Tag Archives: dayworld

How to have dreams that you can understand

Last week I described a dream I had when I was planning my writing projects for 2014, whose meaning was absolutely obvious. In that dream, I diverted from following Deborah Meaden on the path to the station and felt wonderfully happy on the beach.

Happy on the beach
Happy on the beach

I’d been thinking I should pitch some projects for the market rather than follow my writer’s heart into probable penury with a self-publishing project and an idea for a book I almost certainly couldn’t sell to mainstream publishers, so the meaning of my dream was very clear.

Just to make sure I got the message, I had a second dream in which I woke up to find I had been sleeping on the beach, and as I lay there blinking in the bright morning sunshine I saw a baby playing on the sand right in front of me, happily absorbed, the two of us drawn together in a moment of pure magic.

Hearing a sudden sound of voices, I looked round in time to see the big double doors of the public hall at the top of the beach thrown open. A very successful author I know came out, surrounded by press people and fans. She had been doing an event at the literary festival in the hall. She was beaming under a truly fabulous blue hat.

I waved and shouted hello, and she waved back. I felt delighted for her, because she loved doing major events. A second author I know came out, also dressed beautifully and wreathed in smiles. I waved and felt happy for her too, but I was glad it wasn’t me doing festivals in fabulous hats. The sun was warm on my face, and I looked back at the baby, who was now watching me with intense interest. She had a pebble in her little fist that she held out to me.

It was very easy to understand where these dreams came from, as I was totally preoccupied in waking life with what direction to take with my writing this year. Most dreams are story versions of waking-life events and concerns, and if you have one thing in particular that’s occupying your mind the connection is often obvious. People involved in research or creative projects will commonly have dreams that develop and resolve problems they are working on.

In normal life we aren’t usually so intensely preoccupied with one major question or concern – our energies are more dispersed and the connection between the minor ups and downs of waking life and the world of our dreams can be more difficult to spot. One way of having dreams you can understand is if you narrow your focus through dream incubation.

Before you go to sleep, think back over your day and notice anything that’s been bothering you, any decisions you need to make, any problems you need to resolve. Choose one and ask for a dream about it. Promise yourself that whatever dreams you have, you will record in full, because often in the first moments of waking we’ll dismiss a dream without bothering to write it down if we can’t immediately see the meaning or importance of it.

Although the rational mind works instantly, in the symbolic mind, meaning takes time to unfold, and a dream that has seemed random on waking might, on re-reading later in the day, surprise us with its resonances.

Sometimes when you have incubated a dream it will be easy to see the connection between your daytime situation and the dream. Other times, you may ponder it, put the dream to one side and get the a-ha moment later. Or if you ask for another dream about it you may have one the next night that makes things clearer.

Incubating dreams in this way means you are thinking about your day life instead of just living it; you’re noticing the way your mind is organising experience into stories, so that it’s easier to see when dreams are carrying the story on.

Setting up dreaming intentions means your waking ‘I’ is communicating with your dream, and very soon you’ll find your dream is answering back.  If you want to understand the answer to what it means, it really helps to know the question in advance.

You can find a bit more about dream incubation here

Have you ever incubated a dream?

What would you write if you were writing your life?

A friend emailed me this week about a series of workshops I’m doing in March-April called ‘Writing your Life.’ She said,  ‘I suppose some people might have had lots of exciting adventures they want to tell other people about. For me it’s more about my internal life…’

This reminded me of a dream I had just after the New Year, when I was planning my writing and other work projects for 2014. Specifically, I was thinking I should probably stop messing about with self-publishing my dream book before I actually started spending money on it, and concentrate on writing some proposals for books that might find a publisher and bring some money in.

In my dream, I was walking briskly along a tarmac path towards the station, in a stream of other people who were all wearing suits. I noticed the person in front of me was Deborah Meaden, the millionaire businesswoman from Dragon’s Den.

The path rose to the left over a long wide bridge, but I saw a little dirt track dipping away just before it, and made a diversion. Several people rushing by onto the bridge called me and told me I was going the wrong way and I would miss the train, but by then I could see that the path led down to a long sandy beach.

