To sleep, perchance to dream …
Do you ever wake from a dream and, for a moment, have trouble discerning which is more real – your nighttime vision or the four walls around your bed? I have always had vivid dreams. They play out on the darkened stage of my inner eye like movies, complete with soundtracks, dramatic camera angles, and sensible sequences of events. When I was a child, I would regale my mother with detailed retellings over the breakfast table. Most of the time, I think she was amused; but sometimes I am sure the nature of my reveries perplexed or even worried her.
I do not claim to have any special dream interpretation skills, but I do enjoy exploring my dreams with an eye for stories and themes. I am not alone in this pastime. Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Maurice Sendak, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Bronte, and even E.B. White have each found inspiration in their nighttime adventures. Sometimes the influence is direct as characters develop and stories unfold while the writer sleeps. Other times, the dream’s contribution to the creative process is more subtle – a deeply evocative feeling, a single image, a sharp yearning.
Although it is not easy to access, I believe that our subconscious holds worlds beyond our reckoning. When we dream, we slip into these alternate realities, submerging ourselves in another time and place, even another’s skin. For a few brief hours, we can journey into a netherworld where nothing is as it seems and anything can happen. Our imagination is free to play with the rules of the waking world, bending and breaking them at will, letting us explore an entirely different existence.
I have kept dream journals on and off since I was a child. I have found that when I am actively pursuing my dreams, snatching at their ghostly tails as I scribble in a bedside notebook, my nighttime garden flourishes. When I fail to give my dreams much attention, they wilt and fade. It seems that we have a symbiotic relationship – my attention feeds them and they feed my creativity.
Do you remember your dreams? Do they influence your stories or creative process? Have you ever kept a dream journal?
What I’m (thinking about) Writing:
Dan Blank published a post yesterday titled, Preparing for Success (and finding more time to write). The post offers helpful and actionable advice to help writers set up the support systems and processes that they need to grow their writing businesses. I nodded my head in agreement as I read through his recommendations for getting help, optimizing systems, and integrating tools into the daily workflow. Even though I have not fully implemented such things in my own business, I see their value.
There is, however, another, more emotional side to preparing for success.
There are two things that keep a writer from pursuing her dreams: the fear of failure and the fear of success.
We all understand the fear of failure. That’s an easy one. You worry that your work won’t be good enough, won’t be recognized, won’t be accepted. You worry that all your long hours (and years!) of effort will turn out to be for naught. You worry that people will criticize you, or – worse – pity you.
But, what about the fear of success? That’s a strange one, right?
Most people don’t like change, even positive change. Success, though ostensibly a Good Thing, comes with a healthy serving of change. If we were to succeed, our routines would change, people’s expectations of us would change. We would be adrift in an unfamiliar set of circumstances. Though we would be making progress in the direction of our dreams, we would – in essence – also be starting all over again since we would suddenly have to grapple with all kinds of new obstacles and challenges. Our “lizard brain” (or, amygdala) doesn’t like the risk associated with change. It will try to “protect” us by maintaining the status quo and it will do so by using fear to dissuade us from trying anything new.
I don’t know the cure for this kind of thinking, but I have a couple ideas that might be helpful. First, be aware of what your lizard brain thinks about success. Pat it nicely on the head and let it know that you understand why it’s afraid, but – really – it’s all going to be okay. Second, try to find ways to experience success on a small scale. Prove to your lizard brain that success isn’t as scary as it might seem – one baby step at a time. Finally, take Dan’s advice and be proactive about setting yourself up for “success with success.” There’s immense power in taking the bull by the horns. Don’t feel like you have to let things happen to you. Instead, be prepared to make things happen for you.
Have you ever thought about the fact that you might be scared of success? What would success mean to you, your routine, your hopes and dreams?
What How I’m Reading:
Next week I’ll have three books to share with you, but while I wrap those up, I wanted to share a few thoughts about reading like a writer.
As writers, we can’t help but read with an eye on the author’s craft. Even when we’re caught up in the swoon of book lust, there is a part of our brain that is always analyzing, critiquing, and admiring the literary aspects of a piece of writing. Non-writers sometimes ask me if this detracts from my enjoyment of the story. I thought about it, and the answer is an emphatic no.
The risk, I suppose, is that the analysis might pull me out of the story … that my dissection of the craft behind the story might somehow steal the writing’s soul. It makes sense that this would be the case, but I have only felt this feeling when my analysis has uncovered deep flaws in the craft. In those cases, I usually abandon the book anyway, so the loss is minimal.
When the book is a good one, I am able to lose myself in the story even while appreciating the work that went into writing it. It’s almost like my brain is partitioned into two sides that are able to process different information simultaneously, like a computer running two programs at the same time. One half of my brain experiences the events in the story as if they were happening to me; the other half makes mental notes about things like structure, character development, foreshadowing, dialog, and any number of other creative and technical aspects of the story.
Personally, I think being able to see and appreciate what went into a story enhances my reading enjoyment. There is also no better way for a writer to learn about the craft. There is a world of difference between understanding a concept and seeing an example of that concept at work.
Do you analyze stories while you read them? Do you go back and analyze them after you’ve finished them? How does this help you learn about the craft of writing?
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Are You Ready To Tell People About You? by @bernadettejiwa
- Not Busy, Focused by @JFM
- Why I Built a Tiny House by @annhandley
- How To Put the Fun In Your First Draft by @GillespieKarin
- What I Learned From Sending All My Text Messages in Calligraphy for a Week by @cristinavanko
- 5 Ways to Ensure Blogging Failure and How to Avoid Them by @DholakiyaPratik
- The Latest Trends in the Indie Author Market [Smart Set] by @JaneFriedman
- Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With by @LaurMoneyMartin
- Confessions of a Funny Writer by @GillespieKarin
- Why Writers Are More Powerful Than The Supreme Court by @LisaCron
- Ripe Impulse – Learning to Trust the Source of Your Creativity by @JulieDaley
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to dreaming and believing and embracing the possibilities even when we don’t know what they are. Happy reading. Happy writing. See you on the other side!
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.