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Dream Your Way Out of Writer’s Block

August 18, 2010

St. Augustine in His Cell by Sandro Botticelli

One of the biggest hurdles writers face in their profession is writer’s block, or the Block as I like to call it. It really feels like some massive concrete slab is containing all those amazing story lines running through your head. Sometimes, it’s a temporary difficulty that passes with time, but then there are more severe cases where you reluctantly abandon your short story, or the novel in progress because it seems improbable you’ll ever figure out where the story is going.  It can even be a case of inspiration where you don’t feel like writing because other distractions are getting in the way. There are hundreds of reasons why writers stop producing new work. But here’s the good news…the solution is in your dreams.

We all dream. We’ve all remembered at least one dream and told someone about it. There was something that compelled you to tell someone about it. Perhaps it was the strangeness of the dream. The vividness of the dream world, or the peculiar people you spoke to. Maybe you knew you were dreaming and began to fly and suddenly woke up. This sense of urgency, to tell someone about the dream, is the key to tackling writer’s block.

Keep a journal next to your bed and write down your thoughts as soon as you wake up. Most of us don’t feel like writing early in the morning because we need our coffee, breakfast and want to beat traffic on the way to work. But keeping this journal filled with your remembered dreams or early thoughts will only take about five minutes. You don’t need to remember the whole dream, or any dreams for that matter (but it certainly helps). Forget grammar, perfect spelling, or coherence (at least for the moment). Just write!

Maybe all of this still sounds ludicrous and time consuming. Here’s an example of a dream I recently had (exactly as I wrote it) and how I turned it into a flash fiction.

The dream: Walking down a New York street with several fashion photo shoots. Many models- everyone is so beautiful.

That’s it. A small dream fragment turned into yesterday’s story about a cyborg on her way home who likes to walk down a particular street to watch human women pose for photos. I only had two sentences written down in my journal but as I sat in front of the computer, this two sentences served as a kind of warm up exercise. I wasn’t the one walking down the street. She became an observer. Someone who enjoyed studying the female body, its movements and facial expressions. A being who lives among humans and has her own daily routine. Instead of washing her face, brushing her teeth, and applying moisturizer this female cyborg cleans her metallic body parts. In this case, it’s her eyes. She requires a different kind of bodily maintenance and this, I believe, makes her very human.

As writers what we need to remember is that we are always writing. Not just when we’re awake, but as we sleep and different regions of the brain activate and deactivate playing scenes from our long term memory, creating whole worlds and figures with distinct personalities. Writing always begins with the dream.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 1:29 am

    This is such a great post. I need to start keeping a journal next to my bed because I have dreamt some amazing things then forgotten them by morning. I wish I had a technique for recalling those dreams because they would have made great stories. It never ceases to amaze me how much is going on in everyone’s head!

    • Wendy permalink*
      August 24, 2010 8:56 am

      I know exactly what you mean, Selma. I make it a point to write as soon as I wake up for fear that I will lose some wonderful ideas for stories. About dream recall techniques…I think the act of writing what you do remember automatically increases dream recall. I think the hardest part is training yourself to do it everyday! If you decide to keep a journal, I would love to know how that goes.

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