The sea was coming in and the space under the bridge was under water, but I could paddle along the very edge, and as I did so, I suddenly saw hundreds of brightly-coloured fish swimming around. Stopping to watch them, I noticed there were other creatures swimming in the shallow water too – little crocodiles and lizards, hippos and tiny elephants.

I stood there transfixed, overwhelmed by feelings of wonder and gratitude.


Everyone’s life is particularly lit up by different areas of experience. For me, like my friend, it’s the inner world that feels most exciting. In dreams and imagination I’ve been to wonderful places and seen amazing things, and those travels are as vivid in my memory as other people’s memories of travels in the outer world.

One of the memoirs I’ve found most gripping is Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ and the memoir strand in my own ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ is very much the story of my dreaming, which is the great adventure of my life.

Inner or outer, the adventure’s the thing. Writing is a way of seeing, and understanding where the power that drives your life is, and the joy. I love that some people will bring ‘lots of exciting adventures’ they’ve had in the outer world to these workshops, and others the thoughts and imaginings that have lit up their life from within.

What would you write if you were writing your life?

The joy of writing

Last week I was talking about the comfort of dreams, and how dreaming can provide pleasurable experiences for the self which may be ‘only dreams’ in waking life.

This happens spontaneously, but we can replay and deliberately go back into such dreams either in daytime fantasies or as we fall asleep.

Writing can work in the same way, which I’m particularly thankful for at times when I’m not sleeping well. If I feel out of sorts with the world for any reason, and maybe my mind’s gone into overdrive, I’ll get up and write for two or three hours in the middle of the night.

I’ve had a couple of nights like that this week, when I’ve made myself a cup of tea  and left the cares and irritations of my daily life to immerse myself in Maddy Monday’s, whose world is colourful, lively and distracting.

My bright and delightful work-in-progress

The joy of writing is that we can choose the worlds we wish to inhabit during the writing time, and even though we will meet all sorts of challenges and difficulties in those worlds – no problem, no story – we are always able to solve them.

Sweet dreams everyone, this week – or failing that, happy writing!

Day-life, dreams, ideas – the music of the mind

Last week, I delivered a children’s book to my agent which I first conceived more than ten years ago. It had been through several complete versions, one of which a previous agent had actually sent to a publisher, as much as anything in the hope of getting some useful feedback, as she and I agreed that it probably wasn’t quite there, though we couldn’t see what was missing.

The book was set on a small island - research took me to Fair Isle in 2003
The book was set on a small island – research took me to Foula and Fair Isle in 2003

It wasn’t quite there, but it didn’t go away, and when I had flu before Christmas, it re-emerged quite unexpectedly, to announce that it was ready.

I had lost all my previous notes and versions, but I knew the story, and this time the planning and writing came easy and complete, like a jigsaw falling into place, all the missing pieces found.

Now, starting work on another new book, I’ve discovered that this story also took root in me more than a decade ago, and the same thing is happening. Where it once felt stuck and abandoned, now it’s emerging fully-formed, and all I’m having to do is write it down.

Two versions, ten years between

Last night I dreamt I was at a Scattered Authors conference, talking to other authors about this moment in a piece of work, when the book is inside you, fully-formed, like a shadow book, and your task is to bring it out, not harming or disturbing it, but as whole, which it already is.

You change yourself, your face, your mouth, stretching it wide, until gradually the book emerges out of your mouth, transforming from shadow to solid and real. I demonstrate it. I say how exciting this is, knowing the book is there, then opening yourself up and allowing it to come into the world so that everyone can see what it is.

I thought, ‘What if a life is like a book? Already complete in shadow form, and gradually emerging into the world, a little misshapen in its birthing, perhaps, a few edges knocked off in its early years, but still… when nature is ready, the matter inhabits the shadow.

Jerome Bruner's thoughtful autobiography
Jerome Bruner’s thoughtful autobiography

Then I woke up and saw the book I’d been reading before I fell asleep, ‘In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography’ by Jerome Bruner, which begins with his thoughts about whether it is our history which shapes us or our destiny, and I smiled.

