Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Writers dreaming, dreamers writing

Writing and dreaming are closely related as daily practice. Writers who keep journals and record their dreams are giving themselves a warm-up, flexing the creative muscles that will work on the larger project. Writers who may not record their dreams with any regularity nonetheless rise from sleep with their heads full of words – as Dickens related in a letter to a certain Dr Stone – that are pressing to come out.

A writer’s dream may help to “break up the great fountains of the deep” (a phrase Mark Twain used repeatedly) releasing the power of long-buried memories, or bringing through ideas that have been growing in the preconscious or the deeper unconscious for years or decade. That is how Aslan came to C.S. Lewis, giving him the key to Narnia.

As Lewis recalled

The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. The picture had been in my head since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’

At first I had little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams about lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him. 

Yeats was inspired by a dream to write his play Cathleen ni Houlihan. As he wrote in 1908:

One night I had a dream almost as distinct as a vision of a cottage where there was well-being and firelight and talk of a marriage, and into the midst of that cottage, there came an old woman in a long cloak. She was Ireland herself, that Cathleen ni Houlihan for whom so many stories have been told and for whose sake so many have gone to their death. I thought if I could write this out as a little play I could make others see my dream as I had seen it.

In dreams and flow states that writers come into contact with inner helpers. Robert Louis Stevenson communed with his “Brownies” in states of reverie, and gave them the credit for doing better than half his literary work. Yeats spoke of the “mingling of minds” that can bring assistance, in a creative venture, from intelligences that seem to belong to other times or other dimensions .Milton described the source of his inspiration as

….my celestial patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated prose [Paradise Lost IX. 21-4]

Milton spoke of “being milked” after his nights of inspiration, as – totally blind by the time he composed his most famous work – he dictated to a scribe.

When they are truly “on”, many writers experience the sense that they have entered a creative partnership with a larger power, a power the ancients used to call the genius or the eudaimon (the good demon). Some writers develop the ability to enter a certain kind of imaginal space – call it the Dream Library – where such encounters are easy; we do this regularly in my own creative writing retreats.


I am leading a new 5-day adventure in “Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming” at a beautiful private retreat center near Seattle form April 16-20; details here.


  • Justin Patrick Moore

    Lately, when I haven’t been able to sleep, I get up to write, usually poetry at this past-the-midnight hour. It’s a feeling that “I have to do this before I can get permission to sleep”, even if I have worked on writing earlier in the day. Perhaps I do it before I give myself permission.

    If I still have trouble, I’ll read a few pages of Finnegan’s Wake, which feeds me and prepares me for my own books of the night.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Diane Bonds

    Lately, I have been rereading extracts I made on the computer from handwritten journals from 1987 to 1993. What strikes me is voice–the voice in the journal is of “one that entered a creative partnership with a larger power” or more simply the voice of the Self.

    This actually shocks me a lot, as I was a miserable mess at the time.

    Strangely–or perhaps not so strangely–I am not sure I want to turn this writing into anything else, as is so often suggested. It is itself already, although it certainly nourished other writing.

    Along with this, I seem to have stopped keeping separate daily journals and dream journals; even though I record my dreams on the computer, I often write them out first in longhand (from notes scribbled in the night) in the same notebook that I am using as a journal. I am not sure where this is taking me. We will see what happens as the material collides.

    All of this is just to honor the power of that sacred space of creative expression, the journal. Thanks for your post, Robert.


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Georgia Wilson

    Your post has given weight to my intuitive inclusion of dreams in my morning journal. Tho they might not have immediate meaning, just the act of recording them gives life to thought. Dream on and write is my motto now!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dianne Brown

    Several months ago a title for a poem came to me: “The Poet Tree”. That was it…nothing came. I wrote it down and kept it ready to write when the words came. I am reading your “Dreamgates” and have the CD collection as well. On one of the CDs you spoke of selecting a tree as a portal. I flew back in time and looked at all the trees I knew. None spoke to me. Then I remembered “The Poet Tree”. Last weekend we were camping in the Trinity Alps, and I was swinging in the hammock with my writing tools at hand. It came! I wrote a nine verse (rhyming) poem of my Poet Tree. I used all five senses in it. Now it stands tall in me. There is a door at the trunk that leads down into the earth. It is a doorway for earth creatures to come speak to me. The branches are lofty landing strips for feathered folk, fairies, sages, and spirit guides who regularly visit me. I am so thankful for this tree. It is where I will actively dream the novel I am working on.
    Again, thanks for all your work with all forms of dreams.

  • Donny Duke

    It’s possible to write whole poems via the voice of dream by opening to it more fully, a process that takes a consciously long time. It will speak with or without an accompanying dream or vision anytime you are able to lay back inside yourself and passively listen. The difficulty is coming up and recording lines and going back in again without the poem appearing disjointed, though ‘the muse’ itself will compensate for such as you master the process; even an ‘overeditor’ commenting on the writing of the poem will help you decide what lines to include and what to throw away. The poetic quality depends on your poetic development; a lifetime of writing and reading poetry would produce poetry in the sense of the word, though it really is poetry, and as such it’s not instant or straightforward, is highly figurative as dream is itself, and so it’s likely not to be appreciated by many people, unable, as most are, to remember their dreams much less interpret them.

    What I’ve just described is inspiration in its most matured form.

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