Sometimes I dream in stories: detailed, articulated plays in my mind. Nothing psychologically disjointed, but vignettes of scenes with characters, plots, and often a theme running throughout. I’ve always wondered if these ideas are given to me to write, or merely entertainment. For the better ones, I use to try recalling them later in the day with little success, in hopes of working them into something. No matter how vivid the dream, evaporation was inevitable and usually within an hour or so of waking.
During one particular stretch of extraordinary story dreams years ago, I was determined not to let them escape unrecorded. Although I knew I couldn’t rely on memory to record them later, I thought there must be a way to capture the essence of the stories, and thus trigger my deeper memories into surrendering characters and details that seemed so real during dream time.
My first attempt was the most logical: condition myself to wake, then quickly write down everything, furiously scribbling before the muse yawned and left. It took a few nights of dreams before I actually awoke in the middle of one. Turning on the light, I grabbed my journal from the bedside table and furiously wrote down everything I could, as fast as I could. Satisfied I had caged the muse, I turned the light off and slipped into a deeper sleep, content in my success.
While my mother never admonished me to become a doctor in younger life, from the looks of my journal pages the next day, I missed that calling at least in the ineligible writing requirement. I sat and stared in dumb disbelief at the King’s English I thought was pouring forth from my pen the night before, only to realize that three-year-old son’s scribble book was more legible than this mess. The brain’s failure to connect with my hand’s motor skills combined to cause that story dream to evaporate forever. But I was undaunted and knew there must be other ways to trap my elusive muse.
So that night, armed with a mini-cassette recorder replenished with fresh batteries and a new tape, I went to sleep hoping I had the right gear this time. Sure enough, in the wee hours of the morning with the dream storming in my mind, I sat up, grabbed the tape recorder, and clicked the buttons successfully to earn a red light. I then proceeded to dictate everything I could remember about the characters, plot, location, and even some of the dialogue that sounded so brilliant in my compliant sleep-coma mind. Once again satisfied in accomplishing my goal, I collapsed, pillow-to-head for a few more hours of contented sleep.
Next morning, filled with confidence and fully trusting in technology, I grabbed the recorder and headed off to work where I had access to a foot-controlled micro transcriber. A beautiful machine for writers who like to dictate, the transcriber provides control of speed and pitch, as well as forward and reverse using a convenient foot pedal. Slipping in the mini cassette, I fired up WordPerfect and prepared to capture the details of what was surely a publishable story.
My first thought was one of gratitude…grateful I hadn’t given the tape to my secretary to transcribe. I’m not sure I could have lived down the subsequent ribbing that surely would have ensued. My wonderful dream thoughts could not be converted into editable words because my slurring voice on the tape sounded as though I’d had a few too many drinks. Sigh…
In the end I did manage to find a method useful, at some cost, for capturing these story dreams, and I still use this process on occasion. I don’t have as many story dreams as before, but the ones that come tend to be darker yet more intriguing than before. What works for me is to simply get out of bed and go into the kitchen table with journal in hand and begin to core dump what I could remember of the dream. The act of moving to the kitchen apparently wakes me enough to write legible notes, although I still have to write furiously or the details fade. The downside is my now-stimulated mind won’t let me go back to sleep. Not a significant problem if it’s an hour before the usual rising time, but this often happens at 3 a.m. But that’s okay. At least for a brief moment I manage to cage my muse into telling all, and that’s not a bad thing for a writer.