All That You Dream

by J.D. Rhoades

All, all that you
Comes through shining,
silver lining

-Little Feat 

This past weekend,
some friends of mine came to town. The local library hosted a “Women of Mystery”
panel featuring my old friend (and early inspiration) Katy Munger, along with Sarah
, Diane Chamberlain, Brynn Bonner, and Murderati’s own Alexandra
  They were all doing a stint as
Writers in Residence at local arts retreat The Weymouth Center. I had met
everyone but Brynn before, and it was great to make her acquaintance, as well
as touch base with the folks I already knew. The big news is that we can expect
to see some long awaited new work from Katy soon. Stay tuned.

During the
discussion, the panelists touched on something that’s always been a particular interest
of mine, namely dreams and their effect on the creative process. Diane
mentioned that she sometimes liked to take what she called a “creative nap”,
where, if she was stuck at some point in the creative process, she’d lie down
with a pad and pen next to her and jot down ideas that came to her just as she
was falling asleep or waking up. She related a story about Thomas
Edison, who  used toThomas_a_edison_4
nap in his chair with a ball bearing held
loosely in each hand, and a pair of metal pie plates on the floor
beneath his
hands.  As he fell asleep, his hands
would relax, the bearings would hit the plates and wake him, whereupon Edison would write down whatever came to him in the
twilight between sleep and wakefulness. 

Later, Sarah mentioned that she wrote best in
the mornings and Katy suggested that perhaps that was because she was closer to
the “dream state.”


Sweet dreams are made
of this
Who am I to disagree?
Travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something

-The Eurythmics


Many artists
report drawing inspiration from dreams. Salvador Dali springs immediately to
mind. Robert Louis Stevenson apparently said that the idea for the story “The
Strange Case of  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
came to him in a dream in which he saw himself morphing from one character into
another. Paul McCartney supposedly heard the melody to “Yesterday” in a dream.

Perhaps my favorite example comes from an interview I saw with Swedish actress
Liv Ullman, who wasPersona_2
talking about living with the late
director Ingmar Bergman. “He
would come down to breakfast and describe one of his nightmares to me, “ Ullman
deadpanned, “and I would think, ‘Oh, Lord, I suppose I’m going to be starring in this
next year.” 

I’ve always been
fascinated by dreams. Why do we do it? What really goes on? Are dreams actually
your subconscious speaking to you?  Are they suppressed sexual fantasies expressed symbolically? Why
do dreams that seem so vivid upon waking up fade away during the day so you don’t
remember them unless you write them down? 

And yes, I do write
mine down, fairly often. I keep my notebook by the bed and jot down a few brief
notes after a particularly vivid or disturbing dream.

I’m not sure why I do it; it just seems important.

So how about you?
Has anything that ever came to you in a dream turned into actual writing? How’d
it turn out? Do you find that writing in the morning is more effective because
of its proximity to the “dream state”? What do you think dreams really are, anyway? 

I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours…
-Bob Dylan


17 thoughts on “All That You Dream

  1. billie

    I’m sorry I missed that talk – I knew nothing about it or I’d have driven down for it.

    I’m not surprised after being at W. the talk turned to dreams. Every time I go everyone ends up in the kitchen in the morning sharing their very rich dreams from the night before. I have theories about that place!

    As for dreams, I’d best not get started… 🙂 Between my own prolific dream life and my work as a therapist, I could write a book. (and have been encouraged to do just that but thus far have resisted the nonfiction genre!)

    Great local resources for dream info: the Jung Society and the Lucy Daniels Center both sponsor lectures and workshops dealing with dreams. I highly recommend both.

  2. B.G. Ritts

    Dusty, I’m sorry I missed the chance to catch up with you again. Are you at liberty to say if Katy’s publishing a new Casey?

    Dreamwise: I’m sure I do — just don’t remember them. I think they’re our categorizing interpreter and filing system for internal and external events.

  3. Joan Conwell

    I’m sorry I missed the event also.

    Dreams are so important to novelists and artists, I think, because they are unreal but refer to the real. I am always trying find that line in my work, betwixt and between.

    Horror writer Clive Barker says that while we dream, the flesh becomes less the fascist that it is.

    The most memorable dream I ever had was when I was young, maybe twelve. I was sitting on an electrical wire above my house, looking down on the back yard and my mother was wheeling the Pope into the house in a wheelchair. She tripped and the chair toppled and the Pope fell out and his mitre went flying into the rose bushes that climbed the side of the house beneath my bedroom window.

    It probably means something really gross– I’ve never figured what–but I always laugh when I think of that dream.

  4. Tasha Alexander

    I have incredibly vivid dreams–some that get continued night after night, like a serial.

    But I’ve never written them down, nor used anything from them in my books.

    Dusty, when are you going to come to Nashville?

  5. Naomi

    Now this makes me very, very happy.

