Howdy Freeholders, welcome back for another riveting blog post!
Recently I've been talking a lot about the writing process, the tools I use, where I get my inspiration...that kind of stuff. But there's one area that I haven't touched on very much, as far as inspiration and story ideation are concerned.
You see, I have been on a personal journey of self-discovery through the use of analyzing my subconscious — my dreams — for a while now, and I thought it'd be a good time to share some thoughts on the subject. Specifically my dreams. I find this stuff extremely fascinating, and always have. I will admit, I’m somewhat obsessed with lucid dreaming, and though I’ve only ever come close to obtaining lucidity in my dreams once — maybe twice — as a creator, the idea that I could manipulate my dreamscape to do whatever it is I wanted is simply too good to pass up.
I've read up on how to go about waking up while you're asleep, how to control your dreams, and all that fun stuff, and I have to say it's been exciting to try night after night after night.
Why do I do it?
Why do I have notebooks filled with recorded dreams? Why do I change up my sleeping habits just in order to force myself into a dream state? I’ve read examples of people using lucid dreams to practice things and become experts — surgeons sometimes will dream of doing a tricky procedure before actually doing it on a person, and top athelets will dream about doing a particular move or practicing a skill.
In a dream, time has no meaning. So you can actually "do" things 10, 15, 20, 100 times in the space of an hour. Surgeons, athletes, people from all walks of life and occupation can create dreams (lucid dreaming) where they accomplish a task and practice it in the dream state, then wake up and are able to accomplish it in real life with a level of proficiency that should not be possible without out weeks or months of training.
For me, the idea is to explore a plot point in one of my books, or perhaps turn one of my books into a movie that I can then play out in my head. I think in some way, I have been doing this.
When I get into the zone, when I'm writing and the world falls away and I lose myself, and the only thing I see is what's happening to the characters — and I'm just there recording it — when that happens I feel like I'm tapping into that ability to watch a movie in my head. It doesn't seem too much of a stretch for me to be able to do that while I'm asleep. I have a very vivid imagination, so playing out the plot of the book sometimes will give me an idea of where plot holes are or where a certain character should do something a little different. Or perhaps how a certain character should look.
Yeah, I know, it's a little hand-wavy woo-woo, and gets a bit metaphysical, but nonetheless I continue to be drawn back to dream mining. I've read enough examples out there to know that I'm not the only one in the creative arts that uses this technique…or at least tries to. Besides, it's a fascinating glimpse into my own mind when I can flip back through some of my dreams and try to analyze why a particular dream turned out the way it did, or why I dreamed of that person, place, or object.
Okay, you're crazy. So how do you do it?
If you want to get started on your own, it's fairly simple.
Keep a notebook and a pencil — personally I found that trying to use my phone, (1) wakes up Mrs. Richardson when the screen lights up, (2) tends to make me stay awake after staring at said screen and makes it hard for me to fall back asleep. There's also (3) studies that show we have greater memory recall when we use pen/pencil and paper versus tapping on a screen or keyboard with digital words. I personally don't know why it happens that way, but I found it to be true. I can memorize things much easier, much faster, and retain that memory much longer on things I write down the old school way. Notes I type and try to remember I’m still in pretty good at, but within a relatively — ie, shockingly — short period of time that information is lost and I'm forced to rely on the digital medium that much more.
But back to recording dreams. The first step is to have a pencil and notebook on my nightstand next to my bed. (Another option that I use is my digital recorder.) To avoid waking Mrs. Richardson, usually what I do is either grab the pencil and paper — or the digital recorder — and either had to my closet or the bathroom. Once ensconced with a little bit of privacy, the digital recorder comes in handy: I simply whisper what my dream was about into the recorder. This method does add an extra step, because then once I wake up for the day I'm forced to go back to that file and either transcribe it through Dragon or listen to it and type it all out — or handwrite it. For years, I kept all of my dream journals in handwritten form, but because of the ease of searching and cross-referencing digital media, I have been recording everything digitally transcribed from handwritten notes, and I've also been transcribing old dream journal entries into a journal in Day One.
With everything stored in one place and easily searchable, I can add tags to any entry I feel conducive to a project or possibly a future project. Then all I have to do is look up the tags and any dreams I've had that might contain story ideas — or scenes — pop up for easy examination and incorporation into my PKM database (more on that later).
Alternatively, I’ll use the aforementioned pencil and notebook either in my closet or the bathroom and scribble down the basics of what the dream was about. Unless I'm wide awake, I try not to record all the details. For example, one dream took place at my old alma mater, the University of Delaware, and I was in the Trabant Student Center talking to some friends while eating some delicious food. In the dream I focused on what the food looked like and tasted like and smelled like, the sights and sounds that were so much more vivid than they were in real life — perhaps the sound of sleet tapping gently against the windows. Those details really stuck with me when I woke from the dream.
However at the time, I didn't want to lose what the dream itself was about. So I scribbled down some notes about meeting my friends at the TSS at UD. I mentioned that it was sleeting outside, and then I mentioned what we did after we met there — we walked back to the dorms and got into a firefight with invading aliens. I know, sounds crazy, but that's the gist of what the dream was about. And that was enough to jog my memory when I woke for the day several hours later.
