring back an old friend- my dream journal. Thanks.

    • Hi Debra
      I have that fear too! Whenever I’m writing in my journal, either dreams or waking ideas, I feel self-conscious. You made me smile when you said people look at you funny anyway :-) I think it’s not a bad thing sometimes – good writing is about seeing the world in a new way, and that can shock people. If we wanted to conform and win approval, we probably wouldn’t have become writers in the first place.

  • A dream is exactly how my writing career began! I have no formal training in writing and never aspired to become an author growing up. One night in September, 2004, I dreamed I was sitting on a couch in an office next to a young man I didn’t recognize. I don’t remember anything about the actual conversation other than the fact I turned to him and said, “Okay, Mitch.” At that point, I woke up. The odd part of this dream is that I have never known anyone named Mitch or Mitchell, so why I addressed him by that name still remains a mystery to me. A story began to form in my head from just that remnant of a dream; I went to my computer and the words I wrote became the first book in my award-winning Forever Love series of inspirational romance. Divine intervention led me to my passion, and I hope to write for years to come!

    • That’s a wonderful story, Debbie. It’s amazing how powerful the dreams can be sometimes. Even though the details are sketchy, the image is so strong that it compels you to write about it. In your case, it started a whole career! Really wonderful to hear that, and I hope other readers of the post will take some inspiration from it. Thank you for telling us your story.

    • Vinita says:

      Debbie, there’s a story lurking in your story too! And it’s waiting to be told… It was lovely to hear of your experience with dreams. Thanks for sharing!

      Vinita Zutshi, Guest Post Editor, Write to Done

  • Jessica Burde says:

    I’ve used dreams as story inspiration for years. Ironically, the manuscript I am focusing on now is one of the few longer stories I’ve written that haven’t been inspired by dreams (However I have another dream inspired story in the outlining phase. I’m debating following through with it, because as much as I like the idea, its a vampire story and I feel like they’ve been overdone the past few years. Though at least this isn’t a vampire romance.)

    I’ve never kept a dream journal, most of the time if there is a dream that just strikes me as awesome story fodder I get up and write down a synopsis as soon as possible, but if the dream doesn’t grab me as an awesome story possibility, I just let it go. With the toddle usually waking up within 5 minutes of when I do, regular dream-journaling would be more of a hassle than I’m willing to deal with.

    • That’s great, Jessica. I know what you mean about vampires being overdone. Any subject can work, though, if it’s a fresh angle or a view of a familiar topic that no other writer has taken before. Good luck with it if you do decide to go ahead.

      The reason I write down everything, even the stuff that doesn’t seem like good story fodder, is that it helps build the habit of remembering dreams and writing them down quickly, so that when something good does come along, I’m more likely to grab it before it slips away. Also, some things can seem unpromising at first, but can spark ideas when you go back to them. But I completely understand that it might be difficult with a toddler waking up!

  • Rachel says:

    There actually are quite a few cities in the US named Paris. Illinois, New York, Tennessee…. :)

    • Ah, good point, Rachel! Yes, I think most European cities are represented there, aren’t they? The one in my dream wasn’t an American town, though – it was THE Paris, with Eiffel Tower and everything, but smack in the middle of the USA. As I said, though, I still can’t figure out how to make that into a story! One day, maybe…

  • Loved this post today! I published my first book in 2011 and it almost didn’t happen because I kept ignoring a dream I had. I felt God pushing me to write down the dream into a story and I thought to myself, seriously nothing will come of this. But I finally wrote the dream down and two hours later I had written twenty pages. The dream so simple yet magnificent pulled the creative inspiration out of me that I needed to realize I could write. Write in your dream journal and don’t analyze it, go back and draw inspiration from those pages. My dream showed me that a brother and sister and a mysterious king could have an adventure that now has turned into a sequel.

    • Glad you liked it, Leslie. It’s been great for me to read these comments, too, and hear examples from other writers about the effect of dreams. Very inspiring for me. It’s incredible how quickly you can write when you’re relying on your dreams – twenty pages in two hours, and it probably felt easy! So much better than the slow process of trying to think things up using the conscious mind.

