Friday, 17 December 2010

The page of dreams

Tara’s comment on my last posting, where she told us that her dreams were an important source for her creative ideas, got me thinking about how dreams influence my own writing. I realised that I have waking dreams, edge of sleep dreams and deep sleep dreams, which all work their spells in different ways.

The waking dreams are those I get when I deliberately move away from my computer screen or blank sheet and lie down (usually on the floor) to steep some subject or story line in my head for a while. What I’m intending is to concentrate without distraction so that I can work something through, but what really happens seems to be the opposite of concentration; my mind drifts, not in an entirely uncontrolled fashion, but as if I’m taking a leisurely flying carpet ride over the world I’m imagining, without a known route or destination. I apprehend rather than ‘see’ what I come across along the way, and more often than not the journey ends with a start, like an abrupt waking. Sometimes it makes me literally jump, and within moments I’m back to the page with something new to say, some direction to go in, without having consciously ‘worked it out’. A magic carpet ride. 
Van Gogh's The Starry Night

I suppose what I’m experiencing is what Vincent Van Gogh meant when he said, I dream of painting and then I paint my dream. Judging by Van Gogh’s output (over 2,000 works), he must have put in a lot of dreaming. I put in a good deal of this kind of dreaming too; not nearly so much output, though I genuinely believe I do more writing when I’m not writing.

The edge of sleep dream I get at night in my bed, and almost always it’s a troubled dream that replays some problem or difficulty I am having in my writing. It nags at me like a toothache, and stops me from sleeping properly. At its worst, chillingly, it convinces me to give the whole thing up as a bad job. It’s no good. You’re no good. Blagh.  These edge of sleep dreams are worryingly frequent.

Fortunately, they are usually followed by the deep sleep dream. Without being aware of it, I find that whatever the problem was seems to have resolved itself by the time I’ve woken up. It’s as if I needed the nagging rehearsal of the worry so that the deep brain can process and work on it while the consciousness has a rest. Occasionally, a deep sleep dream is capable of delivering a whole story idea apparently without the collusion of the conscious mind – a Eureka moment that is rare and precious as a new-born (and more vulnerable; the mortality rate on Eureka moments is so high the World Health Organisation really should look into the matter).

Steven Spileberg
You could of course argue that everything a writer does is the product of dreaming; certainly that seems to hold for the fiction writer, and for the screen-writer – Steven Spielberg says he dreams for a living, and he has enshrined the idea in the name of his film studio, DreamWorks.  

I wrote a moment ago that I dream, then write, but, no, it’s not so clear-cut. I think every writer would agree, when the work is in full flow, there is a trance-like quality to the state we’re in; and we are in that world we are creating, unconscious of any other, as fully as we are in the deepest dream. The world is somehow already there for us. Our pen is like a torch beam revealing more, as we press on, of the roads, the turns, the travellers, the details on the page.

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