Monday, August 4, 2014

Mining your Dreams for Writing (1)

I am happy to welcome my writing friend Shirley Letcher as my guest blogger today. Shirley has been a teacher of music, theater and arts for over forty years, from preschool to community college. She has traveled extensively throughout her career, teaching and performing in New York, New Jersey, Alaska, and Maryland. She is a frequent presenter at state, national, and international conferences and a judge for Festival of Music competitions. Shirley has written articles for educational magazines and contributed material for several nonfiction books on music. Her novel entries have achieved recognition in the PNWA and PennWriters literary contests. She is a three-time winner of NaNoWriMo.

Shirley and I know each other from the writersandcritters conferences where we always have interesting discussions, bordering on the uncanny sometimes. At the last conference we got to talking about dreams and of course she is very aware of hers and uses them for her often highly imaginative fiction, which is why I asked her to guest blog for me on how dreams can be mined for writing. Thank you, Shirley, for yet again sharing your wisdom (she's been here before with the idea of using tarot cards for brainstorming):

Mining your Dreams for Writing
by Shirley Letcher

Dream recall is a great tool for any writer. Throughout the day, our subconscious absorbs emotions and experiences that never register on the conscious mind. At night, the subconscious constructs narratives that direct our attention to things we haven’t perceived on a conscious level. Dreams show our subliminal perceptions of the outer world and reveal our reactions to what we saw and heard. For writers, these dream segments can be gold, providing insight, self-awareness and creative inspiration.

Throughout the night, brain waves indicate that we move through several stages of sleep. Dreams we remember most often occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which happens three or four times every night at about 90-minute intervals. The length of REM sleep increases as the night goes on, ranging from a minute or two to over an hour. If the dreamer wakes during the REM stage, the dream can be recalled, but it dissolves quickly. Remembering a dream is a skill that can be enhanced with practice.

A good method for recalling dreams is to consciously work at remembering them. Just the ‘want-to’ seems to trigger better recall. Here are a few tips: Write any snippets down. Writing about a dream often causes other parts of the dream to surface. Pay special attention to the emotional content. How were you feeling? What symbol or event caused that reaction? I keep a dream diary, a pad and pencil, next to my bed. Sometimes I capture a dream from the middle of the night, but normally only the early morning dreams are ones I remember. Occasionally something that happens later during the day will spark parts of the dream. When this happens, I immediately take a moment to ‘think through’ everything I can remember of the dream and make note of what daytime event triggered the recall.

For me, the next step in the process is to analyze the dream. No, I don’t consult a generic dream book. I believe dreams are intensely personal to the dreamer. (In fact, I caution you not to relate that ‘weird dream you had one night.’ You may be revealing more than you intend!) I examine the dream content and formulate one statement or theme to describe it. Perhaps I was drowning in waves, or floating on air. How did I feel? Happy? Scared? Or perhaps I felt acute anxiety because I — fill in the blank. Once I have decided on a theme statement, I review my recent past. What was on my mind? How did it apply to my statement? Often this alone will make the dream message clear to me. In my experience both I and people I have worked with know in a ‘eureka’ moment if the interpretation is correct. If I am uncertain, it probably isn’t the right interpretation.

Why, as a writer, would this be helpful? First, self-knowledge is extremely valuable. Examining the dream for puns and symbolism can also increase the writing pallet. Still, dream recall and analysis is only the first step. Stay tuned for the tools on how to use your dreams once they’ve been ‘captured’ in the next installment next Monday.

Books I recommend:
The Dream Game, and Dream Power, by Dr. Ann Faraday, PhD
Writing from the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo


  1. Terrific post, Shirley! I am aware of dreaming extensively, but I so rarely remember any of it.

    1. Same here, William! I used to keep a dream journal but that habit fell by the wayside of life's busyness.

    2. Thanks, William. I hope some of the suggestions will help capture some of those dreams!