Follow That Dream?

Fail-1Several months ago I had a dream. (Hah! I’ll bet you thought I was going to write about the dream of writing, in general.) Nope. This is about a real dream. I actually remember this one vividly – an unusual experience for me as that almost never happens. I knew from the start that this dream had within it the skeleton of a really interesting story, if I could only get it on paper. My last book had been sent on its way and I was ready to begin something new, something different from the trilogy that had occupied the last seven years of my life.

The dream had three distinctive parts, all featuring the same character in natural stages of progression. It was a gift, right? It was all there for me. All I needed to do was expand it into a novel that would be innovative, fresh, and of course, wonderful! It was fate. I’d be a fool not to listen to that fate and accept this gift.

Now, I am not at all a superstitious person. My religious beliefs are called into question constantly. Yet, I have had some strange experiences that have taught me that there is more to this world than what we can explain. So, rather than allow the dream to fade, I took the unusual step of writing down what I could remember. Then I agonized. What to do? I also had another idea for a new novel, more of a historical romance, the first chapter already written. I had the general story arc in my head.

I decided not to turn my back on that dream and put aside the other WIP to begin writing the dream novel. The first 1000 words were easy. All I had to do was describe the first third of the dream. Even the next 2000 words didn’t give me trouble, well, not much trouble. A little extra effort and I pulled something together that fit, sort of. Then I ran into a brick wall.

Something most of you will not know about me is that I have a stubborn streak, a fairly wide one. I am also a realist, most of the time. That keeps me balanced when stubbornness gets in the way. When I began to get stuck, that stubborn streak insisted I had to stay true to the dream; that I must not veer from what I had been gifted with. That got me as far as 5000 words or so before I became completely mired and unable to move forward.

See, dreams are ephemeral things. The slip and slide around and are hard to pin down. They don’t follow a logical trajectory. They don’t have a straightforward message or meaning. I pressed through the treacle and wrote another 1500 words, but I noticed that those words were not exactly following the path the dream had shown me. I could no longer keep exactly to that path, no how, no way. My stubborn self told me that I had no choice. I had to stick with the truth of the dream. To do otherwise would adulterate it, taint its truth.

I was stuck – really stuck.

That’s when my realist self tapped me on the shoulder. “We have to talk.”


“No, we really have to talk. This isn’t working, is it?”

“No, but…”

“So smarten up. Do you want to write this story or not?”

“Well, yes, but I want to stick to the dream. I have to.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Of course I do. What do you mean, I don’t?”

“There is a another way, a middle way.”

“Yeah? Well, if you’re so smart, tell me.”

I would be fun to carry on with that argument but the limitations of this post won’t accommodate that. After much soul searching I decided that I could still use the main ideas from that dream but also let the story, and my characters, find their own path to tell it in their own way. I could still use the dream but allow for some artistic license to help me make sense of it in a way that would engage readers. After all, I reasoned, I write to be read and enjoyed by others. They haven’t had the dream. They won’t know where I have veered from the straight and narrow, what detours I have taken along the way. They only want to be entertained.

Now that I have allowed myself that decision I think I have broken my writer’s block, and escaped the straitjacket I had myself tied into.

I had never encountered true writer’s block before. Yes, I had some difficult times in each of my novels, but they didn’t last and I was able to move on. This time was different.

If there is a message in this missive, I suppose it is that we sometimes need to give ourselves permission to change course, to take that detour we see, in order to get around that impassable barrier. It makes no sense to insist that our writing can only follow one direction. That way lies madness – and failure.

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

32 thoughts on “Follow That Dream?”

  1. I love that you have followed the message. This happened to me with one of my books. I was given just a snippet in a dream, more like my characters showing me the way.
    I am anxious to see your end work, I’m sure it will be wonderful, and good for you to have the courage to change course. You are the Captain of your ship and should sail it anywhere you choose. Stubborn isn’t a bad thing either.

    Keep a micro recorder by your bed. Even if you are in la la land, sometimes when an a amazing gift arrives, you can lean over babble and have an aha moment when you awake.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Great post, Yvonne. I’ve come to realize nearly every time I get stuck, it’s because I’m arguing with my characters. They want to take the story one way; I want to take it another. They’re always right. 🙂

  3. Great post, Yvonne, and maybe something that happens more often than we know. I, too, had a dream that I began to write, but luckily my dream was only the first act and the kernel of the story arc, so there was no problem with taking off in whatever direction it led me. This is the one book of mine that I actually don’t feel is mine; I feel it was given to me. I don’t think I ever would have come up with the idea on my own.

