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

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§ 35 Responses to Dreaming to Write

  • Barb Knowles says:

    This is lovely, Cassandra. I’ve read it twice and will do so again. It’s packed with ideas, thoughts and imagery. Wonderful.

  • I love the idea of interviewing your dreams. It’s a much more active interaction than merely writing down the details. Definitely going to try this.

    • Thank you, Susan, for reading this piece and your comment.

      I find it important to first record a dream as it was experienced as even phrases used can provide clues to deeper meaning or solutions to one’s life issue. Dream analysis also helps pull at the dream’s threads and clarify for the dreamer the issues the dream addresses.

      As an Active Dream teacher, I always take action based on my dreams. Interviews of dream elements might be only one of several actions. If one skips the recording/analysis steps, one looses the gems this work offers.

      Have fun interviewing dream elements. And, may your best dreams come true!

      • Thanks, Cassandra. I’ll continue to get all the details down before I start my interrogations. I see you have a class on September 2 that I unfortunately won’t be able to make. Can you add me to a mailing list so I know about future classes?

    • Susan Barr-Toman, please send your email information to cassandra@beardogdreaming.com

      There’s a Dreaming to Write course starting 9/15 and also monthly one night workshops.

      May your best dreams come true!

  • Gayle Becchetti says:

    Beautiful piece of writing! I love the posing a question idea!

  • Lisa Buie says:

    Great article! I’m not a writer myself, but I do mine my dreams for golden artwork ideas.

    Also, I’m listening to the Beach Boys now 🙂

    • Thank you, Lisa Buie! I did not mention in the article that I also use dreams in creating my artwok. In many ways, the process of mining from dreams for art is the same. I’ve received great images, instruction and solution to artwork problems by intentionally dreaming or posing the question to my nocturnal dreams. Am glad to read another harnesses this wisdom.

  • Samantha Peirce says:

    Wow, so much deeply insightful, well-written, information about how mining our dreams can help us to create richer writing. Thank you for writing this. Lots to unpack here. “[S]ometimes there lurks a sage whale from deep within the dreamer’s soul.” Beautiful!

  • I need to get a hold of her or someone about a ghostwriter project. Asap .

    On Wed, Aug 25, 2021, 6:08 AM BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog wrote:

    > Guest Blogger posted: ” 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 f” >

  • Deborah Irvine says:

    Fabulous relatable true life examples! I really appreciate so many diverse and inspiring examples of using dreams, or simply images from dreams for new ways to approach writing and relationship with myself. Thankyou! Debbie

    On Wednesday, August 25, 2021, BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog wrote:

    > Guest Blogger posted: ” 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 f” >

    • Thank you, Deborah! Great point you made about using dreaming to write also offering new relationship to self. One does, I think, become unavoidably changed by doing dreamwork and writing offers a way to peel away our layers. A very powerful pairing, dreaming and writing enrich process and product.

  • Pat Culpepper says:

    Lots of good ideas. Will write down the little bit or image I see just before I open my eyes. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Pat! Great choice you’re making to use that powerful dream state (the moments seen before opening eyes) to capture the little bit/image experienced. Upon doing analysis/further writing, more details may emerge or new deep insight(s). May this serve your writing (and life) very well!

  • Ava Wolf says:

    Really enjoyed this original, creative approach! Thank you!

    • Thank you, Ava for reading this piece. My thoughts on dreaming are (of course) influenced by Robert Moss, the founder of Active Dreaming which we (and some of the other generous people who commented here) teach – as well as the other shamans I’ve learned from. Recently, learning from Natalie Goldberg also favorably influenced my writing (and interestingly my art) process. But I can’t forget Sheila Bender at Writing It Real and all my former teachers and the students I learned beside in these and other topics. I think all had a part laying the foundation for me to notice these things.

  • Catherine Leonardo says:

    So enjoyed this essay, Cassandra!

    Looking forward to retaking the Dreaming to Write Workshop September 2nd and to taking for the first time the Dreaming to Write 7 Week Course, starting September 15th!

  • gracieguru says:

    Thank you Cassandra. Very thoughtful and eye opening as to the potential benefits of recording and following your dreams. Well done!

  • Laurie says:

    I’ve recorded my dreams for decades and there are still a few “living dreams” that haunt me in a valuable way. You piece reminded me of the power I have within even when asleep. I love the image in your pice of the “sage whale” , the “essay biscuit”. I’ve never had much help from asking myself a question before sleep; sometimes just a word or two about the day works. Thank you for laying it out so well!

    • Hi Laurie,

      Thank you for comments. How wonderful that you’ve valuable “living dreams” and their haunting gives your life juice.

      The key to asking a question before sleep is in what does upon opening eyes after dreaming. First, recording the details of the night is essential. Then, I find, dream analysis helps unlock the dream and to make an action plan.

      Fragments are delights – they’re easier to work with due to their brief nature. If the dream’s meaning still eludes, carry that fragment as the day/week(s) unfold. Fragments are great to use koans. When fragments appear in waking life once can take swift action.

      If you wish to dive further into learning to harness the power of dreams – for writing and other life matters, visit my website @ http://www.beardogdreaming.com

      Wishing your best dreams come true,


  • olaolamide363221 says:

    Thank you for this essay Cassandra.
    Thank you for telling me the important of working with my dreams.

  • Yvonbe Tafuto says:

    Wonderful article. Provides such rich food for though and inspiration.

  • shinjeong says:

    I also want that what I imagine or dreaming I will write about them but unfortunately I don’t know how can I write because they are not complete they are just coming for couple of moment I really appreciate with you and I feel that I will connect with you
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts

    • Hi Shinjeong,
      Fragments from dreams are great to work from because they are short. Doing dream analysis helps to mine information from them and one can create writing prompts from them.
      Am pleased you wish to connect with me. I’m offering a workshop on Dreaming to Write on 9/2 and a 7 week course starting 9/15. Visit http://www.beardogdreaming.com/schedule to register.
      I do offer private consultations, but partaking in either or both of those events will help you with this issue you mention (and is more cost effective).
      May your dreams inspire and inform your writing!

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