Many writers take inspiration from dreams. As the subconscious processes the events and feelings of the day, it weaves a string of images that can take the form of a narrative. For writers, dreams are a valuable tool. They can be used as story prompts or to inform the main theme or plot of an existing work. Whenever I’m stuck on something in a novel or story, I find that a night of dreaming can reveal possible solutions.
Growing up, my dreams were mostly nightmares. I don’t know what it is that causes some people to have more bad dreams than others. To this day, I experience pretty intense nightmares. I think it helps when I’m writing the dark stuff.
In fact, nightmares have inspired several famous authors. Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Mary Shelley, E. B. White, Charlotte Bronte, D. H. Lawrence, and H. G. Wells all cited dreams or nightmares as inspiration for some of their novels. Stephen King has said, “I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back.”
This is an excerpt from Winslow Eliot’s wonderful non-fiction book What Would You Do If There Was Nothing You Had To Do? about dreaming:
Lucid or conscious dreaming is the ability to become self-aware while you’re asleep and dreaming. Eventually, you’ll not only be aware that you’re dreaming, but you’ll actually be able to guide and create your dreams.
Remembering your dreams is just the beginning of an exploration unlike any other. Often you’ll find that just by remembering a dream you’ll experience a feeling or insight that filters into your day.
But imagine being able to create that feeling or insight yourself! Imagine being able to observe, sense, hear, smell as vividly as you can when you are awake and conscious!
A lucid dream is a co-created experience. What you’re doing is interacting with your subconscious mind and imaging worlds and experiences into existence.
I’ve only recently been trying to actively engage my subconscious and experiment with lucid dreaming and recording dreams. In the past, there were times I’d wake up from a cinematic dream, thinking, Wow, that would make a great story! and then completely forgotten about it a few hours later. Why are dreams so easy to forget? My boyfriend almost never remembers his dreams, even moments after waking. Mine—especially the nightmares—are usually so vivid that they stay with me all day.
Here’s one of my most recent dreams that I wrote down…
Having died, I was brought outside of life.
My lives were a series of windows stacked like a ladder that I climbed. When I died, I fell out the window.
Out on the ladder in nothingness, I was not very happy about dying and all, and I kept trying to get back into the life I’d left. But the window had closed. I had to climb up and go into the next one.
I understood that when you are brought out of a life, you become sentimental for it, but that wears off quickly because there is no such thing as sentimentality. All the human connections and emotions began to dissipate. I was thinking, what was the point? Why did I fall in love? Why did I bother to do any of the things I did? But there were no answers.
One thing that really bothered me was how steep the ladder was. It was too easy to fall off. If it wasn’t so steep, it wouldn’t be so awful to die.
The last thing I remember, I was being pushed into the next life, somewhat unwillingly. It took the shape of a great deal of linguini pasta being pushed into a garbage disposal in a kitchen sink. I watched my pasta-self being crushed and ground through the disposal, I suppose, into the next life. Something of me remained behind, but I don’t know what.