Dreams and Creative Writing

My first novel came to me in a dream.

When I got the idea for my first fiction novel it was through a dream. Up till then, I had been honing in on my writing skills by doing a lot of writing prompts. I came up with plausible settings and some decent poems but I struggled to summon characters that had a story of their own. I couldn’t connect the dots between setting, character, and plot structure. 

But one morning in 2010 I woke up from the shortest dream and lay completely still. From one still frame, I knew exactly who my protagonist was going to be. I had her name, her backstory and I knew the beginning and end of the story. (I still had to develop the middle but that came to me in another dream two weeks later). Writing that day was easy.

Last year I dabbled with writing a thriller and due to the genre and subject, I wasn’t particularly interested in getting inspired by my vivid dreams. I imagined they soon would turn into nightmares. 

But this year where I am committed to writing a memoir I am sure that material and inspiration will turn up in my dreams. Actually part of the subplot would never have seen daylight had it not been for a recollection dream I had many years ago. That is why it became part of my new habits for the year to keep a dream journal. 

Action step | Find a notebook and write down the last dream you remember. This is now your dream journal.

Keeping a dream journal.

I thought the best part about this would be to go and find a new dream journal but I have actually ended up using two old notebooks instead. 

Some nights I have a trillion dreams and it would take forever to write them all down in detail. Other nights I am interrupted in my sleep and can’t remember a single image. The biggest mistake I can make is to look at the phone right away in the morning because then any dream sensation disappears in an instance. 

I think it would work very well if I grabbed the journal first thing and wrote in bed but I need to stretch my body and get some coffee so my writing happens at the desk in the morning. 

I write a paragraph for each dream and it comes quite naturally which one I need to write out in more detail. Sometimes I hurry through but it works best when I remind myself to use some of my required writing skills. Being specific, pay attention, use your senses, and show don’t tell. This can take a long time and my patience is tested by the seemingly random collection of the subconscious. 

Turning a dream journal into creative writing.

To avoid this obstacle I came up with a routine that ties the dream journal to my writing practice. 

I always dream about people I know or myself in different situations. This is probably a good thing while writing a memoir but to turn it into inspiration for my writing I do this:

Action step | Try this

  1. I List and paragraph any dreams I can remember first thing in the morning.
  2. I pick one of those dreams to focus on for the next part. I do this either daily or weekly. 
  3. I Connect to the atmosphere from the dream I chose to focus on.
  4. Instead of writing the whole dream out in detail I focus on one specific detail or character that embodies the atmosphere.
  5. I then choose two senses I want to engage and connect them to one action (from the dream or made up).
  6. I Write for 5 minutes or put the information on an index card for later.

Example |

Short paragraph |Deserted beach house in autumn. Frantic running up and down the many stairs. A child and a mother

Atmosphere | Frantic autumn storm.

Detail| Safety gates flapping in front of every stair.

2 senses | Hearing and seeing.

Action | Catching a child falling from the stairs.

I put this example on an index card and wrote this blog post instead but the ideal is of cause to write for 5-10 minutes right away.

Free Checklist

If you want to try this writing practice out for yourself I made this free printable for you to download. It is a checklist on how to turn your own dream journal into a never-ending source for writing prompts and writing inspiration.

Free printable. A checklist to turn a dream journal into writing prompts.

Action step| Download checklist ( for best result set the printer as A4 without borders) and have fun writing out your dreams.

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