I’ve been asked to do a guest blog on writing and dreams. So, being a little efficient and a lot lazy, I thought I’d ask for your help with this project. I plan, of course, to share my own experiences with dreaming in my post, but how much more exciting to add others’ dreamy reports to the mix! 

Okay, I’ll go first: I’ve kept a dream journal for over thirty years, participated in dream groups for a decade, and have always been amazed at the way both dreams and writing can be universal and particular at once. (Folks in my dream group, as in my writing workshops, get as much out of analyzing others’ dreams as they do out of looking at their own.) And anyone who’s ever woken from a dream with a spoken dialogue in their head, knows how similar the profound, unconscious source of dreams feels to the “suspension of disbelief” or waking dream in which we read and write stories. All of which may explain why so many of my characters have been born from both free writes and dreams. 

John the Baptist is a good example: last year, a short but powerful man with wild dark hair and a nervous, animal energy started visiting my dreams. He was suspicious of civilization and preferred the company of a small red bird he carried close to his heart, over interaction with me or anyone else. But as reclusive as he was, he kept coming back — it was as if he wanted me to find out where he fit in my personal mythology. I didn’t recognize him as John the Baptist the first time I met him in a dream (I was raised Episcopalian, but have been more Buddhist than High Church since I turned twelve!). Still, I “knew” that’s who he was when I woke, and he has since confirmed his identity in free writes. 

It’s because of this newest dream figure that I recently began a novel about Salomé, the young girl whose dance is supposed to have triggered his execution. My first free writes were with John, however, not the Roman dancer, and it is the shaggy prophet’s peculiar magnetism that keeps me writing, despite the challenge of researching this two-thousand year-old story. Yes, I’m sure my inner “dream director” wants to show me something about myself via this isolated, blundering, strongly intuitive character. I’m equally sure, though, that the Baptist has gifts for all of us. He’s canny and innocent, wary and courageous, and I’ll be a long, sweet time finding out why he’s chosen me. 

How about you?  Who or what have dreams brought to your writing? Ever written about your character’s dreams in a book? Ever woken from a dream that HAD to be turned into fiction? Do you enjoy reading dream sequences in others’ work? Or do you tend to skip over them to get to the “real stuff?” I’d love to share your thoughts about this…and your dreams!


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24 responses to “DREAMY WRITING

  1. timwynnejones

    I woke up with the story of Ned Mouse Breaks Away almost complete in my mind, having no idea where it had come from. A prisoner in jail for a political crime who eventually mails himself out of jail, one piece at a time. He wasn’t a mouse and his name wasn’t Ned, and his crime, at that point, was Kafkaesque. But the basic idea was all there.

  2. Louise Hawes

    OMG, I LOVE that book, Tim! And so did my granddaughter Lily. Thanks for the peek at its origin…

  3. terrypierce

    This is fascinating, Louise. I’ve had characters speak to me in dreams, one in particular had to resort to sceaming at me. It was my own fault though–I had left her on the side of a cliff the day before, and she woke me with her cursing, to get her off the damn cliff! Recently, I’ve been having a new character come to my dreams. Nothing out of the ordinary, a common sort of cat, but there’s an emotion there that keeps pulling at me whenever he appears. He’s only visited a handful of times, but it’s enough to keep me thinking about him.

  4. Tom Birdseye

    Great post, Louise. I keep wishing I could conjure up a story that way but rarely remember my dreams. I’ll wake up knowing I’ve had one, but for the life of me can only access a few fuzzy images that don’t make sense. Maybe it’s those danged event boundaries Susan talked about. I pass through the door from dreamworld to reality and my brain drops everything at the threshold. Any advice for the dream impaired?

  5. Kathi Appelt

    I love the term “dreamy writing.” I’m a true day dream believer. Often, when I hit a roadblock or just write myself off of a cliff, I find that I can just zone out, close my eyes for a few moments (or longer), and let my thoughts drift. Then, when I come out of that meditative state, there’s the clear path.
    It doesn’t work every time, but at the very least I get a sweet siesta.

