Mining Nightmares

When I was younger, I suffered from nightmares.

Not unusual, you might think, but this was Every Night. At first I escaped by the simple method of forcing my eyelids to open. Of course, it was only a matter of time before my subconscious caught on to this, and I ‘woke’ into another layer of dream which rapidly became nightmare.

So I came up with a new, sure-fire way of waking myself up: screaming. Of course, this had the side-effect of waking up everyone else in the house (and, at peak lung capacity, neighbouring houses) but at least I wasn’t trapped in my nightmare any more.

But as they say:


what has been seen cannot be unseen.

And once I was past the age where my screams would summon a soothing parent (i.e. into double digits), I would spend what seemed like the rest of the night either too scared to close my eyes or too scared to get my head out from under the bedding. Or both.

But then I had an epiphany. (Or it could have been the lack of oxygen under the blankets. Hard to tell.)

What terrified me could be useful fodder for writing – after all, how much more primal and high-stakes could you get?

It still took forever to get back to sleep, but at least now I woke screaming “pen and paper!!!” and not just “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgggggghh!!!” Sometimes I even tried to get back into the dream if I couldn’t figure out what happened next.

I haven’t gone as far as Sheridan Le Fanu, mind you – he used to intentionally eat foods that would make for disturbed sleep and then weave his nightmare into his draft on waking. (This may be partly because my nightmares aren’t due to eating lobster: they are due to going to sleep.)

Admittedly, this also works for dreams that do not qualify as nightmares, but they are harder to harvest as they are less likely to wake you up suddenly – and I have yet to acquire the talent of taking notes while still dreaming. Even the notes I have taken shortly after waking are mostly illegible, except possibly as a pigeon tap-dancing sequence.

Some of the dream-nuggets I’ve mined over the years include alien royalty being abducted from a fashionable restaurant, a Questing Aunt getting stuck on an enchanted stone bed, and the gut-dropping moment before the ‘reveal’ when you realise the ‘stunt’ lava tank the apprentice has been lowered into is real – and the stage magician knows.

Eventually it dawned on me that my sub-conscious is actually a much better writer than I am, and after a while I got over being jealous and came to terms with it.

Now I will even go to sleep thinking about my story problems in the hope that my sub-conscious will sort it out for me while I sleep. It used to work (Form Three?) but once again my sub-conscious has wised up to me and will derail my train of thought with the sudden appearance of a gytrash to swallow me whole.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else finds inspiration in their sleep – and what they pull up on the long-line of their dreams.

But one word of caution: when falling, always wake up before you hit earth.
If necessary, scream.

We have met the enemy

and he is us.

Or more accurately, he is our procrastination.

There is so much we could do – so much we want to do, that we never get around to. Like the apostle Paul, we don’t do what we do want to do, and we do what we don’t.

St. Paul Escape from Damascus

Housework, for example. How much housework — expressed as a proportion of the whole — is done annually by people who are only doing it to avoid doing something else?

Of course, some of this procrastination is necessary development time for ideas, but sooner or later the idea is sufficiently ripe and must be harvested, or it never becomes anything more.

We want to write.

We love having written.

Sometimes we even enjoy the process of writing, but the actual sitting-down-to, the sacrificing of all the other things we could be doing (no matter how unpleasant) doesn’t appeal. Not close up. From a distance, the allure is strong enough, but by the time opportunity finally arrives, it has palled.

And so we put it off. There’s always another day.

The other enemy (or so we tell ourselves) is time. There simply isn’t enough of it to go around.

In fact, unless you are one of the modern madwomen who attempt to work full time, raise children, keep the house in order, have a social life and a creative life all in the twenty-four hours per day allotted to us ordinary mortals, you probably do have some time. Possibly not much, but some.

Carnaval (52) - 03Feb08, Paris (France)

If you are one of those women, you have my respect — for your industriousness, if not your sense — but you will never have from me that sincerest form of flattery: imitation.

Ergo, I have some time in my day(s) which I am not using for writing, because I am: using it for something else, wasting it on nothing much, sleeping through it (a popular option) or – and this is the part I have yet to understand – just not writing in it.

Wastage can be minimized, priorities can be rearranged, sleep can be (grudgingly) foregone – but how do you fight the absence of something? How do you fight not-doing? How, in short, do we defeat our own procrastination?

There are multifarious theories as to why we procrastinate, most of which seem to centre around our fear of a) discovering we are enormously talented or b) discovering we aren’t.

So is courage the missing ingredient? Or a ego-defying absence of investment in whether what we do is any good? Or (as with so many things) is it simply a lack of self-discipline that lets us weasel out of sitting down to a task that we may not, at that precise moment, enjoy?

To be honest with you, I am not so much concerned with the psychology of it as with finding out how to beat it.

To that end, this blog; a form of accountability if you will – and only if you will, because as the Caped Gooseberry pointed out, accountability does not work if there is no-one to be accountable to.

In return, I hope to offer you entertainment, encouragement, and whatever I may learn along the way. And should you also be tired of procrastination’s clammy embrace, then by all means, sharpen your pen.