I am happy to welcome my writing friend Shirley Letcher as my guest blogger today. Shirley has been a teacher of music, theater and
arts for over forty years, from preschool to community college. She has traveled extensively throughout her
career, teaching and performing in New York, New Jersey, Alaska, and Maryland.
She is a frequent presenter at state, national, and international conferences
and a judge for Festival of Music competitions. Shirley has written
articles for educational magazines and contributed material for several
nonfiction books on music. Her novel entries have achieved recognition in the
PNWA and PennWriters literary contests. She is a three-time winner of
Shirley and I know each other from the writersandcritters conferences where we always have interesting discussions, bordering on the uncanny sometimes. At the last conference we got to talking about dreams and of course she is very aware of hers and uses them for her often highly imaginative fiction, which is why I asked her to guest blog for me on how dreams can be mined for writing. Thank you, Shirley, for yet again sharing your wisdom (she’s been here before with the idea of using tarot cards for brainstorming):
Mining your Dreams for Writing
by Shirley Letcher
Dream recall is a great tool for any writer. Throughout the day, our subconscious
absorbs emotions and experiences that never register on the conscious mind. At
night, the subconscious constructs narratives that direct our attention to
things we haven’t perceived on a conscious level. Dreams
show our subliminal perceptions of the outer world and reveal our reactions to
what we saw and heard. For writers, these dream segments can be gold, providing
insight, self-awareness and creative inspiration.
Throughout the night, brain waves indicate
that we move through several stages of sleep. Dreams we remember most often
occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which happens three or four times
every night at about 90-minute intervals. The length of REM sleep increases as
the night goes on, ranging from a minute or two to over an hour. If the dreamer
wakes during the REM stage, the dream can be recalled, but it dissolves
quickly. Remembering a dream is a skill that can be enhanced with practice.
A good method for recalling dreams is to
consciously work at remembering them.
Just the ‘want-to’ seems to trigger better recall. Here are a few tips: Write
any snippets down. Writing about a dream often causes other parts of the dream
to surface. Pay special attention to the emotional content. How were you
feeling? What symbol or event caused that reaction? I keep a dream diary, a pad
and pencil, next to my bed. Sometimes I capture a dream from the middle of the
night, but normally only the early morning dreams are ones I remember.
Occasionally something that happens later during the day will spark parts of
the dream. When this happens, I immediately take a moment to ‘think through’
everything I can remember of the dream and make note of what daytime event
triggered the recall.
For me, the next step in the process is to
analyze the dream. No, I don’t consult a generic dream book. I believe dreams
are intensely personal to the dreamer. (In fact, I caution you not to relate
that ‘weird dream you had one night.’ You may be revealing more than you
intend!) I examine the dream content and formulate one statement or theme to
describe it. Perhaps I was drowning in waves, or floating on air. How did I
feel? Happy? Scared? Or perhaps I felt
acute anxiety because I — fill in the blank. Once I have decided on a theme
statement, I review my recent past. What was on my mind? How did it apply to my
statement? Often this alone will make the dream message clear to me. In my
experience both I and people I have worked with know in a ‘eureka’ moment if
the interpretation is correct. If I am uncertain, it probably isn’t the right
Why, as a writer, would this be helpful?
First, self-knowledge is extremely valuable. Examining the dream for puns and
symbolism can also increase the writing pallet. Still, dream recall and
analysis is only the first step. Stay tuned for the tools on how to use your
dreams once they’ve been ‘captured’ in the next installment next Monday.
Books I recommend:
The Dream Game, and Dream Power, by Dr. Ann Faraday, PhD
Writing from the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo
Terrific post, Shirley! I am aware of dreaming extensively, but I so rarely remember any of it.
Same here, William! I used to keep a dream journal but that habit fell by the wayside of life's busyness.
Thanks, William. I hope some of the suggestions will help capture some of those dreams!