Can I Take Credit for Writing Ideas that Come to Me In Dreams?

My three-year-old son awoke from an afternoon nap today shaken by a bad dream.  He explained that in the dream he had been playing in the yard and suddenly became aware that the moon was watching him.  Woah.

Guillermo de Toro once shared that he drew inspiration from lucid dreams to create some of the creatures that appear in his films, such as the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth.

A fair amount of my own inspiration for writing has come to me straight out of the black depths of my sometimes twisted, sometimes parochial dreamscapes.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve awoken from a dream thinking, “I should write that down before I forget it.”  Usually, though, even if I have remembered, the dream scenarios do not hold up under the scrutiny of daylight.  It is most often the case that upon further, lucid inspection, the plots and sequences of dreams unravel to the point of uselessness.  For example, I remember awakening from a dream about a flood ready to write an epic, modern-day Noah’s Ark blockbuster.  By mid morning that day, however, the images that remained in my mind were comical and incomprehensible, at best.

dream-catcherOccasionally, though, the muse hits me hardest when my lights are already out.  Early in college I wrote a novella called Ice Capsule about a National Geographic photographer who uncovers some very unsettling goings-on while visiting a science station in Antarctica.  Everything about that story (I have to dust that one off and polish it up one of these days, now that I’m thinking about it!) originated from a very clear dream I had in which I was far below the earth in a deep shaft of ice.  In the dream I was looking up toward the the surface at a disk of milky sky, the shaft walls glistening with swirls of blue, watching a piece of paper float down toward me.  When it reached me I realized it was a note.  I read the note and immediately awoke from the dream and scribbled down what it had said:  “She was alive when I took her, and her fear fed me.”

A major plot point regarding Embers of Shadow, Book Three of my Sunbird Chronicles, also came to me in a dream.  I never could have arrived at something so ingenious when I was awake!  Can I really take credit for it, though?  Where do these ideas come from?  Am I constantly having them (I do think about my writing all the time) and I just happen to have the right satellite dish up to receive good ideas when I’m sleeping?  Are our imaginations stronger or weaker when our thoughts are free-floating in the ether of sleep, without conventions of unidirectional time flow and external sensory inputs to anchor our synapses?

I suppose that writing ideas that come to me when I’m asleep are my ideas.  Who else would they belong to?  But it sure feels like I’m taking them from some…where, and not creating them myself.  Does that make any sense?


3 Responses to “Can I Take Credit for Writing Ideas that Come to Me In Dreams?”

  1. Of course they are your ideas from your mind. Your mind works in overdrive when ‘asleep.’ All the ideas that pop through are yours that are hidden by the useless trivia of your waking self.

  2. I think about a subject before I go to bed. The ideas seems to gel overnight. If someone gave it to me by telepathy I’ll credit them if they let me know.

  3. I was reading The Spooky Art on the bus this morning, and came across this passage from Mailer on the mysteries of the unconscious:

    In a long career one may come forth with many books that are products of one’s skill and vocational experience, of one’s dedication, but I also wonder if once in a while the gods do not look about and have their own novels to propose and peer down among us and say, “Here’s a good one for Bellow,” or “That would have been a saucy dish for Cheever, too bad he’s gone,” or, in my own case, “Look at poor old Mailer worrying about his job again. Let’s make him the agent for this absolutely wicked little thing about Vietnam.” Who knows. We may be sturdy literary engineers full of sound literary practice or, as equally, unwitting agents for forces beyond our comprehension. It matters less than the knowledge that our books can come from more than one wondrous place.

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