In interpreting dreams, we’re looking for the hidden connections between the dream and waking life. The clue is often in the emotional quality of the dream, which may resonate with the dreamer’s feelings about a waking life situation.
When we find the emotional echoes, we will often notice that the dream is a kind of alternative story-version of a daytime event or situation. ‘I felt shocked and anxious to stumble upon a shallow grave in my dream when I was wandering through a dark wood… and, come to think of it, I felt shocked and anxious to discover something I had previously been in the dark about…’
The events of the dream are so different, we won’t usually notice the hidden connections unless we go looking for them, and it’s the same with writing.
The stories we write come from the same layers of the self as dreams, and like dreams they are usually symbolic versions of the stories we’re living in our ordinary life.
If we notice this at all, it will often be years later when we’ve gained some distance on both the real-life events and the story we’ve written. But it can be instant, as I experienced this week with the book I’m working on. I suddenly thought, ‘This character is me!’ and it was not a very sympathetic character (hello Shadow!)
Having clocked the mirror she was holding up to me, I really examined my attitude towards a situation I was struggling with. Then she was free and I changed her in the story.
I think there is a psychologically healing or self-developmental purpose to creative work in exactly the same way as there is to dreaming. Through these imagined stories, we rehearse our real-life problems and dilemmas; we experiment with different paths and processes in imagination, and explore all the possible outcomes.
I’ve used creative writing with children in schools in a deliberately problem-solving way to explore the issue of bullying, where the children will create a character who is being bullied and then develop their story by asking, ‘What can they do to make it stop?’
The character will try lots of ideas, until they find one that works. In the writing, the children are exploring a difficult real-life situation and imagining strategies they might use if they had to deal with it themselves.
When writing is free, and not a directed exercise like in my bullying workshops, writers will naturally put their protagonists in situations where they will be faced with emotional challenges and find solutions which might blaze a trail for the writer in real life.
Does this mean we should feel exposed by what we write? Not at all. Like dreams, our stories have hidden connections only we can see, because only we know the secret processes of our hearts and minds. Even people who know me well would not be able to identify the link between my shadow-character and what I had been thinking about during the week.
As Jung said, an interpretation tells more about the interpreter’s current state of mind than the dreamer’s, and any hidden connections readers might find in your stories will be connections with their own lives, not yours.
Have you ever had one of those a-ha moments about a piece of writing, when you suddenly realise, like waking from an obvious dream, ‘I know what that was about!’