Yes, I am the kind of person who’s amused by their own dreams. But in my defense, I have epic dreams. They’re crowded with people, real, fictional, and complete strangers. They often have some sort of adventuresome plot, and even when they don’t (I’m most prone to dreaming the “back in school and I have no idea what my schedule is” trope), the details can be funny or otherwise imagination-sparking. In fact, the first thing that happens when I pick up even the tiniest hint that I might be dreaming is my dream self scrambling for pen and paper: “I’ve got to write this down, it’s going to be a great story!” But dang, that paper never does wake up with me. I write down as much as I can remember when I wake up, but I know there was more to it, and I’ve forgotten the vital details that made the story something special.
I’ve seen other people ask authors if they ever get ideas from their dreams, and I often see the response, “No: if you just write out your dreams, they’re going to be crap stories.” Well, sure. But they are a starting place. They can trigger a proper story. They can give you images that work on a subconscious level. And they can remind you that you are creative in the first place.
That’s the big one for me. It’s why I started writing. When I was six or seven years old I had a dream that one of Santa’s elves had become so disgruntled with bringing Christmas cheer that he took our whole church hostage on Christmas Eve. “That was a story,” I thought when I woke up, and I spent the next few months—or weeks, it felt like months but time is different in first grade—giving it a proper beginning, middle, and end (okay, to be honest, I never got to the end. I started writing how I’ve continued ever since: giving up on a story because I can’t figure out how to finish it), with (relatively) sensible dialog and description, all in a folded-over-and-stapled little booklet with spaces for illustrations (some of which I supplied, some of which I left for later and never came back to).
It didn’t matter that I never properly finished it. I was pleased with what I did have. And I kept having weird, funny, exciting dreams that required a book to be made, so I kept making more (and rarely finishing those, either). A year later, my second-grade teacher had us write poems, and I distinctly thought to myself, “Oh, this is good for me, because I am a writer.” Writing poems (non-free-form at any rate) was nothing at all like writing dreams into stories, but it didn’t matter: I had accepted that identity for myself. I AM A WRITER.
As I got older I occasionally wrote stories that weren’t triggered by dreams, and I commonly reimagined older stories into newer, better ones (meaning many of those HAD started as dreams, to begin with, far back in their genetics—and also being further evidence of me having great difficulty finishing stories—I’d just rewrite them instead!). As a teenager I started learning all I could about writing for publication, and actively worked toward that goal for the next decade or so… up until I had kids.
Then suddenly the goal was not publication: the goal was to write anything at all.
It wouldn’t be true to say I haven’t written any fiction for the past twelve years. But it’s probably true that the fiction I have written in that time amounts to less than 100 pages, about half of that fanfiction and the other half bits of chapters and scenes from stories that never went any further. And a few of those bits of scenes were inspired by dreams.*
But life is chaotic for a parent, triply so for a parent with ADHD. It’s hard to sit and focus on a piece of writing long enough to finish it, let alone make it any good, with the myriad needs of the household and your day job nagging you constantly. It would take a concerted effort, a regularly scheduled time set aside specifically for writing fiction, and it’s hard enough setting aside time to write articles like this, articles that are guaranteed to be published. Why should I set aside time to write fiction? Who NEEDS my fiction? As a librarian dedicated to making the collection as diverse as possible and highlighting #OwnVoices, I look at myself and say, well, what do you honestly have to write about that hasn’t been said before? Who needs your fiction? And I can’t for the life of me think of any stories worth taking the time to tell.
Other authors do it. Other authors with kids. Other authors with kids and even strong signs of (if not an outright admittance of) ADHD. “When you’re a writer, you can’t not write,” they say. “It has to come out.” I felt that way all the time as a kid. But maybe I’m not anymore. Maybe I’m just a librarian who blogs.
And then, at night, that neglected part of my brain wakes up. I start actively shaping the seemingly random firings of my imagination into stories as they happen. I become the director of my own dreams: “Okay, that’s great, there, but we should probably combine these two characters—OH, and that’s a great callback, maybe we should foreshadow that bit earlier, too….” And always, always, my dream self has notebooks full of writing that are my most treasured valuables. “I’m a writer,” my dream self tells other dream characters without hesitating, without considering any other way to define herself to others first.*** “I’m a writer, and so this is what this situation we’re in means to me.”
I originally meant to write an article about dreams themselves, not about writing, but maybe I can’t talk about dreams without first laying out why they are so interesting to me in the first place. Dreams are where my inner storyteller comes out to play. Maybe my muse is less gone than repressed, and my subconscious lets it free. Maybe it’s a manifestation of my child self. Maybe my subconscious just keeps trying to remind me that my imagination really is still alive and kicking and that I shouldn’t give up on that label I claimed for myself long ago, the label my subconscious seems to think is the most fundamental part of my identity: I am a writer. I can dream it. I just have to do it.
*I’ve actually dabbled in making an actual picture book script out of that original disgruntled elf story, but for some reason, probably my tendency to self-sabotage, decided it had to be written in verse.** So I haven’t completed that one yet, either.
**Note to the uninitiated: one of the most common complaints you hear from picture book editors is people who get it into their heads that a) writing a picture book is easy, and b) picture books must rhyme, resulting in the slush piles being flooded with terrible, terrible Dr. Seuss wannabes. One of the most common complaints you hear from people who read picture books aloud professionally (hi there) is that SOME of these terrible rhymes have actually been published, and it is painful to read these badly-scanning verses aloud. In other words, I am all too aware that a good rhyming picture book is really hard to write, so you’d think I’d know better, but no. This story is just ASKING to be in verse, and so I’d rather try until I give up than take an easier tack and finish it. To be honest, I probably still wouldn’t finish it, so this way’s more interesting.
*** Last time this happened I had met Thelonious Monk in a secret loft where Creative Masters of all sorts gathered in a sort of club. “You wouldn’t have been able to get in here if you weren’t a Creative of some type,” he told me encouragingly, and I nodded and said well I AM a writer, but for some reason I also told him my name was Anne Ursu. Which it is not.