Dreaming to Write
August 25, 2021 § 35 Comments
By Cassandra Hamilton
Dreaming and shamanic journeys are great tools for writers. The very mythic nature of these landscapes stirs emotions and spurs imagination. Harnessing dreams, one can scout for topics, make prompt lists, harvest images for language, plan projects and solve writing problems. Working in this manner makes soulful the practical aspects of writing.
Everyone knows about dreams journals. The smart writer analyzes dreams and mines them for gold. The more stirring a dream, dream image or language used to describe the dream, the more built-in juice for the writer. Take that opinionated reactive juice to the page and the writer will grip readers with their slant on this topic.
From a dream synopsis, cull phrases that stir the dreamer and make a prompt list. Separately, make a list of things remembered from a dream without referring to a dream report. Note new items and add them to the prompt list.
I find it noteworthy to reflect on which details a dreamer remembers and which are forgotten. I think it’s worthwhile to ask questions about details luring in shadows. Sure, some details are like extras in a film. But sometimes there lurks a sage whale from deep within the dreamer’s soul. Shedding a spotlight those faint details can sometimes render a dreamer thunderstruck. Writing thunderstruck is always easy and fruitful.
The more a writer works with their dreams, the more their creativity is boosted. Once a writer masters mining topics and prompts, they can re-enter dreams as if they were rooms to study. Therein they can soak-in details or interview dream elements. They can, in their mind’s eye, study a moment as if it were a painting. Writing from a frozen dream moment can be descriptive or inspired like Ekphrasic writing.
For planning, a writer can pose a question to their dreams by penning the question on paper before sleep, upon waking record dreams and then consider the dream as if it were a tarot card. They can do shamanic journeys using those steps or to visit famous writers/experts to interview for practical, step-by-step writing advice. Or, because in dreams and shamanic journeys books and published works are wise creatures, writers can speak directly to their creations.
It’s easy to use a dream to solve writing problems when a dream shows the writer performing a task such as visiting a library or rearranging project pages. But a dream consisting of metaphorical images requires more effort for the writer to make a connection(s) between writing and the dream. The writer must ask questions. For example, how could my dreaming of eating four biscuits relate to writing my essay? Should I write in four sessions on this topic? Do I need four examples readers can savor? Should I tell the essay in four sections? And so forth. Continue asking, until the writer knows how to cook their essay biscuit.
Dreams can assist writers to find richer, more soulful landscape to a work-in-progress. An example of this would be an essay I recently wrote about my mother’s seventh deathiversary. In the hours before Mom had a massive brain stem stroke, I effortlessly wrote after years of struggle. I planned to tell her about this after I paused writing to walk my dogs. She was not conscious when I returned home and so was not able to share my writing breakthrough. I described this all in my essay, adding that in death she visited in dreams to provide accurate advice on home and relationships. In my early draft, the reader inferred I was, on the seventh anniversary of her death, writing again. But the piece felt not-quite complete. Then I remembered dreams of my mother visiting accompanied by the Beach Boy’s song, “Don’t Worry Baby”. I decided to add this to the piece. I researched an opening phrase that haunted me. I consulted a musician to better understand the music. Then I replayed the dreams in my mind and described how the syncopation of motifs contrasting the five-part harmonies made waking from the dreams surreal. After all that work, I changed the essay’s ending, closing with how remembering the dreams moved me to play the song — and write. Finally, I’d arrived at an ending the reader could celebrate.
It’s important to resist assigning only one ultimate use of writing from a dream. Like our life stories, dreams and their elements may find many lives in our creative work. Look how I did this now, sharing again that dream with the Beach Boy song to impart how dreams can inform writing. Follow this advice on harnessing dreams for writing, rely on the juice from your dreams and “Don’t Worry Baby”.
Cassandra Hamilton is a disabled artist/writer with traumatic brain injury and central vision loss in one eye who creates from dreams, shamanic journeys, and life. In 2020 her images found international audiences via German publications Beyond Words and Beyond Queer Words and in fall 2021, Beyond Words will publish her first international writing credit. Her other writing has appeared in 101 Words, The Door Opener Magazine, Rivereast News Bulletin, The Glastonbury Citizen and three Writing It Real anthologies edited by Sheila Bender. She teaches Active Dreaming (a synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism), including workshops on Dreaming and Writing. Currently writing a memoir, you can contact her at BearDogDreaming.com