  6. Louise Hawes

    Terry, I hope you got that character off the cliff!? And Tom, I GUARANTEE that if you keep a dream journal by your bed and tell yourself (out loud and fearless) each night before you sleep that you want to remember your dreams, you’ll be dreaming up a storm within a week. Kathi, it sounds like your “day dream” state is close to the one I free write in — a combination of waking and sleeping mind that allows wonder in and locks out left-brain judgment. Very fertile place!

  7. terrypierce

    Ha! Yes, Louise, I did get her off the cliff. Funny thing is, last night I had a vivid dream that Kathi and her husband came to my house for a visit. They brought one of their cats too. Long story short, their cat started riding a tricycle but kept bumping into walls because it couldn’t brake, so Ken and I decided to find it a helment. In the meantime, Kathi got a call from Cooper that he landed a contract with a major music publisher in LA, and that Kathi had to leave to supervise the contract negotiations, but she insisted that Ken stay with me so we could find a helmet for their cat. Okay, Louise, how would you interpret that one? 🙂

  8. Kathi Appelt

    Terry, I love your dream. Has anyone here ever read Ben Saenz’s CARRY ME LIKE WATER? There’s a character who leaves her body and visits those she loves. Maybe that was actually me. And oh boy, a music contract for Cooper–keep dreaming that one. As for the cat…yes, I would say a helmet is called for.

  9. Louise Hawes

    Great dream, Terry — and I wish I could visit folks that way, Kathi! But seriously? If that were my dream, Terry, I might ask myself what part of me is being playful but at the same time taking risks? Because my dream director has made it clear that most of my dream characters represent parts of myself, I might also admire the way I’m able, in this latest dream, to collaborate with others in finding ways to “put the brakes on” self-destructive tendencies. See what I mean about dreams being universal — yours sure works for me!

  10. terrypierce

    That’s fascinating, Louise, to think about play and risk. This week is my first week of critiquing student manuscripts for my writing class and I’ve been toiling over giving them what they need to know for their revisions, but keeping it positive and light enough so as not to be discouraging. Maybe I should wear a helment when I critique ;-). Kathi, I have to ask, do you have a black and white cat?

  11. Kathi Appelt

    No tuxedos here. One gray tabby. One brown tabby. One red tabby. And a spectacular Tonkinese, who is quite sure she’s not a cat at all.

  12. terrypierce

     Well, there’s another one for Louise to analyze. The cat in my dreams had the body type of my male cat and the markings of my special baby who passed away a while back, my first co-author.   Tonks are awesome–nothing like those aqua eyes.   Terry

  13. ledas

    I am famous among a very small group of people for this story, every word of which is true. I am copying it from my own blog rather than revising it. I have very vivid dreams which I always remember for the few seconds after I wake and then forget as soon as I get up to pee (too much information?).

    “I dreamed an entire picture book, and I recognized it as the most brilliant idea on the planet. Did I want to get up and write it down? Of course not. Every minute asleep is precious. But even in my dream haze, I knew this story was too important to lose. Stumbling about, I found pen and paper and wrote it down.

    Hours later, I woke and reached for the paper with wild excitement. And here, in all their glory, are my exact words.
    Find hamster. Put in freezer. Freeze until thoroughly frozen. Remove. Slice thinly, as for hors d’oeuvres. Serve.

    My favorite part? “Find hamster.” The lesson? Keep sleeping. On the other hand, I have also dreamed some plot solutions and real book ideas.”

  14. Tom Birdseye

    Lots of dreams last night, but all escaped me once again, despite the dream journal by my bed. Will repeat with journal tonight. Do dreams every do reruns?

  15. Louise Hawes

    Though I admit to wanting to learn more about hose “plot solutions and real book ideas” you dreamed, Leda, nothing could be funnier than your hamster book! And with the proper illustrations? Who knows! 🙂

  16. terrypierce

    Too funny, Leda. I had to share this one with my husband. I wonder prompted you to want to serve hamster hors d’oeuvres.TerryFrom: Posterous [mailto:

  17. Tom Birdseye

    “Dust” by Dorianne Laux, from WHAT WE CARRY

    Someone spoke to me last night,
    told me the truth. Just a few words,
    but I recognized it.
    I knew I should make myself get up,
    write it down, but it was late,
    and I was exhausted from working
    all day in the garden, moving rocks.
    Now, I remember only the flavor —
    not like food, sweet or sharp.
    More like fine powder, like dust.
    And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
    but simply rapt, aware.
    That’s how it is sometimes —
    God comes to your window,
    all bright lights and black wings,
    and you’re just too tired to open it.