  • Celise says:

    I keep a venting journal, not a dream journal. LOL My dreams are pretty vivid and I do end up remembering them. I write YA and my second novel was based on a reoccurring dream. What’s I wrote it, I stopped having the dream. It’s happening again, though. I’ve been having this dream for some time about a female character. Her background is pretty much fully-formed, so the dreams I have about her are more like scenarios. When I’m not writing YA, I’m addicted to reading adult romance/erotica. I have a feeling I’ll be trying my hand at writing an adult romance, because this character is not a young adult.

    I’ve discovered that my dreams are triggered by what I see (T.V. show/movie, etc.) or read before I go to bed. Which is interesting to me. I even have random daydreams, too! Either way, this character is foremost in my dreams right now, so I have a feeling I’ll be telling her story soon. Journals are awesome. I started keeping a diary when I was young, then graduated to journals, so I wholeheartedly believe in keeping journals.

    • Hey, venting is also good :-)

      Yes, I find dreams are sometimes influenced by what I’ve seen or read the night before, but often they seem to be very different, or to twist things around in such an interesting way. It’s great that you mentioned daydreams, because I think that’s important, too, for writers to allow themselves time to daydream. I wrote about that separately on my blog a while back – I called it “The importance of staring out of the window” :)

  • Jevon says:

    I actually have a dream journal, but I call it something more catchy: my Book of Boons. I guess the name has nothing to do with its purpose. I created it after dreaming up a great story which will be my next novel, and after reading an article from Chamois at the Writing Mosaic about always keeping a pen and paper close by.

    I don’t write down all my dreams though, only the ones that I think are useful.

    • Hi Jevon

      That is a catchy name! As I said in an earlier comment, I do believe in writing down everything, just to build the habit and encourage the brain to remember. But if it’s working for you, which it sounds as if it is, then go for your own way of doing it! Thanks for commenting.

    • Selena says:

      My dreams are my strength which boost me regularly to achieve my goals. I like to listen this song quite often, “My dream is to fly… over the rainbow… so high’.

  • Great advice Andrew. I’ve never kept a journal because I’ve always had such crazy off the wall dreams and for the past few years I’ve had to attend to kids first thing in the morning. But I can certainly see the value and would like to get into the habit. Thanks for sharing :-)

    • Wow, crazy off the wall dreams – you should definitely keep a journal, Claire! I understand that it must be difficult with kids, though. Maybe instead of a full journal, you could just keep a small piece of paper next to the bed and write down the main gist of the dream? Anyway thanks for stopping by!

  • Haven says:

    Great article. I had not known the story about Paul McCartney and the song “Yesterday.”. I’ve written down my most vivid dreams, but maybe I should make it a habit to do this daily.

    I once had a dream where a friend of mine and I had been holding a prairie dog in captivity, and keeping it under control by keeping a tight grip on its head, as if to keep a snake from biting. But one day the prairie dog slipped from my grip, and as I wrote in my blog, “I was afraid it was going to turn around and lunge at me, but rather than do so, it just sat there with a ticked off look on his face that gradually turned into a smirk. He just sat there, licking his chops, clearly savoring the look of fear on my face and wanting to get maximum mileage out of it before making his next move. ” I published it in my old blog, “The Different Drummer Soundtrack” (http://thedifferentdrummer.net) under the title “v for vendetta, p for prairie dog.” I published another article about a dream that was a romantic encounter with a woman I’d never met before, who kept talking about “chicken stock” as she moved to kiss me.

    As it turns out there is an Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas, as well as a Statue of Liberty–smaller scale, of course. When I saw these, I could not help but think that perhaps space aliens had removed them from their original spots and tranported them to Las Vegas as a prank. Maybe that might help with your story?

    • Hi Haven

      Wow, that sounds like a really vivid dream. I didn’t even have, and just from your description I can see it so clearly, and imagine so many story possibilities. (Don’t worry, I won’t steal it!)

      Thanks for the idea about Vegas! Love the concept of aliens moving iconic landmarks around as a prank :-)

  • Seeing the world differently is incredibly important, as you point out. Perspective allows us to confront the everyday challenges of life in new, successful ways.

    • Good point, Mike – I was looking at this from the point of view of writing, but paying attention to dreams can also help in other aspects of waking life.

