Daily pages vs dreams

A few of my lovely dream diaries
A few of my lovely dream diaries

One of my favourite books about writing is Dorothea Brande’s ‘Becoming a writer.’ It was published in the 1930’s and is still in print, which attests to just how good it is.

Brande says we should treat our writer self as two people, the creative, playful child and the business-like, grown-up critic. We should develop and nurture both sides of our writer self, and teach them to work in harmony.

She refers to the creative side as the unconscious, and suggests one way of opening to it through the practice of daily pages, an idea which later formed the core of another writing bestseller, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.

The concept of daily pages is that you write stream-of-consciousness for twenty minutes a day, ideally first thing in the morning before the concerns of the day have a chance to intrude. You keep the pen moving on the paper, even if all you can think of is along the lines of, ‘I don’t want to do this, I can’t think of anything to say, it’s a bit rainy outside…’

One effect of this is to help you let go of the idea you have to wait for inspiration before you can write anything – you can write your way in. Another is that you learn to allow unconscious products to emerge when the mind is relaxed and receptive.

Many of my writing friends have found writing daily pages really useful, but it didn’t really do anything for me. It occurred to me that the reason why was because I already wrote first thing in the morning, recording my dreams, and rather than my conscious mind idling and allowing random stuff to come up, I had been fully immersed in this amazing inner world. So, unlike daily pages, my dream diary was full of interesting incidents and images.

Check out my ‘Tips’ page for information about how to start recalling and recording your dreams

The key to good writing

A lot of people who come to writing workshops express feelings of anxiety in case they won’t be able to write something ‘good.’ I imagine this is because most of us learn to write at school, where everything is judged and graded.

Learning to identify ‘good’ writing at school and university completely cured me of the wish to write. It ebbed away from being a passion in childhood to a listless ghost. But how can you say what makes ‘good’ writing? I personally like a story which rattles along, without too much description or depth, so for me Agatha Christie is a much better writer than Virginia Woolf. Seriously.

You won’t please everybody with your writing, so don’t try. Let the kind of thing you enjoy reading be your compass and write to please yourself, because that’s the surest way to develop your own authentic voice.

I’m firmly in the practice school of writing which, instead of starting from theory and technique, starts from finding out you want to say. If you write whatever you want to write, uncritically, you will enjoy it more; you will do it more often, and your writing style will improve through practice.

So the key to good writing is love. Love your ideas, love writing them down, love the adventure. Don’t let the critic in until you have something you like so much that you will love the work of redrafting.

Guest spot: The story of the picture

Would you like to know where the dream house picture at the top of this blog came from? I’ll let Mooncakelizzie explain… Picturing the House of Dreams, by Mooncakelizzie I’ve been interested in creative writing for the past eleven years. Attending a multitude of classes and groups freed up a rabble of short stories and some novels, jointly written with someone who’s now a friend, met at one of Jen’s workshop series. These have not the rigidly defined tick-box ‘outcomes’ of formal courses, but are absolutely absorbing and simply fun to take part in. In particular, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ opened up a kind of secret garden I’d lived alongside almost unaware. There, for example, I could meet myself at younger ages, and also a hidden self who was growing, maybe pupating under a cabbage-leaf in a homely but boundless place.

Liz's first dream hut picture

The first dream house drawing I made was during a workshop. We all told a dream, and then chose an image from one person’s dream to draw. We wrote three words to describe it. Then we asked three questions to spark a story – ‘Who finds it? Why are they there? What happens next?’

Liz's second hut

At home, I did more drawings. I began to put daydreams in, of living near the sea in a beautiful Oast conversion. A bit of Kentish beach; a view imagined from my little house.

Then a night scene, an isolated hut on a wild headland with distant lights of other houses far away across the water. I don’t consciously know what’s inside.

Here, I can hold dreams, experiences, events and things I’ve picked up or eavesdropped on while careering openly in and out of that world behind the ‘hedge.’

My little bloggie

Well, who would have thought it? I’m loving writing my little bloggie! That’s what my friend Sian calls it, she of http://www.spiritoftheblog.co.uk/.  We’ve never met, but she got in touch with me last year about my books on bullying through my website, and we reconnected last week through this blog.