  18. Julie Larios

    {Tom, that is a beautiful poem – God as “all bright lights and black wings….” – wow. ) Dorianne Laux is a wonderful poet – and she’s local to your part of Oregon, yes? OSU? If you know her, please tell her how much I enjoyed this.

    As for dreams, I’ve never kept a journal of them. Quite often they overwhelm me and I remember them all day – details keep coming and washing over me. And if I take a nap in the late afternoon, on waking I find the dreams so powerful it’s like I’m drugged. In general, I dreams provide a kind of out-of-body experience – but when I talk about them (and this must be true about writing them down, too) they just turn to dust. Delicate little things, dreams. I can’t imagine one being useful, even to my poetry! But more power to you, Louise, for keeping track of them so closely.

  19. terrypierce

    Tom, I have reruns of dreams. Sometimes I have continuing dreams from one night to the next. There are three distinct recurring dreams I’ve had since my childhood: driving off a cliff with my dad at the wheel, swimming with humpback whales, and shoving a chocolate layered cake in my face and eating til I’m stuffed–that one’s a little embarrasing to admit :-}

  20. Kathi Appelt

    Tom, that poem is amazing. Leda, I had to pick myself up off the floor from laughing. We should team up . . . for years I had an idea about a daring Hamster escape story. I called it Hambo, and had visions/dreams of a studly hamster with black armbands and a black bandana around his little head, with sweat pouring off of him. He could have rescued your frozen hamster.

  21. Louise Hawes

    Maybe we should offer a small workshop on dreamy writing? I did a seminar once at VCFA and everyone (I mean, everyone, Tom 🙂 was able to remember their dreams after a week of doing just what you’re doing — so keep at it! Those dark wings and lights are worth opening the window for! As is that very powerful, archetypal recurring dream you mention, the one where your father drives off a cliff with you. Strong stuff that resonates with all of us, or at least with me!

  22. Emily Smith Pearce

    Love this discussion. Yes, I think we need a workshop on dreamy writing! At the alumni mini-res, please 🙂
    Louise, I remember doing a couple of particularly creative workshops with you, one about dreams and one involving clay. I know some of the clay workshop character exploration ended up in _Isabel and the Miracle Baby_ and possibly some from the dream workshop as well. Working with dreams like this helped me dig deeper into my character’s emotional makeup and really get her essence. It reminds me of my painting prof’s suggestion that I look at my paintings in a mirror—-that always helped me see what needed to happen next, and what wasn’t working. It was the same information, presented in a fresh way, that helped me see more.
    Can’t wait to continue the discussion.
    p.s. I feel I must throw out that I have a recurring dream (over decades) involving mean squatters camping out (permanently) in the woods by my parents’ house.

  23. Louise Hawes

    Emily, thanks so much for mentioning those long-ago workshops. If one of them played a part in your beautiful book, I’m honored!! And that iconic dream of yours? Whew! Who among us hasn’t felt we were getting (or giving) second-rate nurturing — a poor “substitute” for the real thing. If this were my dream, I’d want to do some free-write interviews with those squatters!

  24. markkarlins

    Loved the post. It’s been awhile but I used to keep a dream journal. It seemed to me that the longer I kept the journal the better a dreamer I became (or maybe I was just better at remembering my dreams — but maybe I could make a case for being a ‘better’ dreamer).

    By the way, I love Jung’s term of befriending the dream, of going into the underworld and doing a nighttime reading of the dream (vs the Freudian carrying of images back into the daylight and using a daylight consciousness to interpret them –although there’s nothing wrong with that either).

    A small red bird carried close to the heart. What a vibrant image that is. I feel it emerging from dream-darkness and forming a bridge which leads us back in. Almost like an actor emerging from the darkness in the wings. It reminds me too of Jung saying that animals are carriers of soul (as would animal bound John the Baptist also be).

    Now if only I could remember a recent dream. Unfortunately, my waking mind’s a blank (in more ways than in just remembering my dreams). Let me go to sleep and get back to you.

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