Dissonance, a Novel by Lisa Lenard-Cook
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The Art of Fiction:

Naked Dreams: Why Writers Don't Write!

by Lisa Lenard-Cook

June 2006


"Why are you keeping yourself from your dreams?"


What do you do instead of write? Do your countertops shine while your keyboard gathers dust? Are you this year's reigning Free Cell champion, or the best list-maker both east and west of the Mississippi?

Sure, you promised yourself that once you had time, you were going to write that book that's been stewing in your head ever since you can remember. So how come, now that you do have the time, you're going shopping, paying bills, polishing your silver, oiling your lawn mower—anything, in other words, except sitting down and writing?

Still worse, it's likely you're berating yourself. As if it's not bad enough you're not doing what you swear you want to do, you feel guilty for not doing it. What's going on? Why are you keeping yourself from your dreams? The answer, it turns out, may well lie in your dreams—the ones you have while you're asleep.

"Every time I'm about to start something new, along come the anxiety dreams."


Dreams of Writing Versus Writers' Dreams

Every time I'm about to start something new, along come the anxiety dreams. If I'm about to teach a class, for example, they'll be the Oversleeping Dreams, where a roomful of people waits for me—and I'm still in bed, sound asleep. Or maybe they'll be the Wrong Classroom Dreams, or the Wrong Building Dreams, or the Wrong Day Dreams. I've had Wrong Person Dreams, too, where I show up in a classroom only to learn it isn't me they want. (Actually, I once was teaching a class when another woman walked in and asked me what I was doing there. It turned out she was in the wrong classroom! As much as I empathized, I was enormously relieved as well.) I've also had Unprepared Dreams, and Empty Classroom Dreams, and finally, Naked Dreams.

You know the ones. You've had them, too.

"As broad as each of these categories is, the thread that runs through each is, quite simply, fear."


In her wonderful book, Writers Dreaming, Naomi Epel interviews writers about their dreams. It turns out that, when it comes to writing, writers’ dreams seem to fall into a few distinct categories: making a mess dreams something to hide dreams struggling dreams flying (and crashing) dreams

As broad as each of these categories is, the thread that runs through each is, quite simply, fear. There's the fear of loss of control (making a mess). The fear of hurting those we love (something to hide). The fear of imperfection (struggle). And worst of all, there's the fear of exposure, whether of our ineptness, messiness, badness (our bad writing, e.g.), or of rejection: If we write, after all, it's only a matter of time before we'll be exposed for the frauds we know ourselves to be.

". . . we avoid it as if it were the monster in the closet. Why? I'd argue that it's because writing itself is the monster in the closet."


The Writer's Ambivalence

What gives? Writing is what we profess to love, right? And yet we avoid it as if it were the monster in the closet. Why? I'd argue that it's because writing itself is the monster in the closet. Need proof? Listen to what some writers have to say about it:

Cynthia Ozick: "The only thing more tormenting than writing is not writing."

Elie Wiesel: "Writing is so personal, so profoundly and terribly personal. Your entire personality goes into every word. The hesitation between one word and another is filled with many centuries, much space."

Robert Fitzgerald: "Writing is very difficult. It's pure hell, in fact, quite often. But when it does really click, then your little boon is at hand."

"First of all, you've got to be willing to, in Julia Cameron's words, make a mess . . ."


"Your Little Boon"

So how do you get "your little boon?"

First of all, you've got to be willing to, in Julia Cameron's words, make a mess: "In order to recover as an artist, you must first be willing to be a bad artist." Victoria Nelson, in On Writer's Block, suggests that "the…'block' is actually a form of self-protection." In other words, why go where you've never been when you're "safe" where you are, no matter how uncomfortable you are in the that safe place?

The answer is that, as Anne Lamott reminds us in Bird By Bird, "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts." But think about it: Who's going to see that terrible stuff? That's up to you. Nobody, if you don't write it down in the first place. And, more important to the matter at hand, nobody, even if you do, because you can revise or rewrite it once you've gotten it down. But you can't revise if you don't have something with which to work, can you?

"Allowing myself to make a mess means, first of all, silencing my internal saboteurs. . ."


Revision 'R Us

If you're a regular reader, you know how much value I place on revision and rewriting. Part of it is because it's a way of making the finished fiction resemble the picture in my head. But the other reason is because my first drafts are a mess. I've learned that, for me, the hard part is getting that first stuff down on paper-not because I don't know what I want to say, but because the procrastinator in me (the naked dreamer) knows she's not supposed to make a mess. Allowing myself to make a mess means, first of all, silencing my internal saboteurs, and second, giving myself permission to write.

There are as many ways of giving yourself permission to write as there are writers. Realizing what's stopping you, though, means you're more than halfway there. So let yourself go naked in your dreams—and give yourself permission to write.

I'll be talking about "Naked Dreams" at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Festival in Gainesville, Florida in late July. Doris Booth and Anne Hawkins will be there, too, along with lots of wonderful writers. You can find out more about the Festival at this link: http://www.writingtheregion.com/


Lisa Lenard-Cook

Lisa Lenard-Cook's novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, a selection of NPR Performance Today's Summer Reading Series, and the countywide choice for Durango-La Plata Reads. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, where she is currently adapting Dissonance for the stage.

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Copyright 2006-2008 by Lisa Lenard-Cook and Authorlink.