How many of you creatives out there find inspiration in, or get your ideas from dreams? Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after a disturbing dream (and the first draft was so disturbing that his wife made him destroy it); ditto Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Ditto again for Paul McCartney and the melody line for Yesterday.
I could go on and on about dreaming. I’m a lucid dreamer, which means that I’m aware that I’m dreaming, and if things go bad, I have the ability to wake myself up. This always seems to be preceded by my announcing to the others present that I know I’m dreaming and I plan to end things by waking.
Just the other night one of my dreams took a dark turn. I was surrounded by work colleagues, and we were all wondering what tragedy would occur next and I said, “I can fix this. I’m dreaming, and I’m going to wake up now.” Nothing happened so I started telling myself, “Wake up, wake up, wake up” – and as I watched, the background went black and then my colleagues faded away. Then I woke up. It was a neat effect.
(I should also note that once, many years ago, I dreamed I was captured by a Bad Guy who was going to give me a shot of Sodium Pentathol. I said, “No you’re not, because this is a dream and I’m going to wake up.” The bad guy said, “Like hell you are,” and two of his thugs tackled me and I got the shot anyway. So it only works 99.9999999% of the time.)
(And I don’t always just wake myself up in such cases. Lucid dreaming means that you can also control the circumstances in your dreams. More than once I’ve changed circumstances, such as giving myself the ability to fly. That one has gotten me out of a number of nocturnal jams.)
I don’t rely on dreams as a source of ideas for writing projects because my waking mind overproduces quite enough for me, thank you. Most of the dreams I find useful have get mentally filed away for use in a single project, a novel where the protagonist comes to a point where he can no longer tell dreams from reality. But aside from perhaps the basic concept of the dream, most dream progressions are so fragmented and disjoined that a literal translation would be out of the question.
(I sometimes wake up laughing at something funny I’ve seen in a dream. Sometimes it wakes my wife up, and she asks what I’m laughing at. Sometimes it’s something truly funny. Other times, it elicits a puzzled “Huh?”, both from my wife and from me.)
On the other hand, dreams have been more useful in my songwriting endeavors. I’ve always heard music in my dreams, but it’s only been since I took up the guitar that I could try and translate some of the things I’ve heard into something useful. One night I dreamed I was directing a music video starring the sister of one of my college buddies. The chorus of the song was the sister’s name over and over, drawn out. It ended up giving me the chorus of a piece I was working on at the time, Cairo. I’ve managed to snag a couple more riffs out of dreams recently, but my problem is that even thought I might write down the chord progression and some words, a lot of times I lose the music I heard and can’t reconstruct it from notes. I need to start recording these fragile little things so I don’t lose them.
Maybe it’s because of the nature of dreams themselves that they are more suited for inspiring music and poems. This page I found gives a short list of people who have found inspiration in dreams, and the musicians and poets outnumber the writers and artists by a good margin.
For the novelist, the dream can provide a basic concept or some nuggets of inspiration for a larger project. But basing an extended work on the entire content of a dream is risky at best. Unless you meant to end your novel with a snowball fight in the 23rd century against a 10 foot purple badger named Foamy.
Listening: Wang Chung, “Wake Up, Stop Dreaming” (via iPod Shuffle). Really.