When Joan Didion nears the end of a novel, she sleeps in the same room as it. Stephen King has noted that he believes there is a creative link between writing and sleeping. One of my writing teachers said that when she has difficulty coming up with titles, she reads the manuscript before going to sleep and the title will come to her while she sleeps. For years, I have regarded such talk with skepticism — superstitions which might lead to a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, but still unbelievable.
My dreams involve me running through never-ending mazes or hanging out in a fountain with friends I have not heard from in years or strange conversations with my parents. I believed that a good night sleep could clear the mind, make it ready for morning writing. I believed that story ideas could stem from dreams. I still believe these things, but after my experience a month ago, I discovered what Joan Didion, Stephen King, and my teacher might actually be on to something.
I had been working on a short story where the plague has overtaken my hometown. I wrote about a grocer in Fine Fare who is working when it arrives. A gunman walks in and steals groceries. Nothing else really happens. I tried to write it from the point-of-view of a woman whose husband moved his mistress into their house because the mistress’s apartment has been quarantined. Nothing else really happens. I started it seven times. Then I gave up, put the story aside, and worked on something else. Three weeks later, I had a vivid dream where my sister, my boyfriend, and I were in my hometown running from the plague. That dream answered many questions I did not realize I had been grappling with: how to handle hunger if you are on the run, why you have to be on the run, how it is not as easy as a zombie apocalypse to protect yourself, how certain areas might be less affected than others, and how our level of distrust in others quadrupled, etc. When I woke up, I wrote five pages of my dream so that I would not forget it. I could not believe it: my dream had written my story for me.
I am now a true believer. As soon as you wake up in the morning, I urge you to write down your dreams – every detail, every person, everything you remember. They might be nothing or they might be the start of a story. Or they just might solve all the problems and answer all the questions you have about your story or your novel.