  4. How cool to be given the blueprint for your book in a dream! Leave it to your subconscious to spark the muse 🙂 I agree with you that you need to allow the book to unfold and not force it to develop one way or another. Go with the flow.

    Great post, Yvonne!

  5. You really ought to update your biog note above, Yvonne, the third volume has been out a while and is equally well received!

    Now, about your dream dilemma: Have you gone back and dreamed some more? Read what yo have written, three or four times before you go to sleep and it’s quite likely that the dream will recur. It may not be the same in every detail, and therein could lie a route forwards.
    And who said you have to stick absolutely to the dream? Can you remember it all so clearly that you can be sure of getting it right? It seems to me that your dreaming is a normal part of the novelist’s muse in action. The only difference is that you have more than the average conscious recollection of your inspiration.
    So use it, play with it, see where it takes you. We, your readers, know that it will be good when you’re ready to share it with us and, after the triumph of your first three books, were all eager with anticipation.

    1. Ian, I do what you are talking about. I have extremely vivid dreams. This is a great suggestion, one used by athletes all the time. Our unconscious often tries to help us solve a problem. 🙂

  6. Great post, Yvonne. I’m glad to hear that you’re getting a book out of your dream, and I’m also glad to hear that you’re not willing to sacrifice a good story to some arbitrary rule. 🙂 Can’t wait to read the new book!

  7. Remembering your dreams is good, Yvonne, I kept a dream diary for a long time; I tried with a dictaphone but I found that, try as I might, I just couldn’t make sense of the garbled, nonsense I’d recorded. I found a pad and pencil next to the night light worked better for me; still pretty messy to work out what I’d written but good enough to jog the memory and relight the dreams.

    Excellent post, dreams are multilevelled and multifaceted, a rich river of creativity to drink from. Good luck with the dream book, Yvonne.

  8. Thanks, Yvonne. The timing of this post couldn’t be more perfect. I’m working on the Mr. Pish 2015 calendar right this minute, in fact, and I was getting frustrated because I was dictating that certain photos had to go under certain months (based on anniversary dates). Then I realized I would be the only one who knew that – and it was a dumb restriction. Now I’m enjoying the project a lot more. Thanks for reinforcing my decision. 🙂

  9. Ian, that’s actually an excellent idea about re-reading the work before she goes to sleep and seeing if she can re-enter the dream. It could work. Also, when waking up from a dream that you want to go back to, keep your head in the same position on the pillow. If you move, turn over, change your head position, you won’t go back to the same dream. Whenever I have a dream that I do NOT want to go back to, I deliberately move into a totally different position. Works for me.

  10. It’s interesting how that happens, isn’t it. I sort of feel that way about this one, that it’s somehow not really mine. Maybe that’;s why it’s so important to get it right.

  11. I’m not sure why none of the replies are sticking to the comment they are supposed to follow. So sorry if that causes problems for all you great folks who left a comment. I AM hitting reply in the right place. 🙁

  12. That’s a great story. Wow to remember a dream so vividly and that you actually wrote a story from it. Congratulations!

    I’ve had great dreams that I’ve tried to remember the next morning but never could. I gave up trying. I don’t even bother keeping a notepad and pen on my side table anymore.

    I did steal my husbands dream once. Nov 1 2007 – NANO I had nothing. My hub told me about his dream the night before and I used the first bit of it and went from there. ‘Beyond the Wall’ was the finished product. Yeah,his dream was about a wall.

  13. It was kind of unreal. When it happened I stayed awake for a while going over it so I’d remember. Then I got up and wrote it down. Weird experience for me. You never know – it could happen to you one day. 🙂

  14. Yes, Dale, the next morning’s no good. I forgot to say that you have to give yourself instructions before you go to sleep; to the affect that ‘you will wake up at the conclusion of a significant dream.’ It does take a little practice but it works.

  15. I see what you mean, Yvonne, the comments are not staying where they are supposed to.

  16. Yvonne, I really like this post. The dream was a gift to you from your unconscious, imho. Using it the way you did, as an inspirational guide, is clever. I could tell you my dream from last night… but the message of it, I believe, is that my mind is pushing me to finish a few projects. I’d better listen before it gets more forceful. 🙂

    1. lol. In that case you better hustle, Lois. I’ve had dreams like that too, and some really scary ones. This one was different. Thank you. We’ll see where it leads.

  17. I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt that clearly, or at least remembered it afterwards, but it struck me that what your dream gave you was an ‘outline’. But you’re a pantster, right? So I think you’re being true to /yourself/ even if not 100% true to the dream. 🙂

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