A few nights ago, I dreamt about a row of old shops which had been boarded up with huge sheets of brown cardboard. Along the top, there was a big bright Tesco banner.
In my dream, I realised that when my dreams are set in man-made environments, they are always up-to-date. I very rarely dream about my own personal past, let alone further back in history.
I reflected that I’m a person who isn’t drawn to the past – I don’t write on historical themes, and I’m not fired by antiques, or costume dramas, or classical novels or paintings. Only last week, I bought a limited edition print of the Lidl in Brixton. It felt fresh and different – mean, how much Lidl-related art do you see?
Even when I did a few past-life regressions, they didn’t go further back than wartime Europe, but that’s another story.
I wondered about other people – antiques collectors, historical novelists, family archivists. People my spiritualist friend used to call ‘old souls.’ Did they have more dreams set in the past?
At the end of the dream, I dreamt I was recording this as a blog-post rather than an entry in my dream diary – and that’s what I’ve just done!
So this is my dream question – if you love old things, if you read or write historical books, do you have dreams that are set in the past? Or if, like me, you love the new, is that reflected in your dreams and writing too?
A friend of mine was really pleased with herself the last time I saw her because, after a lifetime of writing, she had finally stepped into that space and owned it. She had told an events organiser, ‘I’m a local poet.’
It reminded me of another friend who had written several novels which absolutely no-one else knew about. She had only told me because she wanted my advice about how to find a publisher.
Coming out as a writer doesn’t sound as if it should be hard, but I think for many writers it can be. We may have to do it bit-by-bit, our family and close friends first, before going public enough to maybe join a writing group or sign up for some courses. Having confessed we’ve been writing, there’s another coming-out to do if we decide to try and be published.
Since I had wanted to be an author from a very early age, my family always knew, and I actually foisted my teenage efforts on school friends for a penny a chapter. So the fact that I wrote was never something I felt shy about confessing, and when the time came for me to try and earn a living from it, I was happy for everyone to know.
I reckoned that otherwise they’d just have thought I was a slacker anyway, sitting around at home when all my children were in school or playschool. On the whole, it seemed better to risk looking like someone with unrealistic expectations, wasting a lot of time and effort which was doomed to failure, than someone who wasn’t making any effort at all.
It came as a complete shock to me, therefore, when my first books came out, to find that I suddenly felt exposed. It wasn’t only my family and friends who knew any more – now everyone would know, and what’s more, they could read what I’d written.
I couldn’t understand at all why I was having such a problem – I mean, wasn’t that the point of being an author, to have people read what you’d written? So when I found myself on a psychodrama day with a group of counsellors, I told them I was totally up for exploring the reasons why.
In psychodrama, I went straight into a cave with all my writing and flatly refused to come out!
It turned out that the essence of my anxiety was about having things out there that I’d written, which I might find embarrassing further down the line. This did happen, a decade later, when I was revising my adults’ book on bullying for a new edition. I had completely changed my mind on the subject of forgiveness, and I realised that there might be any number of earlier opinions in others of my books that I’d long ago left behind in my life.
I was reassured to read, in John Fowles’ preface to a new edition of his first book, ‘The Magus,’ how he had wrestled with just this difficulty. Much of what was in the book, he no longer felt or even liked very much. He said he considered doing a total rewrite, because he felt embarrassed about what he now could see were the book’s shortcomings.
But in the end, he decided to leave the text just as it was, saying
All artists have to range the full extent of their own lives freely. The rest of the world can censor or bury their private past. We cannot, and so have to remain partly green till the day we die… callow green in the hope of becoming fertile green.
A lot of the books I enjoy reading are essays, memoirs and opinion pieces, and I like writing that kind of book too. Perhaps that’s why this was my particular stumbling block, when it came to coming out as a writer.
An enemy of self-reliance is consistency – we feel we can’t contradict our former ideas and utterances – but that’s just conforming to other people’s idea of who we are based on historical evidence. We think we may be misunderstood – but so what? We need to live and grow in the present, not be tied down by the past. Ralph Waldo Emerson
The book I’ve just written about dreams is full of my own ideas, experiences and opinions, and now I’m writing this blog… I guess you could say that I’m over it now!
