I always tell the students in my writing workshops that if they’re not writing down the dreams they have, every morning, they’re working way too hard.
I’m starting to do interviews about THE PRICE, which comes out next month, and I got that question yesterday: “Where did the story come from?” And because you tend to forget how you started your last book, and pretty much everything else about it, when you’re tearing your hair out over the new one, I had a moment of, “What the hell?” And my mind was scrambling for some intelligent thing to say about my thematic obsession with the secret deals that we make with ourselves about the things we want, but what came out of my mouth instead was, “I dreamed it.”
Which shocked me speechless for a second, and then I remembered. That’s right. It did start with a dream. A series of dreams, actually.
I love that about interviews… they teach you so much about what you’ve written and why you wrote it.
I didn’t dream the whole book, or even the whole idea of the book, which I understand happens to people all the time – and I believe it. But certainly I dreamed the seed that grew into the book.
This is an extremely sad story, but this is what happened (in real life). A friend of mine and his wife had just had their first child, and she was born with a hole in her heart. She lived the whole of her two months of life in the children’s ward of a Boston hospital, and her parents moved into the hospital to be with her. When she died, her parents were too distraught to come home to all the unused baby furniture and clothes, so a bunch of their friends packed everything up for them, and because I have a huge attic, we put it all upstairs in my house. That night I started having dreams of a beautiful little five-year old girl who was not alive but not dead, either – somewhere in between. And that was the beginning of the book – that little girl haunting me in my dreams.
Now, who’s to say why it was that little dream girl who crystallized all the rest of that heartbreaking real-life situation into a book? No one would read the dreams I had and recognize them as the book that came out of that, which really isn’t about that little girl at all, important though she is in it. Maybe I needed to feel the girl first because I don’t have a child of my own and I needed to put myself in the position of her parents to write the book I was going to write.
But there are certain dreams you have that are just so vivid that you KNOW they’re the start of a book. I don’t know if this is true of all authors or artists but it is true of many of the writers, musicians and painters I know: your dreams work just as hard on your ideas as you do at your desk in waking life. And particularly as a writer of the supernatural, I depend on those dream images to give a certain unreality to real-life situations – and to give a certain inevitability to my unreal situations.
I know that this new book is finally clicking into place because I’m starting to dream it, or rather dream I’m in it, and let me tell you, it’s a relief to have my subconscious take over for me, because I was getting tired of doing all the work myself.
I meet a lot of people who say they don’t dream. Well, that’s impossible – dreaming is a vital life function. What they mean is they don’t remember their dreams. Since dreams are so elusive, you need to actively court them to keep them on the surface long enough for you to remember. I’ve kept a dream journal since I was fifteen or sixteen. The more you write them down – even just a word or a feeling that you remember – the more they will start to stay with you. And this sounds strange, but it really works – if you wake up from a dream that you can’t remember, but you know you were just dreaming – try rolling gently back into the position you were actually sleeping in. Many times the entire dream will pop right back into your head, like magic. I don’t know how that happens, but it works like a charm.
And I swear, if you don’t keep that pad and pen, or tape recorder if you prefer, right next to your bed, you will not remember as much. Your dreams seem to need to KNOW that you are committed to remembering them, or they won’t let you remember.
In fact, if I get on a kick of writing every dream I remember down, then I remember pages and pages of dreams, six or seven a night – so many it would start to cut into my work time if I wrote them down.
So you have to find a balance. Or maybe I could get my dreams to do entire books for me if I wrote all that stuff down. Who knows? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
So of course my questions for the day are – Do you remember your dreams? Can you share an example of a book or story that came from a dream? And do you have any tips about dreamwork in general? And for bonus points – have you ever had precognitive dreams?