17 May 2012

Different Approaches to Dreams in Writing

Remember the last dream you had that was so stirring you had to tell everyone about it?

Dreams can be used for creative solutions to writing. The first time I was introduced to this idea I was at an undergraduate at a philosophy conference in Idaho and had just been told to go home and find someone to marry. An old professor from a visiting school was trying to cheer me up, he leaned over and told me that he kept a pad of paper by his bed and used it to solve all his creative problems in writing.

Method #1: Before you go to sleep focus on your work-in-progress. Explore the problem you need solved thoroughly as you drift off to dreamland. At any point during the night you get the answer and are awake, don’t trust yourself to remember it. Write it down.
Dreams are also full of symbolism. I expand certain scenes I’m writing with elements from a dream dictionary.

Doesn’t reading an excellent book almost feel as though you’re dreaming it? The vivid images of colors like rusted copper and young blades of grass or the outline of a step-pyramid all have associated meanings for dream interpreters. Filling a setting with symbols can add a depth beyond sensory description.

Method #2: Get a dream dictionary and browse the meanings for useful symbols to add to characters, scenes and locations. Search the dictionary for the meanings of elements in the crucial scenes of your work-in-progress to identify elements whose messages are contradictory.
Dream dictionaries may not all agree on the meanings of specific symbols, but symbols in dreams were explored early in the history of psychology by Carl Jung. He wrote Man and His Symbols in 1968.

Author P. J. Kaiser has offered another method on her site Inspired by Real Life.

Method #3: To summarize, she suggests recording a dream and then re-visiting it in the future to use for writing inspiration.

The Dreamers by Albert Moore
Dreams are unquestionably accessing the most creative part of our minds. I’ve been using dreamtime to fight writer’s block by falling asleep picturing every element of my work-in-progress. As I fall asleep, I find myself dreaming what naturally must come next in the story and discovering that my dreams can develop interesting solutions that re-inspire me.


  1. You captured exactly what I feel. It's like waking up from a dream when you finish a really good book, and a really good dream is like a narrative of your own thoughts and feelings.

    1. Thanks Winonah,

      I often feel like I'm dreaming while I'm reading something I truly enjoy.