Category Archives: Writing as therapy

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!’

Guest post: The dream that sparked the poem

Bicycling in Brighton, by Pat Neill

As a child, I spent a lot of time day-dreaming and it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I woke up to my night dreams. They came fast and furious, and I diligently recorded as many as I remembered. Analysing them helped me to understand myself in more depth. Now I’m tired of all that self-analysis and I want to follow Jenny’s idea of using them creatively. Here’s a dream that did inspire me to use it creatively.

I was driving down a long, sloping, wide-open road in a town. In front of me, a lorry had stopped. I easily glided out to overtake it and then discovered a car manoeuvring – that was why the lorry had stopped! I felt embarrassed as I stopped to let the car finish. The car moved on, with me following, and the lorry behind me.

Now, I felt myself to be on a bicycle. The ride was smooth and the feeling exhilarating as I sped on down the hill. The street was like those in Brighton/Hove that lead down to the seafront. The weather was slightly grey and misty and the vehicles had their lights on.

I woke from this dream feeling happy, confident and optimistic. In my poem, I seem to have changed the weather. I think it was the feeling after I woke from the dream that carried forward into my writing. I have always set great store in the feeling a dream leaves you with – I reckon it has to be the most important feature of the dream.

Riding High

Georgian pillared terraces sloping to the sea,
I rode my bike between them feeling wild and free.
Swiftly leaning to the right, a stopped truck to miss,
I glided past, confident, riding high.
Oh what bliss!
Once, a sudden car appeared, half blocking my way.
No matter, I had pedal power and was lord of the highway!
Wind whistling, hair streaming, on and on I sped
With salt-sea horizon and cloudless blue skies, all beckoning ahead.

I love the joyful exuberance of this poem, and Pat makes an important point about the feeling a dream leaves you with when you awake. I’ll be blogging about emotions in dreaming and writing next week.  

Pat is an astrological life coach with a brand new blog She uses astrology as a tool for understanding the issues present in a person’s life and life coaching as a method for moving matters forward to effect positive change. For details email or phone 01566 779792