Using Dreams for Inspiration to Write
Heather Dawn, MA, PhD
Many writers have been inspired by their dreams and nightmares, including Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Mary Shelley, and Robert Louis Stevenson. In fact, Stevenson said he had little people in his dreams that told him stories he wrote down every morning. If he did not like the ending, he could ask for another and would get it!
If you are not as lucky as Stevenson – and most of us are not – there are things you can do to make your dreams a more reliable inspirational resource. First, write your dreams down. A scientific study showed that creativity increased when people kept track of their dreams. The participants were divided into three groups. Only one group was instructed about how to keep a dream journal. After twenty-seven days, all the participants were given the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. The group that was taught how to keep a dream journal scored the highest (Sierra-Siegert, Jay, Florez, & Garcia, 2016).
You can learn to remember more dreams, too. First, make sure you are sleeping well because if you are not sleeping well, you will not dream well either. Do not drink alcohol or anything that has caffeine in it before you go to sleep. That includes coffee, green tea, and chocolate. Finally, and most importantly, repeat in your mind, as you are falling asleep, that you want to remember your dreams.
To keep a dream journal, choose a specific place to write them down. It could be a blank book or a three-ring spiral notebook. If you like to draw you may want to use a big blank book so you have room for your sketches. Some people record their dreams on their iPhone; there are a couple of apps for doing this. You may want to try out different things until you find something that works for you. Keep your dream journal close enough to your bed so that you do not have to get out of bed to write your dreams down. This is important, because once you put your feet on the floor your consciousness is in this reality and you begin to forget your dreams. Some people say not to move from the position you woke up in before writing your dreams down for the same reason. You can also try drinking a lot of water before going to bed. That way your bladder will wake you up. Or you can set a calm music alarm for the middle of the night, for example, two or three in the morning. You will probably wake up while you are in what is called the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep where people dream the most vivid dreams.
Do not turn any lights on before you write your dreams down, not even a small one, because when you do, you interrupt a sleep cycle and it is more difficult to go back to sleep. If you take naps, time them to either 1 ½ hour or 20 minutes. Otherwise, again, you will interrupt a sleep cycle. When you interrupt a sleep cycle you may feel groggy, unbalanced, or you may even be accident-prone.
Date your dream journal entries and write a short description of important things going on in your life. If you want to interpret your dreams, this will help you connect them to your waking life. It is suggested that you title your dreams. Create a title that describes your dream, similar to a movie title. It should be short but descriptive enough to help you recall that particular dream. A title will help you remember a dream when you want to refer back to it. It may be years before you use a dream in a piece of writing. Stephen King has used several dreams from his teenage years in his novels. E.B. White’s Stuart Little is based on a dream he had twenty years before he turned it into the classic book for children. When you are writing that best selling novel, it is certainly going to be easier to find a dream from the past twenty years if you have titled and dated it.
Keeping track of your dreams has other advantages too. I had a dream that prompted me to go to my doctor. As a result of the dream itself, I was finally diagnosed properly and was soon able to return to graduate school to finish my degree, thereby realizing MY dream of becoming PhD!
Heather Dawn holds an MA in Consciousness Studies and a Ph.D. in Psychology-humanistic. She studied dreams, creativity, and human potential. She coaches people about how to use dreams for inspiration for their creative projects. She can be contacted at her website where you can also sign up for a free monthly Dreams and Creativity Newsletter.
Sierra-Siegert, M., Jay, E., Florez, & Garcia, A. E. (2016). Minding the dreamer within: An experimental study on the effects of enhanced dream recall on creative thinking. The Journal of Creative Behavior 23. doi:10.1002/jocb.168.