Monday, January 17, 2011
by Laura Bickle
Dreaming is a funny thing. Our subconscious uses its free time at night to be creative, solve problems, and just meander aimlessly. We often believe that we're at the mercy of our dreams, held hostage by the repressed portions of our psyches as they march us through odd landscapes and strange situations.
Often, that's true. The subconscious is determined to be heard, and we're stuck twiddling our thumbs, listening to it drone about our issues.
But it's much more productive to take one's subconscious by the scruff of the neck, give it a good shake, and put it to work. At least, that's the way I've always worked while writing.
Sometimes, I get stuck in the writing process. I get stuck on a character's motivations, stymied about a plot point, or vacillate on what should happen next in a story. I tend not to get much from brainstorming sessions. Sometimes, I pick up a random Tarot card or putter with my own perversion of bibliomancy - I open a book at random and see if I can find inspiration.
But, when all else fails, the only solution for me is to sleep on it. I keep a notebook beside the bed. Before I go to sleep, I write down what's bothering me about the story - I "seed" the dream with an idea or question. Usually, it's something like:
What's my antagonist's motivation?
Do I need an extra day in the timeline to smooth out my pacing?
What the hell does that fanged rabbit that keeps recurring in my story MEAN, dammit?
Before I go to sleep, I scribble my question down and leave it by my bedside. I set an alarm for a decently early hour of the morning, when I know I'll be interrupting my REM sleep cycle. I try to think of my problem as I'm going off to sleep.
And...more often than not, I wake up hip-deep in a dream that works out my problem. My subconscious has fiddled with the issue most of the night, and manages to spit out an answer about the rabbit, the motivation, or my missing day. I snatch up my notepad and write down whatever I recall about the dream.
Usually, I get pretty good results. Why waste waking time brainstorming when your brain is looking for something to do at night? Waking time is precious enough. Delegating to the subconscious can help. I used this a lot when I was testing software in my previous career. I'd awaken in the middle of the night, having conjured up a test scenario that I knew that the software was doomed to fail to address. I'd scribble it down and test it in the morning.
Seeding your dreams won't help, of course, if you don't often remember your dreams. You may have to time your REM cycles and set an artifical interruption, like an alarm, if you're a heavy sleeper. And it requires practice. But only you can pull your story from between your ears. May as well exploit all of the brain cells while doing it.
How about you? Have you had a dream that's helped you in your work (creative or not)?
Posted by Laura Bickle
Writing as Laura Bickle, I'm the author of EMBERS and SPARKS for Pocket Books and THE HALLOWED ONES for HMH Graphia. Writing as Alayna Williams, I'm the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE. More info on my urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here: www.salamanderstales.com