    And yes, dreams. I’ve been thinking of them a lot lately. What’s strange to me is while we all have them, some people like B.G. don’t remember any of them.

  6. Woodstock

    At a time in my life when I wasn’t sure I was on the right path, I had a very very vivid dream. Someone important to me who had died was there, and he and I had a very meaningful conversation. I also was able to observe him moving about, and through that observation realized a very important fact. This is also very vague, I know, but the details aren’t really important at this point. What seems important to me now is that I was able in my dream to send myself a message from myself. Since then I have regarded the dreams I do remember for more than a few minutes as worthy of attention. Some important concept is working on getting recognized.

    If I were a writer, I think I would definitely look for a way to incorporate the messages from my dreams into my work in progress.

    On a more prosaic note, I work part time in an accounting office for part of the year. Often I leave for the day with some thorny issue unresolved. In the first few minutes of consciousness after waking, I usually know the way out of the accounting dilemma. It seems that my brain cells work on things while I rest. Great labor saving device if you can master it!

  7. toni mcgee causey

    I dream vividly, and yes, they have often helped with the writing, from story solutions to characters showing up whole to analyzations on life problems. I don’t usually write them down unless they were particularly disturbing and I can’t decipher the point.

  8. Josephine Damian

    Great question, JD.

    My WIP, A STUDY IN FEAR, is based on the worst nightmare I ever had (and I’ve had some doozies). It was so real to me when I woke up I was afraid to go into the hallway for fear the serial killer was still there.

    “To sleep; perchance to dream; Ay, there’s the rub;For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.”

  9. Louise Ure

    “To sleep, perchance to dream.”

    I don’t remember the stories — the scenes — from dreams. But I do remember specific words and sentences. And I do write them down.

    And while I didn’t know it at the time, each one was absolutely right someplace in a book.

  10. Jeanne Ketterer

    I’ve been out of the loop lately — wish I’d known about it, would’ve been there, also. The creative energy …

    I’ve had a recurring dream for ages: whenever I’ve strayed off the path of self, I have a dream featuring my old boss telling me to get my act together. For the last year or so he’s been firing me. Which I’m interpreting as a good thing.

    I do power creative naps, also. It stills the whirling thoughts and brings focus to the one character, etc.


  11. JT Ellison

    Great one, Dusty. I have a ridiculously active dream life. The entire plot arc of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS came to me in a dream. I woke up and wrote out a 13 page synopsis on a small notepad so I wouldn’t lose it, and the only thing I changed was the first names of two of the characters. Amazing what our relaxed mind can do for us.

  12. JDRhoades

    B.G. yes, Katy’s working on bringing out some of her back catalog, and a couple of new Caseys, on her own. Also working on a new standalone. I’m psyched.

    Joan: I’m laughing at that one, too, and it wasn’t even my dream.

    Tasha: I’m working on it, luv. When are YOU coming to North Carolina, eh?

    Naomi: I knew what you meant the first time, ’cause I nearly danced for joy my ownself.

    BTW, the idea for this post actually came to me in the interval between sleeping and waking up. I was stuck for something to write about before then.

    And I’ve been having some really vivid dreams lately, too.

  13. Cornelia Read

    I make a point of letting my mind wander on current writing projects both at night while I’m falling asleep and in the morning when I’m fighting the snoozebar. I think maybe it’s fruitful time because my internal editor wanders off before my brain does at night, and takes longer to kick in in the morning?

  14. pari

    I’ve had dreams that changed my life, some that have touched my writing or storylines.

    The weirdest was so full of Jungian imagery, I was astounded. Even more remarkable was that the day after I had it, I just “happened” to meet a renowned Jungian scholar who could interpret it for me.


    Yeah, right . . .

  15. Diane Chamberlain

    JD, it was great to see you again!When I was a social worker and a wannabe writer, I went to an elderly Jungian analyst to wake up my creative side. She had me keep a dream journal, and I began to see a theme emerge in my dreams: I would have to take care of something (a baby, a potato, a lizard, an earth shoe [yes, this was quite a while ago!]) and I would fail. I’d drop the baby, forget about the earth shoe, etc. The analyst said the things I needed to take care of represented my writing. After about six months of therapy, my babies and potatoes were thriving. I’ll always be grateful to that analyst.

  16. Jacky B.

    If I take the writing to bed,it totally destroys any chance of a good nights sleep. But, sometimes if I’m stuck, I’ll do it, take the loss, just for the kickstart I get in return.

    Whether I dream or not, the hour before getting out of bed works well for me, with my characters all stoked and battling for attention, and my muse standing ready with plotting solutions that had been stubbornly evasive.

    Downside here is, on rising I’m preoccupied to the point of bumping into, or stumbling over, everthing in my path for the rest of the morning. The solution, of course, sittting my ass down in front of the keyboard as quickly as possible.

    Jacky B.


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