  • VPSINGH says:

    Good article, I will keep dream journal on the bed always. Only once I have note down my dream,now I will always write everyday in the morning. You’re right that dreams provide some great and unique idea and you clear it in your article. I want to read all of your articles, thanks.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. Hope the dream journal goes well! It is certainly a good way of getting started with writing each day, as well as a source of ideas. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Linda Strawn says:

    A dream journal? I never thought of that. But what a great way to get inspired. I had a dream years ago about a guy laying in a hospital bed. That image is all I remember about the dream, but it was enough to inspire a book I’m currently working on. Imagine if I took the time to write down everything about the dream right after I awoke. I’d be done with the book by now and it would, no doubt, be entirely different.

    • Hi Linda

      My dreams are often the same – I can remember details and phrases, but often it’s a particular image that is very powerful, like your guy on the hospital bed, and that’s what inspires me to write. But the more you can remember, the more start you have on your story, so I think it’s worth doing. Good luck with finishing the book!

  • Linda Summer says:

    Hi Andrew

    Thanks for the inspiration and timely reminder about the power of dreams. Since embarking on a personal transformation journey several months ago, my dreamworld suddenly exploded (for all the right reasons) and inspired me to start a new dream journal.

    The Chinese culture considers dreams to be ‘the forgotten language of God.’ While I have never been a religious person, this notion really resonated with me.

    • That’s a beautiful phrase, Linda – ‘the forgotten language of God’. It really resonates with me too. Personally I’m undecided about the issue of where dreams come from, but I know that whether it’s God or the Id or the unconscious mind, it’s certainly a much greater source of creativity and inspiration than my regular workaday conscious mind.

      Thanks for contributing that beautiful quote to the discussion.

  • sylvanos okwiri says:

    I ALWAYS WISH TO BE A WRITER.I HAVE READ YOUR ARTICLE AND I AM GOING TO MAKE MY DREAM COME TRUE

  • RD Meyer says:

    I’ve done this for years. My friends always told me how screwed up my dreams were, so I figured they were worth remembering beyond the day I ha them. Not all came out as “finished” ideas, but they provided the inspiration for lots of stories.

    • Yes! Screwed up is good, I think. Writers need to provide readers with a different view of the world, something they’ve never thought of or seen that way before, and often that appears “screwed up” when they first hear it. Sounds like great story fodder to me. Thanks for commenting!

  • Linda says:

    Great advice. My dreams rarely make much sense but they often trigger an idea that I can develop into a story. I’m not disciplined enough to keep a regular dream diary but if I have a vivid dream I jot down the main points in a notebook that I also use for random thoughts/ observations/ overheard conversations and all sorts of other snippets that might come in useful when I’m looking for ideas.
    I would also add that if you can’t remember a dream it’s good to get into the habit of simply writing down whatever does come into your head first thing in the morning as a way of communicating with your subconscious mind. It’s amazing what you can find in there!

    • That’s good advice, Linda, about writing whatever comes into your mind first thing in the morning. Even if it’s not a dream, it’s still very enlightening to see what’s jangling around in your head in that time between being fully asleep and fully awake. Often some great insights. Thanks for the comment!

  • VPSINGH says:

    hi Andrew it is good for start writing daily in dream journal for aspiring writers.Like me of course.I didn’t want to start writing because of my weak english(as a second language)but after reading this, I couldn’t stop to me to start writing,ignore the mistakes of language anyway. I am writing daily at least 30 minutes daily. So you make these things changes to me because of your article. Great

  • Morrisbest says:

    Thanks so much for that piece of write up of yours, it has really inspired me to start making use of dream journal..I have not thought of that before, and i think its going to help me a whole lot, because it long to be a creative and profound writer…More greeze to your elbow…

  • Stuart Elder says:

    Thanks for a great article Tim. The morning after reading it, I had a bizarre dream, and was compelled to get out of bed just after 5AM and write it down. By 8AM, I had the beginnings of an interesting short story or novella! I’ve since added a few characters and scenes to another ongoing story project thanks to writing down my unusual dreams!

  • I one hundred percent agree – in fact, I teach creative dreaming for writers and write a whole blog about the relationship between dreaming and writing.

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  • Carien says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the wonderful advice. I would wake up every morning and tell my boyfriend about my dreams and even though they are extremely weird he told me to write it all down and one day I can write a book, but I didn’t and am now very upset that I didn’t.
    I am going to start as from today and am so excited!

    Thank you again for awakening my dream inside me to write a book!

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