by Carrie Conner
It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved
in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it. – John Steinbeck
When I was going through my divorce I had repeating dreams of driving speeding cars, usually in the dark, sometimes on ice, while being able to see only as far as the headlights allowed. No matter how wild and out of control the ride, the dreams always ended with me safely parking the car. I’d wake up feeling peaceful – knowing I was going to make it.
It’s easy to dismiss dreams as “day residue” – an involuntary playback of events and feelings we have already experienced. While there’s some truth to this theory, science also proves there are entire portions of our brain that come alive only when we sleep. If we learn to tap into our nocturnal inspiration we can unleash an infinite supply of creative and problem-solving abilities.
Countless artists, writers, musicians, film makers and even scientists have admitted to translating their dreams into creative works:
• Director Christopher Nolan took the inspiration for his 2010 psychological thriller Inception from his own lucid dreams.
• Nightmares spawned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and most works by Stephen King.
• Jack Karouac wrote the Book of Dreams based entirely on his own dreams.
• Otto Loewi won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1963 after dreams led to his discoveries in concepts of the sympathetic nervous system.
• Paul McCartney, Brandon Flowers of The Killers, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and Jack White all have musical dreams.
The problem with dreams is that for most of us, they’re out of our control. Dr. Deirdre Barrett, in her book The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists and Athletes use Dreams for Creative Problem Solving – and How You Can Too (Crown, 2001), compiles a mountain of evidence revealing how dreams not only show us where we’ve been, but where we can go and how to get there.
In an “How Can You Control Your Dreams?,” an interview published in Scientific American, the Harvard University professor tells us how we can manipulate our dream worlds for maximum creativity and problem solving. Barrett said,
That we can control our own dreams is quite true and really much more so than people seem to know or realize. Although any kind of problem can make a breakthrough in a dream, the two categories that really crop up a lot are things where the solution benefits from being represented visually, because the dreams are so vivid in their visual-spatial imagery, and when you’re stuck because the conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.
Use Barrett’s advice and let your dreams solve any writing problems or create a new path for a work of fiction, nonfiction or poetry:
1. Before bed, think of the problem or a project you’re working on.
2. If it lends itself to an image, hold it in your mind and let it be the last thing in your mind before falling asleep.
3. If possible, assemble something on your bedside table that makes or relates to an image of the problem (it could even be blank pieces of paper).
4. When you wake up, lie in bed with your eyes closed. Don’t do anything else.
5. If you don’t recall the dream immediately see if you recall a particular feeling – this may allow the whole dream to flood back.
6. Write down everything you remember.
See what your subconscious comes up with while the self-editor slumbers. Maybe you’ll decide to do all your writing in your sleep. As Salvador Dali said, “One day it will have to be admitted that what we have christened ‘reality’ is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams.”
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An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Contact us to submit the writing the prompt elicits from you.
A friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She’s currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.