Do you notice the hidden connections?

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…’

Wandering through a dark wood

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!’

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12 thoughts on “Do you notice the hidden connections?”

  1. What a fab post. I had a bit of a lightbulb moment when I read your words: ‘The stories we write come from the same layers of the self as dreams’. Is this the subconscious at work?… all those memories, experiences and trailing thoughts that we store and then regurgitate at a later date? As for the a-ha moments in stories, I haven’t had as many in my children’s writing, but I’ve had no end in The Story Maker. I think because it’s written for adults, there’s a resonance there that I haven’t discovered before, almost a sense of deja vu when I realise that I knew deep down all along how it would shape itself.

  2. Thanks Abi! It’s interesting that you felt you knew ‘how it would shape itself’ because the unconscious isn’t – in my view – like a sort of bin, where things go in and get jumbled up, and you might rifle through and pull them out again, just as they were when they went in. Dorothea Brande says it’s also ‘the home of form’ – it’s dynamic – things go in, processes happen beneath the surface, stuff connects, regroups, is transformed. So much of writing, I feel, is about simply noticing what is happening. The story makes itself, whether we think we’re in control of it or not!

  3. It happened to me this week, Carolyn – a writer sent me a poem that I understood in a completely different way from her, because it resonated with a dream I’d had the night before that I was still turning over in my mind.

  4. This is so good, Jenny! I recognise so much of what you say here. That there’s a healing, developmental side to writing – yes, yes! It’s cheap psychotherapy, often. And what you say about subconscious not being ‘a kind of bin’ but dynamic – oh yes! It’s seismic in there. This is, I think, what I mean when I talk about asking ‘my daemon’ to solve problems – you let it take the problem off into that unconscious layer of the mind, and it is processed, connnected with other things, elaborated or simplified, turned inside out – and then the solution pops up. Or, sometimes, an entirely different approach. And you think, ‘Why couldn’t I see/think of that?’
    But you couldn’t have done, consciously, not in ten years.

  5. Thank-you, Sue! It’s all this, plus of course you can use this conscious connection with unconscious processes just generally in life, as well as in dreaming and writing, through the power of intention and awareness.

  6. This happens to me all the time during my writing. Sometimes I actually am in a dream state and awake to jot down some thoughts about a particular story I either have in mind or am working on. It’s just part of my psyche. I’ve always been that way.

  7. Yes, they call it the ‘writer’s trance’ Alejandro, because that’s what it can feel like. Lots of writers find it hard to move into that space – I think you’re very lucky to find it comes so naturally

  8. I have been ill for two years with work related stress. On Monday I had a strong impulse to leave the job I took on after being dismissed from my career. There was increasing negativity and I didn’t want to fall into the same patterns in my working life again. That night I dreamed I was a child again, but still married, and in Jimmy Savile’s circle of friends, it was in an atmosphere of constant sunshine and fun. Then I saw Jimmy look at me with dark, speculative eyes and my inner self knew what was going to happen. But I ‘detached’ myself and weighed up the benefits and ‘worth’ of carrying on, and I stayed.
    I felt at first that Savile has become an archetypal symbol of abuse and in my case, of abuse within the workplace. But I also realized picking the bones, that there was an interesting plot there which was, again, ‘worth’ the awful feeling I awoke with.

    1. Elizabeth, this strikes a familiar chord with me. I lost my job at an engineering firm 2 years ago and have been unemployed for most of the time. It was a mixed blessing to lose that position. Even though I was laid off with 3 other people, I felt especially targeted because of crap management was doing and saying to me there towards the end. Morale had become extremely low throughout 2010, and the stress impacted me so much I had a back tooth removed about a month before I got canned. Writing has been my primary consolation these past 2 years, but I also get comfort in knowing that those people ultimately will pay for how they treated the rest of us. What goes around comes around!

  9. Liz – thankyou so much for sharing this! It perfectly expresses all the nuances of dreaming, as symbolic representations of real life and as a creative resource. When you write your plot, our protagonist will move the theme forward in you as well, in an unconscious way, beautiful wheels within wheels. It also demonstrates the last observation I made, that another person’s dream will speak to different people according to their own current experience – I read your dream and saw immediate parallels with the child protagonist in the book I’m working on, who skates over difficult and dark stuff by making jokes, like Jimmy Savile’s ‘constant sunshine and fun’ – but eventually has to engage with the darkness. And that showed me something I’ve been puzzling over, how this book links up with stuff I’m thinking about in my everyday life. Thank you again, and best wishes for the next stage in your working life 🙂

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