I love this layering-up of daytime activity, dreams and ideas. The material, the imaginal and the rational, playing alongside each other; themes and variations, music of the mind.

Have you ever had a book or story that took years between the first spark and the final realisation?

If the doors of perception were cleansed

To round off my blog birthday celebrations, here is ‘the one that got away’ – an article about my spiritual path of dreams which was published on another blog earlier in the year  

When people talk about dreams as spiritual experience, they usually seem to be thinking in terms of what Jung called ‘numinous’ dreams – that is, dreams which have an unmistakably spiritual quality, inspiring awe and wonder, and often bringing revelations.

These ‘big’ dreams do indeed feel like wonderful gifts from outside the self, and they stay vividly with you across the decades, lighting your life. But dreams which feel quite ordinary can also be a doorway to profound changes in consciousness.


For example, I once dreamt I was having coffee with my neighbour. I was fully aware that I was dreaming – lucidity is very common in experienced dreamers.

Normally, in lucid dreams, my waking ‘I’ might be there as an observer or commentator, and occasionally if I didn’t like the way things were going, I might intervene and change the action of the dream.

But this dream didn’t have any action at all. It didn’t have any narrative to distract me – I was just sitting there, drinking coffee, and I was bored. There was a silky cushion beside me, and I ran my hand absent-mindedly across it. I noticed how smooth the fabric felt; I ran my fingers along the hard ridge of the trim.

I thought, ‘Hold on a minute – this is a dream!’ Since nothing much else was going on, I went on testing the evidence of my senses and yes, I really could smell the coffee; I really could feel the crumbly biscuit between my fingers and taste its light vanilla on my tongue. I could hear my neighbour’s voice, talking to me. I knew it was a dream, but it felt exactly the same as ‘real’ life.


When I woke up, I could feel the quilt resting lightly across my body; I could see the light from the gap in the curtains ribboning across it; I could hear my husband’s gentle breathing and smell the warmth of our two bodies. But now I knew that my mind could create a whole different reality which felt as real to my senses as this one. So the senses were unreliable witnesses, and waking life a reality no more substantial than the dream.

When you read back over old dream diaries, you will also find that seemingly ordinary dreams can be precisely predictive, and you may find so many of these that it’s impossible to dismiss them all as flukes and coincidences.

According to our normal understanding of time, it should not be possible to predict the future, but the experience of predictive dreaming shows irrefutably that it is.

So gradually, actively engaging with dreams can dissolve the narrow rational and materialistic viewpoint, through which we normally understand life. In the words of William Blake, ‘man has closed himself up, ’til he sees things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’

The practical, experiential path of dreaming can lead to a falling-away of ideas and illusions, and open you up to the mind-blowing reality. ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’


Do you have a daily practice?

Many of the best books on writing, and pretty much every book on dreaming, recommend establishing a daily practice.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, both propose the idea of ‘morning pages’ – setting aside half an hour first thing in the morning to write stream-of-consciousness, before your mind gets distracted by the mundane  concerns of the day.

The wonderful Writing down the Bones, by Nathalie Goldberg, develops this idea, comparing writing with Buddhist meditation practice.

The daily practice approach focuses on the process of writing rather than the products. It’s not instead of your books and stories, but as well; it’s the seed-bed from which your finished creative pieces grow. 

In the same way, writing down any dreams and dream fragments you remember upon waking isn’t just about big dreams and insights – it’s about deepening your awareness of the continuous dream-life that runs parallel with your life in the dayworld.

As with morning pages, you have to set aside value judgements and simply write, whatever comes, because that’s how you find and develop the authentic writer or dreamer that you are.

Betty Edwards, in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, says it doesn’t make any difference what you do – the point of any daily practice is the experience of ‘flow.’ Knitting, jogging and gardening are all a form of meditation, as are writing and other creative activities.

Anything in which you are able to lose yourself and the world, will change and enrich your life, and doing it every day makes this out-of-time experience part of you; it grounds you in something bigger than yourself.

Do you have a daily practice? What are its benefits in your life?

