Friday, February 04, 2011

Dreams as a source of writing inspiration

I’m no Carl Jung but I do occasionally have flashes of insight that goes directly from my subconscious into my writing. These usually come in the form of images that float to the forefront of my mind upon waking from a dream.

Sometimes the characters in my books have a parallel experience – in THE LAST MATRYOSHKA, when Jo Epstein falls asleep in her Vladimir hotel room to the pulsing of bass and drums from the disco below, she dreams of dancing bears—a sign that she is coming closer to the heart of the mystery she has come to Russia to solve.

In ASK THE DEAD, Jo falls asleep on an airplane and dreams about a calypso singer serenading a Wall Street crowd from a hot air balloon. He hits a high note, transmutes into an ancient Egyptian priest spouting proverbs, and I wake up in time to gulp a cup of coffee before we begin our descent into San Juan Airport. These are all elements in the case that her subconscious is working on.

These sculptures outside a museum in Moscow seem like characters in a dream

For me, culling material from dreams is like snorkeling in clear water in search of elusive tropical fish. I may catch a glimpse of the extraordinary early on but soon the day fills with distractions and the water becomes cloudy—unless I act quickly, many of the best ideas recede into the depths. Sometimes I can bring them back with meditation or exercise – or even by taking a nap!

So tell me –  do you mine your subconscious when you write? Do the characters you write about have a rich "dream life"? How do you “stay in touch” with the depths of your psyche?

Please share your thoughts!


  1. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Joyce, I find the early morning alarm by which the employed person's life is regulated quite destructive when it comes to remembering dreams. Instead I find two other methods or connecting with the subconscious useful. The first is simply daydreaming, which can be done when engaged in any relatively simple task - walking, gardening ironing, etc. The second I think of as a kind of parallel processing. In this, you give your subconscious (or whatever you like to call it) something to think about, and let it get on with it while you continue with your day. The next time you think about the "problem" you set yourself, you will have the answer, or at least a different perspective on it. For example, if you give yourself the bare outline of a story to think about, it will have developed when you think of it again in ways that wouldn't have occurred to you if you had worked at it consciously.

  2. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Joyce, I think characters' dreams should be used very sparingly, and only if they advance the story in some way. I'm very wary of "Bobby Ewing Syndrome" - a huge piece of dream narrative that doesn't develop the "real" story at all.