Dreams and Writing — Incubating Inspiration
Posted on August 19, 2012
Last night, I wrote a post that included some thoughts about dreams, and I can’t tell you how important I think dreams are to writing and art in general. I’ve incorporated this thought process into my own craft and teaching. As part of my creative writing class at the rehab center, I had a week-long unit — it should have been much more — on dreams. It was called, “Images and Dreams.”
For that week, I had them read Stuart Dybek’s, “Pet Milk,” and I introduced two writing exercises called Dream Incubation and Dream Reentry, which I stole from a podcast from a University of California Berkley psychology professor. Basically, the exercises function on the principal that dreams are images generated by your unconscious that are trying to bring to “light” ideas, memories, thoughts, or emotions to your conscious thoughts, which the dreamer has suppressed.
Well, I always talked about in my class that writing was an act of discovery. We used freewriting to see what was “on the mind.” And I prescribed to the idea, which is talked about extensively by John Gardner, John Dufresne, and many other writers, that writing is dreaming. I forget who it was, but they called writing dreaming in reverse. My buddy Gonzo would know.
So with all this in my mind, I taught my students about dream incubation. What this means is that you use dreams as a way to fix a problem or answer a question. Have you ever been really struggling with an idea, a poem, a story, an essay for class, and no matter how hard you tried to find the answer while you working, you just couldn’t do it; but then, as if out of nowhere, the answer hits you in the shower, on a walk, or in a dream?Psychologists believe that this happens because your unconscious is till working out the problem even when you’re not aware of it. Dream Incubation is a way of stimulating this process while you’re awake.
What I had my students do was write down a question they were really struggling with. Maybe they wanted to know what their character wanted or what was their character’s obsession. Or maybe they wanted to know something personal about themselves — why can’t I stop using? Etc. It worked really well if they were writing memoir. They would then take that question and put it under their pillow, hoping to incubate their dream.
When they wake up, they were supposed to write down their dream. Many of the students had unbelievable experiences. Some didn’t dream. But many had vivid dreams, which actually brought about some insight. And the insight appears through the act of writing without censoring one’s thoughts. One day, I think I will share this experience, though, as of right now, I feel like I would be disrespecting my students. There must be a way to write about this without revealing identity.
Dream Reentry is another part of the process. Have you ever had a dream where you wake up and wish you could go back to bed to live out the dream? Or maybe you’ve had dreams filled with anxiety and fear? Or maybe there were a lot of faceless people in the dream? Well, Dream Reentry is that act of entering your dream, while you’re awake, with a pen — some people think this is similar to lucid reaming — and ask all these questions. You can even find a way to eliminate anxiety from the dream. Basically, you are supposed to walk around the images and dreamscape, asking the questions you hope to answer.
After all of this, I’m worried some of you might think I’m a bit off my rocker. I just believe that inspiration and art doesn’t come from some muse, some god-like possessing, but it comes from hard work. And those moments of inspiration are actually from your unconscious. The unconscious seems to be the source for great art. Though it is nothing without hard work.
So tonight, I’m going to do a Dream Incubation and will share the results with you in the morning. Here is my question: “What is the next memory, next scene, I need to put into my memoir?” Well, maybe you’ll have an experience. If you do, then please share.