To be honest, I only came to blogging because I wanted to put the word out about my dream book, and I imagined that it was going to feel like any other writing task. But it’s turned out to be completely different, and the reason why, is you.

Already, in a few weeks, I’ve had a number of email conversations with people in Britain, Canada and the US, and I’ve loved hearing your dreams and comments.

It reminds me of when I started to teach workshops, which I did out of financial necessity after my marriage broke up. The last thing I expected was that I might actually enjoy it.

But, almost immediately, I discovered that nothing is more wonderful than sitting among a group of people who are totally absorbed in their writing, and then hearing them read what they’ve written. I think one of the reasons people come to writing workshops is because it answers an ancient need in all of us to come together and tell our stories.

So hello Sian, and hello everyone else who is reading this! Is there anything you would like me to add to my topic list?

Guest spot: the dream that sparked the book

The dream behind ‘One Wolf Howls,’ by Scotti Cohn.

I have always had an active dream life. The content of my dreams ranges from the mundane to the bizarre. Many of my dreams are lucid or ‘conscious’ dreams.

About fifteen years ago, I had ‘the wolf dream.’

Scotti with a wolf called Wotan
Scotti with a wolf called Wotan. A percentage of the royalties from ‘One Wolf Howls’ goes to Wolf Park, Indiana, where he lives

In the dream, I am running on a paved road in a rural area. I can feel each of my four paws striking the road as I run. I realize that I am a wolf – specifically, a black, female wolf. Up ahead, I see three or four men with rifles. I immediately veer off into the tall grass. I creep closer, crouched low, watching them warily. I am very much in the body and mind of the wolf.

Animals of all kinds fascinate and delight me. In addition, I am intrigued by the idea of totem animals. This dream made me wonder if the wolf was my totem animal. I sought out pictures and books about wolves and watched television specials about them.

One night in 2003 I was about to fall asleep when an image formed in my mind: a lone wolf howling, with a full moon in the sky above. My mind began to play with the image, and produced the lines: ‘One wolf howls in the winter moonlight… Night light, dim light, midnight soon.’ The word ‘winter’ felt too general, so I tried ‘January moonlight,’ and liked it. I continued to create lines in my head, moving from ‘one wolf’ in January to ‘two wolves’ in February, ‘three wolves’ in March, and so forth.’

After many revisions and submissions to editors, my children’s book, ‘One Wolf Howls’ was published by Sylvan Dell Publishing in 2009, with marvellous illustrations by Susan Detwiler.

I dreamed of being a children’s book author my whole life. It seemed fitting that my first published children’s book was inspired by a dream.

www.scotticohn.com  http://onewolfhowls.blogspot.com/

Your dream animals

When you don’t remember many dreams, the ones you do remember can seem weird and random, but most people find that as soon as they start to recall and record dreams regularly their dreamlife settles.

It’s like when you first start writing. It feels as if you could write absolutely anything, but gradually you discover your own inner landscape with its particular themes, characters and environments.

Each person’s dream-world is surprisingly consistent. It is characterised by certain landscapes, flora and fauna. The open spaces in my dreams are invariably coastlines and mountains – I can’t remember ever dreaming about woods or jungles. The built environments are parks and gardens with ponds and statuary, old houses, churches and castles.

The flora fits with the dreamscapes so, for me, there are very few trees in my dreams but lots of cultivated flowers, open grassland, mosses and lichens. My animals are mostly fishes and birds, but I have occasional visits from lions and tigers, lizards and snakes. I have never once dreamt about sheep, goats, cows or elephants.

The animals you dream about are like companions, or daimons, to use Philip Pullman’s word in ‘Northern Lights.’ Your favourite animal is probably your life-long guide, but others may be with you for a season. You can find your dream animals without waiting for dreams.

Simply take a slow breath to centre yourself. Close your eyes or look down. Relax your mind, and enter your inner world. The first animal you see in there is the one that has something for you right now. Run with that one, whatever it is.

Draw your animal with your non-dominant hand. Consider its qualities. Collect some pictures of your animal, and possibly a model or ornament of it. Look up more information about it online. Have these things around, so that you are living alongside them for a while. Allow your animal to reveal itself to you.

This is what my guest Scotti did, after she dreamt about wolves, and out of that process came a beautiful children’s book.

Read Scotti’s story tomorrow

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