Electric Dreams

Dreaming Writers

David Jenkins, PhD

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Jenkins, David, PhD (2007 May). DreamRePlay: Dreaming Writers. Electric Dreams 14(5).

Dreaming Writers

In a previous column, Power Dreams, I looked at some great contributions and inventions that happened in dreams. In this column, and future ones, I will examine the ways in which creative people make use of their dreams. In particular I'll look at how novelists and screenwriters, the people who spin out stories, use their dreams. We acknowledge novelists as creative people but the real point, from my perspective is that we are all creative people and the creativity of dreams is available to all of us.

This week's column is based on the book, Writers Dreaming by San Francisco author Naomi Epel. Naomi interviewed 26 writers about the connections between their dreams and their writing. This week, we'll look at her interview with Stephen King, the author of many great horror stories including Carrie and Salem's Lot. King is a master of taking our worst fears and turning them into stories that makes your spine tingle with excitement as well as fear. That's a lot like dream work.

This column looks at two potent ways in which King uses his dreams. The first is how he uses a dream to give him a critical moment in a story. The second, a more everyday kind of use, is how he treats a particular recurring dream as a warning signal.

A Creative Use of a Dream

It was King's longest novel. The story was already eight hundred pages long when he became quite stuck and could not think of what to do with one of his characters, Beverly.

"When I'm working I never know what the end is going to be or how things are going to come out. I've got an idea what direction I want the story to go in. But with It I got to a point where I couldn't see ahead any more.

"I remember going to bed one night saying, 'I've got to have an idea.'" That night he dreamed:

I was in a junk yard, apparently I was the girl. And there were all these discarded refrigerators in this dump. I opened one of them and there were these things inside, hanging from the various rusty shelves. Then one of them opened up these wings, flew out and landed on the back of my hand. I realized it had anesthetized my hand and it was sucking my blood out.

"I woke up and I was very frightened. But I was also happy. Because then I knew what was going to happen. I just took the dream as it was and put it in the book."

As best as I can tell, you can read it in Chapter 17,The Death of Patrick Hockstetter.

What Stephen has done here is incubated a dream. The dream told him, so to speak, how to handle his waking life problem.

When you are stuck in some aspect of your life or need an answer that has defied your rational powers, try dreaming up a solution (see Sleeping Solutions).

If you have ever started a project and become bogged down when it was nearing the end, check out your dreams. Of course you may not be able to use a dream so directly (although it is not uncommon), but you will often find answers to your needs, your questions and requests in your dreams.

What makes dream work so special is that you get answers you would never arrive at if you applied your rational thought to the problem. King uses that creative aspect successfully.

A Practical Nightmare

Regardless of how unpleasant they are, some bad dreams are functional. Here is a nightmare and King's explanation of how useful it is for him.

"I don't have a lot of repetitive dreams but I do have an anxiety dream:" I'm working very hard in a hot little room and I'm aware that there's a madwoman in the attic and I have to finish my work. I have to get that work done or she's going to come and get me. At some point in the dream that door always bursts open and this hideous woman jumps out with a scalpel.

"And I wake up."

"I still have that dream when I'm backed up on my work and trying to fill all these ridiculous commitments I've made for myself."

Nightmares can act as warning signals. They remind us, sometimes very loudly, that we are neglecting something.

King understands that his dream tells him that he's got to get the work done. Otherwise he'll get scalped.

We Are All Creative People

It might seem that writers have a special relationship to dreams because their work is creative, but each of us is creative in every dream. Dreams start from a creative place. They tell you something in a fresh, different way. For all of us, that different view is the key to utilizing them. The dream - or the dream work - will indicate to you a new way of seeing your waking life.

Writers Dreaming

Writers Dreaming is a terrific read for dream aficionados. It shows how famous authors (Elmore Leonard, Isabel Allende, Art Speigelman, Maya Angelou, and others) incorporate dreaming into their work. When you see how other people use their dreams, you'll develop ideas about how you can use your own. This is the most practical book on dreaming that's ever been written.
(For more information see www.observationdeck.com.)


Over the coming summer months, I am going to publish this column less frequently. Starting in May, you can expect to receive Dream of the Week three or four times during the summer months. I'll be back to my weekly schedule in September.

Announcing a New Dream Group

When you have a waking-life problem that you've attempted to resolve over and over but never achieve satisfaction it's time to take a look at your dreams.

I will be starting a new dream group in which you will work on solving one particular waking-life problem. Although my usual approach is to follow the dreams wherever they lead, in this group you'll be using your dreams to tell you about one specific problem (money, weight-loss, career change, sleep improvement etc). The most difficult problems are typically much easier to resolve when we look at them from a dream perspective. Interested? Send me an email: davidj@dreamreplay.com.

Dream Groups

The Saturday drop-in group ($20) is from 10 am to noon at 2315 Prince Street in Berkeley. The nearest major cross street is Ashby and Telegraph. Please let me know if you are coming.

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