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Dream On: The Subconscious as a Writer’s Tool

June 14, 2011

I had a happy dream last week.  In the dream, I received a letter informing me that my book had been accepted by a major publisher.  Not only would they publish it, they would give it what my husband calls “the full court press” as far as marketing goes.  The publisher would even put out an “app” as a tie-in to the book!  Where my brain came up with that one, I don’t know since I’m the least likely person on the planet to care about “apps.”  You can bet that I woke up with a smile on my face. What was my subconscious trying to tell me?  Which book had sold?  I knew it was a picture book.  Then it occurred to me:  it was a picture book I have not written.  In fact, I couldn’t recall the subject matter.  A lot of help that dream would do me, I thought at first!  But then I started to think about it a little harder.

You see, I am a believer in dreams – both as writing problem solvers and as conduits for creativity. Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously dreamed his entire Kubla Khan “fragment,” which came fully realized into his consciousness after he awoke.  True, it might have been an opium-induced dream, but the dream-state still produced his masterpiece.  Charles Dickens sometimes found his characters and plotlines in his dreams. And Mark Twain’s dream accurately predicted his (then perfectly healthy) brother’s death, right down to the coffin and the bouquet resting on the corpse’s breast.

As a writer, I often fall asleep with a writing problem in my brain.  When I wake up, the solution to my problem is in my conscious mind, often in full paragraphs.  I advise other writers to think about their current writing issues as they fall asleep. Whether you wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning, stay in bed for a moment and give yourself time to review your dreams before you leap out of bed. The answer to your plotline problems might be right in front of you.   The old advice to have a small notebook next to your bed is still sound.  Write down what you remember in as much detail as possible, right down to the wording if  it’s there.   You could lose valuable information if you are too quick to immerse yourself in the practical matters of your day.

According to  Craig Hamilton-Parker in his 2000 book (Sterling Publisher) Remembering & Understanding Your Dreams, dreams can have amazing value for the creative person, whether artist or writer.  He suggests starting a dream diary and making  dream maps.  He also provides advice for triggering lucid dreams through the power of suggestion.  My dream of a publishing victory?  Though I didn’t glean subject or words, the dream stays with me vividly:  the shock of the happy news, the sheer joy of my success. I’m sure that dream was telling me the same thing it might be telling you:  keep writing, keep believing, keep working towards your dreams. The subconscious is mighty smart!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 8:20 PM

    Cool dream.

    My subconscious while dreaming did solve some of my pot problems in the past. Yet, I do not pay my dreams close attention in a general basis. Thanks to your article, I plan to be more attentive from now on.

    Let your dream come true.

  2. Marielena permalink
    June 16, 2011 1:05 PM

    Thanks for sharing such a beautifully written blog, Gretchen! I love Carl Jung … and dreams as conduits for creativity. One of my favorite quotes by Jung: “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” And yes, may your dream of publishing success come true!

  3. June 18, 2011 6:38 AM

    I hope your happy dream comes true, Gretchen. As someone who has read your ms., I can say if/when it does, it will be a happy day for readers too. Thanks for offering such insightful advice.

  4. June 27, 2011 2:45 PM

    You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: Powerful Woman Writer Award for all the hard work you do! (I know there are four of you and you all deserve it!)

    I invite you to follow me, if you haven’t already done so, since we have a lot in common, but no pressure. I’m not giving you the award just so you will follow me. You really do deserve it!
    Take care:-)

    Go to and pick up your award.


    I’m also looking to interview avid readers to find out what they like to read and published authors (agented, self published, small press, etc.) to find out what they wrote and what the pathway to publishing was like for them.

    Let me know if you or someone you know is interested in being interviewed and I will send over the questions you can fill out at your leisure. My email address is Guidedhope (at)gmail(dot)com.

  5. September 5, 2012 6:17 PM

    Thanks for quoting my book. You can find more about my work here:
    Craig Hamilton-Parker

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