Dream A Story, Write A Book: Where Writing Ideas Come From


'The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of' John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858, public domain

‘The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of’ John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858, public domain

by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador

Do you ever wonder where great story ideas come from?

Some writers say they get ideas from their everyday life. Some rely on their ‘muse’ to inspire them. Others have had their writing ideas bubbling around in their grey matter for years.

Then there are our dreams.

The playground of our subconscious, dreams can be a fertile ground for writing ideas.

Some now-famous books that had their genesis in dreams include:

  • The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Misery by Stephen King, who dreamed the basis of the story while asleep on a plane

This month I had the pleasure of meeting novelist and screenwriter Delia Ephron. She spoke at a literary event here in Tulsa, then signed books afterwards. She was charming and insightful, and after telling her at the book table I was a yet-to-be published writer, enthusiastically supportive.

She shared in her talk how her latest novel The Lion Is In came about. Delia dreamed the story, even details of its setting in North Carolina, having never been there. Later, after her book was published, she went to North Carolina, and found certain spots she wrote about that appeared EXACTLY as she had pictured them in her dream. Eerie coincidence, or a gift of writing ‘sparks’ from the universe?

A statement Delia made in her talk resonated with me.

“If you’re a writer, all you really have is process, the rest is out of your control.” – Delia Ephron 

Sometimes I think as writers we worry about all those things that are out of our control (publishing, agents, rejections, sales, etc.) to the detriment of our creativity.

We need to keep the fear monsters at bay and stay open to those writing ‘sparks’, wherever they might appear. Be open to the process.

Writers are natural observers. We stand outside the circle, photographing life in our minds, attempting to make sense of it, turning it over and over in our hands like a smooth rock discovered in a stream. Be present in all the forms process may take. That includes our dreams.

How can we make sure we don’t miss a ‘spark’ that comes floating through our dream world?

  1. Be intentional about remembering your dreams. Think about the fact you want to remember your dreams, and even speak the words out loud: “I will remember any dreams I have tonight.” Sounds silly but saying to ourselves what we want to accomplish is a strong motivator for any goal we might have.
  2. Wake up slowly whenever possible. Take time for the dream world to penetrate into our consciousness.
  3. Keep a notebook bedside to capture any imagery or dream ‘stories’ that come to mind when waking.

Keep your mind and heart open to writing ‘sparks’ in your dreams.

I’ve only had one dream that I wrote about thus far. It was story-worthy because when I was twelve years old I dreamed that my best friend in the sixth grade was murdered, and woke the next day to find that she indeed had been murdered that weekend.

Talk about eerie.

Have you ever had a ‘story-worthy’ dream? Do you keep track of your dreams? Tell us about it in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Dream A Story, Write A Book: Where Writing Ideas Come From

  1. Great post! I love that Delia Ephron quote.

    For a long time now, I’ve been writing down my vivid dreams in as much detail as possible. Not only does this shed light on what’s going in my subconscious, but the way dreams unfold is a great way to learn about story movement. Dream movement is always so unexpected, and yet within the context of the dream it seems inevitable. I did once base a short story on a dream I had about taking a shower in my parents’ attic while tons of people paraded through. 🙂 And one of my dreams I gave to a character in my current novel draft.

    That is so sad about your sixth-grade best friend. That is certainly eerie, to say the least.

    Thanks for this!

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  2. Thanks, Jill. Good for you for documenting your dreams, I bet you’ve learned a lot about yourself, and are getting good material for your writing.

    I can relate to your shower dream, not the shower part but the people part. I have a recurring dream that I am working in a shoe store (worked in one in real life for 5 years) and it’s right at closing time, and I can’t lock the door. More and more people keep coming in the store until it’s wall to wall people and I just stand there, there is nothing I can do about it and I know I will be at the store until late in the night. Then everyone wants to purchase their shoes all at the same time, and I can’t get the cash register to work. It’s terrifying. 🙂

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    • That’s so interesting! I always wonder if dreams like that are about an innate fear of being out of control and overwhelmed. It is similar in flavor to my shower dream, though that one also contained the fear of being exposed! 🙂 Thanks for sharing that.

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  3. This is all fascinating to me! I dream a lot, but I don’t remember them after. My Mom Person says I talk a lot in my sleep. I don’t remember. That’s really sad about your friend when you were little. It must have been a difficult thing to deal with.

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  4. It was pretty sad, Rhythm. I think the saddest thing was that my family didn’t want me to talk about it. I didn’t get to go to a funeral or talk to anyone about it, and I remember being sad for a long time. That’s why when I was older it was good to write a story about it.

    I bet kids at the library talk to you about stuff. That’s good that they can have someone like you to read to and tell their hopes and dreams. Even Pinkerton the Cat thinks that’s cool. He’s the one with his picture down at the bottom of this blog. I think he dreams about escaping the house and climbing the tree, but it’s just a guess. He keeps all his secrets to himself, like most cats do. You know how they are. 🙂

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  5. I don’t remember my dreams, but there is that twilight time when I’ve gone to bed and am falling asleep and my brain gets very productive. I’ve jumped out of bed to write down poems or paragraphs to something (nonfiction) I’m working on. I think I could solve the world’s problems if I just kept a notebook on my nightstand.

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