Transcribing and Analysis
That particular night, according to my notes, I went back to bed and slept for a few more hours. I didn't have any more dreams that night. Often, especially after a year or two of doing this, I end up recording a dream every night, sometimes two or three. Sometimes they’re only snippets: a scene, a person or a setting. Other times, it's a full-fledged adventure with each dream. Regardless, I'll try to go back to sleep…unless it's time for me to get up anyway.
During the day, usually after I get the kids off to school and I return to the house and get up to my office — and have some peace and quiet to think — I'll review my dream notes from early that morning. I’ve found, for me, I usually have my dreams between 1 and 3 AM. In the beginning, seeing scribbled notes about the University Center, my friends, sleet, and fighting aliens would leave me scratching my head trying to figure out just what the hell I wrote down. But now, after I've honed my ability to remember, just that little cliff notes version was enough to bring all the memories of the complete dream flooding back in my mind. Then I can take some time to hammer out on the keyboard exactly what happened during the dream and add all the delicious details.
Even if I don't have any dream that is related or can be useful to my writing — and that's about 90% of the dreams that I have — I find this practice of dream recall absolutely fascinating. I love recording the dream, putting it in my journal, and reviewing it at the end of the month or possibly the next year when Day One reminds me that I have old entries to look at for that day.
At that point I'll read through the dream again and usually dreamsigns will pop out — perhaps I thought about my friends that day because I saw one of them on Facebook…or sent an email to someone. Perhaps there was sleet in my dream because I checked the weather and discovered that a winter storm was on the way in the waking world.
I log all of these things and though it does take time, I find this process over time has built up muscle memory in my mind. When I have a dream, it's much easier to remember the whole thing now than it was when I first started trying. When I have lots of details, it's not only much easier to remember those details but it's easier to analyze them and realize exactly why I had those elements in the dream. And while I haven't had very many eureka moments where I sat there satisfied with the psychoanalysis on myself, it is a fun pastime, and has given me several interesting ideas to incorporate into my books.
Most of this process will be reflected in an upcoming series I'm working on — revolving around lucid dreams, astral projection, and all sorts of fun paranormal shenanigans. It's a passion project of mine I've been kicking around for a few years, but it continues to grow and won’t leave me alone. It's exactly the way the Wildfire Saga started out in my head, so I've been paying attention to this new series and adding little things here and there.
So that's probably enough rambling for one day. I highly encourage you — even if you think you don't have any dreams or your dreams are meaningless, give it a shot. You might be surprised at the results. Scientists have confirmed that all humans dream every single night, sometimes as much as five or six dreams at night. The fact that we don't remember them doesn't make them any less real. The other interesting thing I've realized on reading up on the subject is that scientists have concluded there is no difference to our brains between actual real memories of events experienced in our conscience life and the images created by our subconscious in dreams. To our mind, dreams are in fact…real.
That could be one reason why some dreams feel real, and even leave me disoriented when I wake up: am I dreaming, or was the dream real? Or is real life the dream? That kind of trippy stuff just makes me grin.
So anyway, to conclude, I just wanted to give you also one last bit of advice. If you're going to attempt this, keep in mind that it takes time and patience. I've been doing this for several years now to get to the point where I can remember a dream almost every night, and several times a month I’ll recall 2 to 3 dreams in one night. But for literally six months at a stretch, I might not remember anything — especially back in the early days when I first tried doing this sporadically and didn't really put any scientific thought into it or use any procedures. I just did it willy-nilly and my results came out…willy-nilly. A dream here, and then nothing for a few months…and then part of a dream…and then nothing for a few months.
When I finally knuckled down and stuck to a routine and kept my supplies at hand for recording the dreams, the results started to trickle in, then became a steady flow, and finally became a torrent that now I find myself some days waking up wondering how much time do I have to spend recording the five dreams I had the night before?
So give it a shot, go play in your dreams. When you come back from exploring your subconscious, see if you can write down what happened and draw a map of your inner mind. You might be surprised at what you find! I know I am. Some of you have read through parts of my dreams in my books, and there will be more the future.
So as always, we live in interesting times, my friends. Keep your heads down and your powder dry. Until next time…
: Strange occurrences, objects, people…anything that’s not normal and would make me go WTF in real life, but in a dream, is oddly just accepted as “normal”…it’s said when you can recognize these in the dream, it can help you attain lucidity. By writing them down when I’m awake, I hope to train my subconscious to spot them when I’m asleep. So far I’ve been almost able to recognize dreamsigns when I’m asleep. As soon as I do, I wake up completely and lose the dream. But I feel like I’m getting closer to ludicidy.
: It may shock some of you to find out that I don't exactly have one writing project going at any one time. At the moment, I am doing research for a historical fiction series set during the Plantagenet Empire, a science-fiction series set in the future of the Wildfire Saga, the aforementioned paranormal lucid dream/astral projection series and I'm also continuing work on my zombie series, Elixir Plague. The list goes on…not least of which is planning out another series with my writing partner, Mike Krause!