3 writing tricks and how to make them convincing

The way we normally assume the world works is through cause-and-effect, but alongside this there is another pattern, which Carl Jung termed ‘synchronicity.’

‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ – Jung’s wonderful memoir.
Synchronicity is sometimes defined as ‘meaningful coincidence.’ As opposed to causal links, which are objective and impersonal, synchronicity is personal and subjective. In synchronicity, the outer world reflects the inner world, as when, for example, you are thinking of someone and you bump into them on the street.

Most people only notice synchronicity in really striking coincidences. For example, a friend of mine was whiling away an hour at the office trying to plan a round-the-world cycling trip when, going out for a sandwich, he stepped over a book lying open on the pavement about… you guessed it… cycling round the world.

Or indeed the incidence I mentioned in last week’s post, about the pomegranate.

But synchronicity is part of the fabric of being, not just astonishing moments, and writers can use it in fiction without readers balking at it because, although people may not be conscious of it, it is part of everyone’s reality.

There are three ways writers may use synchronicity

1     Pathetic fallacy. This is where the environment reflects the mood of the characters or the atmosphere of the action.

A gathering storm…
…a still, rainy night…
…or a lovely sunny day – the weather will often reflect the mood of the characters

2     Coincidences. This is where the plot progresses in an unexpected or non-logical way.

3     Supernatural aid. If your character is troubled by doubts and indecision, they may see signs and portents in their environment. It’s like incubating a dream to help you make up your mind about something – you spot the answer much more readily when you know the question.

How can you use these devices in fiction in a way that feels natural and unobtrusive? By becoming more aware of synchronicity in your own life. Dream awareness will help with this, because synchronicity works in the same way as dreams; it’s a symbolic layer of reality which transforms objects and stories into symbols of the self.

The more you tune into synchronicities in your own life, the more freely and convincingly you will be able to integrate it in the lives of your characters.


Three times in my life, I’ve seen a sudden rainbow at a moment when I was agonising over a decision I had made, and felt reassured.

Have you ever felt you received a nudge/confirmation/warning from life?

Author Vanessa Harbour has added her thoughts about synchronicity on her blog – worth checking out 

How a broken toilet seat solved a conundrum

In the four or five weeks since I delivered ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ to my agent, my life has not been writing-friendly.

Between the nightmare chaos of having builders in to fix the roof and fit a new bathroom, and the fun chaos of lots of visitors, there simply hasn’t been time for work.

What I had been planning to do after everything quietened down last weekend was decorate the rooms where the leaky roof had done most damage, but I couldn’t face it – I just wanted to get back to my writing.

The problem was, I couldn’t decide what to write. I had two projects in development – a children’s series to follow my Peony Pinker books, and an adults’ book similar to ‘Writing in the House of Dreams.’ Both of these ideas felt interesting and exciting, in completely different ways.

My heart said do the latter, even though I didn’t have much more than a bunch of vague ideas and a few scribbled notes.  My head said do the former, because I had already written a full synopsis and half of the first story, and my agent had given it the thumbs-up. So I was faced with a conundrum.

I still hadn’t made up my mind the next morning, when my brand new toilet seat broke, dragging me away from my just-getting-back-to-normal life and dumping me back in the local B and Q, where I seemed to have spent most of the previous month.

I felt tetchy. I’d paid nearly thirty quid for that toilet seat, and you could have fashioned better fixings out of tin foil. I felt even more tetchy when the local store insisted that, as I’d bought it at a different branch an hour’s drive away, that’s where I would have to take it back to.

I bought a second toilet seat, tossed the faulty one in the boot, and set off for home. But it felt such an irritating waste of a morning that I took a diversion and drove out to the holy well at Saint Clether.

The holy well is a magical place, full of history and mystery, nestled in a beautiful valley. In my experience, it isn’t possible to stay confused, angry or upset for long, within its ancient walls.

St Clether holy well

As I tramped along the path, I suddenly remembered how I had come to the well before, when I was faced with exactly the same writing dilemma. My head had been telling me try and get a contract for another children’s series, but my heart wanted to throw common sense to the winds and focus on my dream book for a while.

