On drawing creative guidance from our dreams

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As a writer, I’ve always been a night owl — but lately, I’ve taken to doing work in my sleep. I’ve been listening to the creative wisdom of my dreams.

I wasn’t always someone who remembered her dreams. More often than not, they would vanish as soon as I woke, my mind already attuning to the demands and to-dos of the day ahead. If a particularly vivid dream happened to stay with me, I would mention it to D. for the fun of conversation, but otherwise, dreams were at best a passing oddity.

But a few recurring visions began to intrigue me late this winter. Some dreams over the years have repeatedly shown me specific places, people, or objects at significant moments in my life, and I wanted to explore what they might represent to me in the waking world. So in February, I started making the effort to write down my dreams — segments of the story, fragments of dialogue, even a single freeze-frame if that was all that remained when my alarm went off.

To my surprise, within a few weeks, an intricate image-driven language began to emerge, one I could use in conversation with my own creativity.

My mind was problem-solving while I slept. Places where I was stuck in my writing, places where I could use the support of a specific resource for a creative project — my brain was nudging me toward my next steps in the language of metaphor, filtered through my dreams. Once I understood this, I couldn’t wait to expand my working vocabulary.

Of course, learning any language takes time and practice — I'm finding, though, that this is trickier because there is no teacher or tutor who is already fluent in my personal dialect. And even with attention to good sleep hygiene, dreams don't present themselves with guaranteed clarity every night! So I’m making notes to myself for now, trying to accept that the images must teach me their meanings in their own time. It is hard to be patient with this process.

To give me a more satisfying sense of forward movement, I’ve been working since early summer on a personal glossary of dream images, adding to it each week as more layers of signification appear. It’s just enough tangible structure to help me see the patterns in what is coming forward, and it supports my creative practice by establishing a dedicated space where that work can unfold.

How have your dreams informed your creative practice? How do you honor what comes forward from your dreams? Share your thoughts with me by clicking the button below.