R. Shapiro photo


by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

September 2007

"There are a few dreams that have dogged me."

There are a few dreams that have dogged me at different points in my life.

The first, when I was a child, was actually about dogs–wild dogs chasing me to school. I’d wake up yelling and my father would come in and holler, “Not even one night can you let me sleep!”

The next dream began in college and continued on decades after I’d graduated. The day of final exams, I’d find out that I’m registered for a course that I never attended. I’m racing through corridors of unnumbered rooms, desperate to find that class.

The dream that has continued all throughout my adulthood is the one where I loose my pocketbook. I have no money for a cab, no cell phone, and whenever I stop to ask someone for aid, no one hears me. They not only don’t respond, they walk right through me.

Each of these dreams has made my throat clench, my heart pound. Even thinking about them while I’m awake makes me uneasy.

"Dreams . . . contain precognitive
material, that is, they can tell us our future."



“A dream,” Jung wrote, “is a theater in which the dreamer himself is the scene, the player, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public, and the critic.” (General Aspects of Dream Psychology, 1948)

What a dream for a writer!

Not only are dreams full of emotion and wonder and clues to our inner selves, they also contain precognitive material, that is, they can tell us our future.

John Aubrey, in Miscellanies on Various Subjects,1696, wrote, “My lady Seymour dreamed that she saw a nest with nine finches in it. And so many children she had by the Earl of Winchelsey whose name is Finch.”

"For both inspiration . . . and a bridge into
your inner self (and perhaps someone else’s) . . .
writing down your dreams is the ticket."


About 50 AD, in The Interpretation of Dreams, wrote, “Someone dreamed he had an iron penis. He fathered a child who killed him.” And this tidbit as well. “A man dreamed that he slipped out of his flesh just as a snake sheds its old skin. He died on the following day. For his soul, which was about to depart from his body, provided him with these images.”

For both inspiration for your writing and a bridge into your inner self (and perhaps someone else’s) remembering and writing down your dreams is the ticket.

"Lucid dreaming is a dream
in which a person is aware
that he is dreaming"


Here’s all you need to do:

1. Keep a dream journal.

Set a notebook by your bed and a pen at hand. As soon as you wake up in the morning, write down whatever you can recall of your dream. You may not remember it all, but if you even recall an image, a word, even a color, write it down. Sometime later in the day, the dream may spring out at you.

2. Take Advantage of Moments of Lucid Dreaming.

Lucid dreaming is a dream in which a person is aware that he is dreaming while he’s having the dream. In Wikipedia, it says, “During lucid dreaming, it is often possible to exert conscious control over the dream characters and environment, as well as to perform otherwise physically impossible feats.”

There are two ways of experiencing a lucid dream. A person can be dreaming and then conclude logically that he is.

For example, when my husband has a nightmare, he soon realizes it, and says to himself in while dreaming, “This is just a nightmare,” and it’s over.

"If you become aware that you’re dreaming,
you can set your fictional character
into the dreamscape"


But for the writer, the nightmare can be most welcome. It may get you the most amazing scene of your book.

If you become aware that you’re dreaming, you can set your fictional character into the dreamscape and she what he or she does. Your protagonist might do or say something that you’d never get to if you were at your computer. During the lucid dream, you may even ask the protagonist a question such as, “Mathilda, will you marry George?” The answer might not come in words. Perhaps you’ll see a scene or George’s mother will appear and say, “This is no girl for my George!” And, if you’ve kept your dream journal handy, you can either wake up and write it down right away, or in the morning, at least you’ll remember the words of the interfering prospective mother-in-law.

"A Lucid dream can also occur
when you’re awake."


A Lucid dream can also occur when you’re awake. A daydream is just as pregnant with literary material as its sunset counterpart. One way to induce a waking lucid dream is to meditate. While in meditation, a person experiences the same rapid eye movements as when dreaming. In mediation, you can also ask questions of your characters, have them play out their scenes for you. Again, just be ready with your dream journal.

Also, if you feel sleepy, sit in a chair and hold something in your hand that you will make a sound when it drops such as a ring of keys. Think about what problem you want to solve in your writing, such as How will George get away from Mathilda? Let yourself doze, and when you hear the item in your hand drop, you’ll wake up and be able to write down your dream solution. (It’s sort of like Newton getting bopped on his head with the apple and discovering the law of gravity.)

"Sometimes it’s far better to use
dreams to get information
about your material . . ."


Sometimes it’s far better to use dreams to get information about your material, your characters, scenes than to have the characters dreaming in your writing. You know how it is when someone corners you and tries to tell you their dream? The dreamer is so into the story of his dream, telling you with gusto, “And then there was a big dark room and I went inside and there was nobody there and then…” And what happens? You start snoring.

In those cases, I agree with Sarah Ferguson who, in A Guard Within,(1975) wrote, “I dislike the cult of dreams. They should be secret things, and people who are always telling you what they dreamt irritate me. Nor do I like hearing psychological discussion between those who do not really know what they are talking about. There is something messy about such people.”

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, and in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at http://www.miriamthemedium.com/