If you’re a writer, did you find it hard to tell people about your writing, or writing ambitions? Did you have a particular block when it came to going public?
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.
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.
When I wrote about talent before, I was thinking about the personal qualities a writer needs to develop if they want to be published and make a career of writing.
Recently, I read a quotation by Erica Jong which reminded me of a quality writers need whether they want to be published or not. She says, ‘Everyone has talent; what is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.’
You need courage to even embark upon the path of writing, let alone move towards publication, because when you write you are opening up to the hidden places of the self, and you can never be sure what you might find there.
People in workshops will often express surprise at where their writing has taken them – that’s part of the magical and sometimes mystical experience of any creative endeavour.
But occasionally that delighted surprise can give way to something much darker. Dismay, for example – ‘But I don’t want to write sad stories.’ Rejection – ‘That’s not really me!’ Even disgust – ‘I hate the character I’ve conjured into being.’
This is another reason the image Ted Hughes offers for writing as being like fishing is so apt; you might catch a tasty gorgeous trout, but you might equally snare a big angry pike or a grotty old shoe. There could even be alligators circling your bait, ready to pull you down.
Again, dreaming with awareness is wonderful preparation for creative writing, because in dreams we will inevitably encounter our own darkness, as well as our light. In intending to recall our dreams, we willingly surrender; we undertake to engage with that inner world, whatever we might find there.
In dreaming, as in writing, we may find more than we might wish to find, but that is the lesson of any inner work; we are much more than what we want to be.
If you are a writer, has your writing ever taken you to dark places that you didn’t know were there?
Written for young people, this has to be the most beautiful and insightful book I’ve ever read about the magical process of creating writing.
As you would expect, the author uses metaphors from nature to express his ideas about where poetry comes from, and what attitudes and skills a poet needs to develop in himself in order to be able to capture it.
He talks about the inner life, which seems equivalent to what I call the dream-world in these pages. It’s the world of imagination, memory and emotion, stories and images, which goes on all the time beneath the surface, ‘like the heart beat.’ We may be aware of it, or we may not. We may become aware of it through dream-recalling or any creative pursuit.
Hughes compares this inner world with a pond, saying that if we don’t learn the focus, patience and stealth to break into it ‘our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.’
He says you have to care about what you are writing, and if an idea gets stalled it will be because you don’t care enough. You shouldn’t worry about the words, but cleave to the imagination and emotion in your idea, then the words will follow in an organic way.
The review from the Times Literary Supplement, quoted on the back cover, says, ‘He makes the whole venture seem enjoyable, and somehow urgent.’
That’s exactly what the book conveys to me – the sense of venture, pleasure and also the importance of this inner journey, which takes you to the heart of who you are, and what life is.
Like most writers, I love reading about writing. Have you got a favourite book on writing that you’d like to recommend?
First of all, I must confess I can’t remember where I read that there are more would-be writers than readers, so it’s more of an eye-catching title than a statistical fact. But having said that, it doesn’t sound too preposterous to me.
Writing courses are springing up all over the country, from major universities to my kitchen table; online writers’ resources are increasing daily, and in National Novel Writing Month alone participants have already produced a staggering 2,755,787,833 words this year, and counting http://nanowrimo.org/
You would think the main reason why so many people are interested in writing is because they’d like to be published, perhaps with a view to changing career, or to making a fortune out of a single best-selling book and going to live in the Seychelles. This is certainly true for some.
But I think for a lot of people who want to write, being published is not the main driver. It’s something more primitive and profound. People come to writing because they want to discover and tell their stories, not necessarily to the world, but to each other, like tribal elders gathered under a tree, or children making up games in the playground.
I think there’s a yearning also, in such a material world, to connect with deeper layers of the self, and explore the mysteries of the inner world.
What creative activities of every kind offer is an experience of total absorption and flow, and an opportunity for spiritual experience and community in a very secular world.
I’d love to hear your views, if you’re a teacher or participant in creative writing courses.
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.
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?’
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.’