A friend of mine once asked me where I came up with ideas for my stories. My explanation was that I might take my childhood house in Providence, put it in Los Angeles, and populate it with people I met in college in New York. “Oh,” he said. “So it’s like a dream.”
“Exactly,” I replied. A dream is perhaps the best and quickest description of the writing process. After all, aren’t many stories begun in that fertile, idle state we call a “day dream?” However, I am as likely as not to ignore my sleeping dreams, which, like most people’s, are abstract, surreal, and periodically repetitive and unsatisfying. I hope they’ve done their work, because once I’m out of bed, I’m on to other things.
But I have never doubted the dreams are important. And of course they are. Without dreams human beings go mad. Think about that for a moment: you literally must dream. These fragmented, Frankenstein narratives we call dreams are in a way more important than the sleep in which they are born. The deep rest of sleep is nothing more than a vehicle for spontaneous imagining.
Or, as any writer knows, re-imagining. For everything we write, everything we dream, is culled from all that we have done and known. Culled, and then rearranged into a new reality. The imagination is not interested in what is. What we call reality is merely the building material of the imagination, which knows only the vast and ever-shifting landscape of its own reality.
That our visions of our futures are called dreams is no linguistic coincidence. As you imagine yourself forward through time, you are rearranging in your imagination what has been to shape what will be. For this reason, the imagination loves the future, it is its playground, and the imagination is fearless when facing the future because it cannot be wrong. And this great tool with which everyone was gifted is not just a muscle for writing stories or painting pictures, it is the authentic engine that drives the human animal forward.