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Write from your Dreams

A crash course in learning to write from your dreams

One of the richest sources for creative writing inspiration is right in your own head. And a way to tap into the full potential for imagination is to record, and, eventually, write from your dreams.

You often dream even if you don't remember having done so, up to three or even more times per night. Sleeping is like riding the ocean on a raft you slip up a crest and back down into a valley, sometimes all the way up to waking. And in one of those inbetween places between the crest (wakefulness) and the trough (deep sleep), you dream.

There are many theories on how dreams work. We know that they happen during the R.E.M. (rapid eye moment) stage of sleep, and that our brains seem to need to dream to function properly.

Recombinant R.E.M. -- the DNA of dreams

We know that you see images, hear sounds, interact with real and imagined people. . . everyone's experience is different. Often, the images you see can be traced back to real experiences and memories culled from the day before. Some theorists believe that dreams are the brain's filing associate, as your sleeping mind decides which of your recent experience will be kept in your long-term memory and which will be discarded.

It's the fascinating recombination of these images and experiences that cause the rich complexity of our dreams. In order to make sense of all the memories being filed, the brain creates an artificial framework around them, your dream landscape.

It's pretty easy to see just how creative we all are, if our brains are capable of throwing together Aunt Janice's lost contact, a three-legged pit bull, a sailboat, and ravioli and come up with something totally new and reasonably coherent.

Write from your dreams

If you feel you've lost touch with your creativity, don't be afraid that it's left you for good. Every night, a part of your brain is focussed on nothing but the exercise of the imagination. One of the best and simplest ways to rekindle your creativity is to learn to remember, record, and write from your dreams.

I have heard a lot of people talk about problem-solving during sleep the old saw about sleeping on a problem. It doesn't actually work for me; if I think of a problem before I go to bed, I tend to stay awake all night trying to solve it.

But I do write from my dreams, a lot. I have always treated the things I write as if they have an existence outside me, and that I am merely discovering them instead of creating them. Often, when I wake up and start remembering a dream, I find I am instantly starting to redefine and shift the story from it into a shape that will add to something I'm already writing, or discover that I have a brand new story idea.

As a bonus, it takes a certain amount of pressure off me to believe that the story is, somehow, already finished and that I just have to pull it out of my head to have it on the page before me. In this way, I adhere to the "foregone conclusion" premise of creative writing: it already exists, I just have to remember it. That way I never get bogged down thinking I can't finish something.

A practical example

In order to demonstrate how an idea culled from a dream can become a story, I here present a dream a hoary, cobwebby old one from 1987 and the short story that I wrote based on its images and the feelings it roused in me. I've also provided a commentary. Feel free to NOT read that if you choose. It will tell you much less about the story that I'm sure you've already thought of yourself.

  • The Three White Mice - a story by Jen Frankel
  • The original dream upon which the story was based
  • A commentary on the story


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