Perchance to Dream: Tapping Your Infinite Creativity

John R. Fultz is the author of the novels Seven Princes and the forthcoming Seven Kings, both from Orbit.  A native of Kentucky, he now lives in the North Bay Area, California. 

All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together. –Kerouac

It occurs to me that the act of writing, especially in the fantastic and speculative genres, is very much like the act of dreaming.

When we sleep, our subconscious mind constructs vignettes, narratives, adventures, terrors, and dramas for our dreaming mind to inhabit. The architectures of our deepest selves come bursting to life, and even though we sometimes feel at the mercy of our dreams, it’s worth recognizing that it is actually we, the Dreamers, who create our dreams.

In this respect, everyone is a writer. A writer of dreams, if nothing else. Scientists tell us that dreaming is an essential human function–those who cannot dream eventually go mad. Dreaming allows us to confront our deepest fears and desires, often without realizing that we are doing exactly that. It’s as if something essentially human inside us is writing stories that are crucial to our spiritual, mental, and emotional health.

We are born dreamers; in that same vein, we are born storytellers. What could be more human than telling stories? It’s one of our oldest and most primal skills…from fireside grunts to cave drawings to stone tablets and right on up to paperbacks and best-selling fiction.

The same deeply ingrained creativity that subconsciously creates dreams also creates the stories we write in our conscious hours. I know writers who have dreamed entire novels before (or while) writing them. Robert Silverberg’s SON OF MAN was written in this way. I’m sure the same has been done with short stories. How many of you reading this have turned the nugget of a dream into a full-fledged story–or a whole book?

I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake. –Descartes

There is a definite, if mysterious, link between our ability to create convincing, immersive, powerful dreams and our ability to write fully realized fiction. In effect, when we write we are dreaming while awake. Our conscious mind shapes, hones, and transcribes these dreams, but it is the infinite font of creative consciousness that dwells deep inside all of us that serves as the soil in which these stories grow.

In other words, every story or book you write is a combined effort: the conscious and subconscious mind working in tandem to produce the desired results. Often, writers find themselves on a journey of discovery. Many of us know where we’re going, but are surprised at how we end up “getting there.” We tap into our subconcious–which taps into the great Idea Pool–the Universal Consciousness–Jung called it the Collective Unconscious–and we “fish” for ideas, scenes, plots, characters, entire WORLDS. We are the miners of dreams, turning raw stones into diamonds with our dedicated efforts.

When we write, we dream. When we dream, we write–if only for an audience of one.

Isaac Asimov once said “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” I submit that writing, for us all, is actually DREAMING through our fingers. Undistilled dreamstuff, flowing like lifeblood from the center of our being along the conduits of our arms, into our fingertips and so into the keyboard (or pen). That immortal flow continues, right onto the printed page (or screen), and directly into the heart-minds of our readers.

Therein lies the magic and majesty of the written word. It’s how we share our dream-visions across space and time. It can even provide us with a certain kind of immortality; the writer’s words often live far longer than the writer.

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men. –Goethe

When I’m deep into the writing process on a novel (or even a story), my conscious mind is so involved with the story I’m weaving that when I go to sleep my dreaming mind often takes over. I write stories over and over in my dreams… often watching them play out before me in part or whole. Sometimes I emerge from this state of dream-writing and I’ve suddenly solved a problem in the narrative, or “caught” a great idea that seemingly came from nowhere. When your mind is in “high gear” crafting stories, it doesn’t want to stop–even when you sleep.

All of this culminates in some valuable advice for writers: Pay attention to your dreams.

Listen to that Sleeping Narrator because it is your direct line to the source of infinite creativity. If you’re having trouble with a story, try sleeping on it. Let your unconscious partner, your Sleeping Narrator step in and give you a hand. You can also try some transcendental meditation for tapping creativity…but that’s a subject for another day.

Dream On, Brave Dreamers…

Man is a genius when he is dreaming. –Kurosawa