Lucid writing

A lucid dream is one in which you realize you are dreaming and deliberately remain in the dream, aware that it is a dream and that to some extent you can shape and direct what happens. A lucid dream, unlike ordinary dreams (or at least our hazy memories of them) has a clarity, vividness and realness that usually shocks and enthralls a person the first time they experience it. That’s certainly what happened to me the first time I had a fully lucid dream experience. I couldn’t believe how utterly real this illusory dreamscape seemed to be. Then I realized I was free in this world. It was all entirely my own creation, and I could shape it as I wished. I could walk through walls. I could travel to wonderful destinations with a thought. I could fly. In short, I could have fun, which is what I proceeded to do with that first lucid dream.
After I’d had a few lucid dreams it occurred to me: I’m a writer, aren’t it? So why not be a writer in my dreams? It seemed to me I could practice my craft not only during waking hours, but also while I sleep. If, while dreaming, I could become conscious of the fact that I was dreaming, then I could shape and direct my dreams as stories. I could let a plot develop, and try different variations of it. I could invent characters and not just write about them, but talk to them, get to know them as if they were real people.
This grand plan to work as a writer both day and night turned out to be more difficult than I’d anticipated. For one thing, first you’ve got to dream lucidly, and that’s not easy to do at all, let alone on a regular basis. At least for me. Most nights my brain is just too tired from a day of activity and doesn’t seem to want to be alert and inquisitive during dreaming. It just wants to drift along with the dream and let it happen. I discovered this in a surprising way one night when I was dreaming that I was back in grade school, which was odd in itself, but didn’t make me aware I was dreaming. Then a woman came up to me and said, “This is a dream, you know.”
I should’ve become lucid at that moment. Here was a figment of my own subconscious inviting me to realize that I was dreaming! But I didn’t respond to the invitation. I just nodded to the woman and sat down at my desk, and then the dream drifted on to other scenes. I was simply too far “under” to care one way or another. Like someone sitting half-narcotized in front of a television, my conscious mind  just wanted to be spoon-fed and let the dream-story go where it would. 
The other surprising thing I discovered about lucid dreaming is that trying to control the dream doesn’t really work all that well. Unplanned events and surprises pop up no matter how much one tries to stick to a particular story. In fact, the best thing about lucid dreaming for a writer, it seems to me, is that the uncontrolled, uncontrollable aspect of the mind, the “wild” mind, can add elements to your dream-stories that you likely never would have come up with in the waking state. It’s as if you have a collaborator, a mysterious other writer within you who comes up with strange and wonderful ideas you almost feel you shouldn’t take credit for.
Image: Dickens’ Dream, by R W Buss


  1. Thomas. I thought you were going to a different place here. This is fascinating though.
    I wonder about the idea of “lucid writing” from a different angle. It is the job of the writer to create a dream-like state for the reader — a narrative dream that the reader (ideally) will not want to leave. Does the writer have to be in a sort of lucid writing state of “mind” (unmind?) when they create this narrative dream? Do writers have to unmind themselves to enter this lucid writing place? It’s a conscious place, but drawing on the unconscious for those connections that seem to magically appear sometimes.

    I’m going there now….

    • Thought-provoking questions, Thomas. Certainly I find some writers create a more dream-like state for me than others. Kafka w2ould be an example — his novels are very dreamlike in form and content and seem to be driven by some “unconscious” force or desire that’s hidden behind the wings, so to speak, rather than being plot-driven in a more familiar way. But I think you’re getting at something more general about the way good fiction can draw readers into a story that so totally absorbs them they almost take it as real (as when we dream without realizing we’re dreaming, and accept what happens, no matter how unusual the dream’s events might be).

      Speaking of drawing on the unconscious while writing, I’m trying a different process for the book I’m working on now. It’s a method drawn from Nabokov, who reportedly put his novels together from bits and pieces he would scribble on cards. Each card noting down a scene or “beat” in the novel. When he felt he had enough of these cards he would arrange and rearrange them until he found the best sequence for the novel, then he’d do the actual writing, filling out each scene and linking them.

      Robert Olen Butler also advises this in his book on writing, From Where You Dream, but he goes further and says that the jottings on cards should come as much as possible from one’s unconscious. So, every morning when I get up, the first thing I do is sit quietly in a kind of semi-conscious lucid state and let images and ideas for scenes come up, and I jot them down. Whatever comes, even if it contradicts what I’ve written on previous cards. At this stage I’m not making any attempt to write the scenes in full, just taking short notes. When I feel I’m done with this process, then I will take all the cards and try different sequences of them, discarding those that don’t fit, etc.

      • Okay, I love that idea, of gathering your dreams in the morning and jotting down what you find there on a card. “From where you dream”!! Thank you for sharing this.

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