The version of my dream book I was working on at that time was called ‘Pomegranate’, after the myth of Persephone. When I got to the well, I found lots of people celebrating the celtic festival of harvest, and among the coins and crystals left as offerings in the wall, someone had managed to perch a pomegranate.

I could not have been more astonished if the skies had opened and the voice of God boomed out, ‘Write “Pomegranate!”‘

I did, and I had never regretted that decision. So now I was alert for any signs or portents that might give me a heads-up this time. I went into the little chapel, picked up a candle to light, and just stood there. The working title of my current adults’ book idea is ‘Sixty Candles.’

When it comes to writing, I find that the heart usually does get its own way in the end, but often not before a fair few steps in the opposite direction, unless Life gives me a shove (I’ll be blogging about signs and portents next week)

If the toilet seat hadn’t broken, I wouldn’t have had to go to B and Q. If the local store had been willing to exchange it, I wouldn’t have felt so cross that I needed a calming diversion.

If I hadn’t gone to the well, I wouldn’t have remembered the last time I was faced with this exact conundrum. I probably would have gone on dithering between my two projects for weeks, instead of being able to throw myself whole-heartedly into one of them.

So my broken toilet seat solved a conundrum. What had seemed a completely irritating, bad thing, triggered a very positive train of events.

Have you ever had a bad experience that turned out to have been a good thing?

Nothing is ever good or bad, but thinking makes it so ~ Shakespeare

What was that dream about?

In ‘Take the bones and build a story’ I suggested a way of stripping back a dream to its basic theme or emotion and using that as a starting-point for creating new fiction.

The reason why dreams can energise and inspire your writing is because many of them reflect an emotional situation or dilemma which is current in your waking life, whether you are consciously aware of it or not.

For the same reason, stripping dreams down to the bones can provide clues as to what they are about, if their meaning is not immediately obvious.

Reducing a dream to the ‘someone is doing/feeling something’ format – ‘someone is making a stand… someone doesn’t like what they’re seeing… someone is being reckless…’ –  will often reveal a connection with something that’s going on in your waking life.

Recently, I dreamt I was walking on a path with a huge expanse of water on one side and a rushing river on the other. I was feeling happy and excited. I stopped to look down at the river and saw that it was full of fish – some tiny, others very big.

I stepped into the water and paddled out a little way. The current was strong, and the water was up to the top of my wellies. Some people on the far side were tut-tutting, saying it wasn’t safe, but I didn’t feel in any danger.

I reduced this dream to, ‘Someone is somewhere amazing… someone is feeling happy… someone should be feeling scared…’

At the time, in my day-life, I had just delivered my dream book, and I knew it might be the start of a big shift in my writing life. It felt exciting. But maybe a small voice somewhere was saying, shouldn’t you be feeling a bit more worried?!

Reducing dreams to their themes is what the kind of interpretation book which doesn’t fix on symbols, but rather on situations does – ‘Ten common dreams and what they mean’ sort of thing.

‘The Universal Dream Key’ by Patricia Garfield- subtitle, ‘The 12 most common dream themes around the world’
Most dreams about falling, for example, would reduce to ‘someone is feeling insecure/afraid’ and therefore they will usually reflect a waking-life situation in which the dreamer is feeling insecure.

Most dreams about being chased will reduce to ‘someone is running away from something… someone is feeling scared…’ Most dreams about shopping will come down to  ‘someone is making a choice/considering their options…’

You can check whether these stock interpretations are right for your particular dream by thinking about how you felt in the dream situation. Not all dreams about falling indicate insecurity, even if most do. You may have had a feeling of release and liberation as you plunged over the cliff!

Not all dreams about being chased will be negative – you may be the world’s fastest runner, and loving that your pursuer hasn’t any chance of catching you. Or of course, you might rather hope that the person chasing you will catch you.

The wonderful thing about dream interpretation is that one size does not fit all. Experts and commentators can suggest useful ways in, but only the dreamer can hear how the dream fits in the full symphony of the heart.