Dreams can be terrifying: a dragon chases you over a steep mountain, your teeth fall out, a loved one is knifed in a dark alleyway! You wake up sweating, screaming, flailing, much to your partner’s dismay and perhaps to find him defending himself against your violent onslaught.
Or dreams can just be weird, like having sex with that guy you should definitely not be having sex with and didn’t even think you liked!
All of us wonder about the meaning of our dreams. There is extensive research regarding dreams, but why we dream is still open to serious debate. Many theories abound: memory consolidation, emotional regulation, threat simulation. People often attempt to mine their dreams for creative insights into how to lead a better life. Some even believe they are premonitions. A dream is rich with images, ideas, emotions and sensations and they occur involuntarily during the REM stage of sleep. If you’re not sleeping soundly, you won’t be able to tap into this deep reservoir of creativity and wanton abandon. So…get those ZZZZs!
In my research I stumbled on this interesting study, (Bulkeley, 2012) regarding the relationship between your political orientation and dreaming. Political liberals tend to remember their dreams more frequently than their conservative counterparts, and conservatives report more mundane dreams in contrast to the bizarre dreams of liberals. Better dream recall is associated with openness to experience, and liberals, who tend to be more open to differences, not just in their social values, are generally seen as more imaginative than conservatives. On the other hand, conservatives were also cited as having more restful, peaceful sleep than liberals.
The researcher indicated that this finding could be interpreted in one of two ways:
- Liberals are crazy, unbalanced and lost in their own fantasies, while conservatives have a more grounded, realistic and sober approach to life. OR…
- Conservatives must be repressed, narrow-minded and lacking self-knowledge, while liberals are clearly blessed with greater imagination, creativity and mental flexibility.
Well, I know which one I’m going with!
For writers, dreams are a spontaneous and thrilling ride through Wonderland. You can meet the Mad Hatter, The Queen of Hearts, or The Devil himself, or all of them at the same time…in Russia! You can converse with them, fly with them, kill them! For me, they’ve often provided the solution to my protagonist’s dilemma and even provided the climax/resolution to my story. And I recently discovered that I’m not the only one to use dreams as inspiration.
I recently read an interview with Stephen King: An excerpt from Writers Dreaming by Naomi Epel. Mr. King instantly put my mind at ease, letting me know we are kindred spirits in writing style. I’ll paraphrase here: When I’m working I never know what the end is going to be or how things are going to come out. I don’t know what’s going to happen next and it makes me extremely nervous. Apparently, he had 7,800 pages done on a manuscript and he couldn’t finish. He went to bed one night and dreamed the junkyard scene. I just took the dream as it was and put it in the book. Dropped it in. I didn’t change anything.
Now, I know you have that pad next to your bed so you can write down things that come to mind as you’re unwinding from the day. I find this time to be my most creative. Once I’m away from the distractions of my everyday life, my mind opens and thoughts form. So make sure you use it as a dream journal too, because when you wake in the middle of the night with an amazing one, you won’t remember it all that well once the sun beams through your windows. Only be sure you take a minute to turn on the light and write legibly. More than once, I wrote something down without turning the light on and when I went to read it in the light of day, well, it looked like an alien had sent me some cryptic message. I couldn’t read a single word. And since I wasn’t writing a SciFi novel, an alien message was of no help whatsoever… 😉
Up Next: E is for Empathy: why it’s important for writers