Writers and Dreaming


Most of us are able to recall one or two of our dreams, but what if there were ways to increase that number?

We’ve all heard the stories of hugely popular novels which stemmed from the author’s dreams. For example, Stephanie Meyer and Twilight. Dreams serve health benefits, too. Researchers believe dreams help with memory consolidation, mood regulation, and/or conflict resolution.

Nightmares aren’t fun. Night terrors are even worse. It’s important we pay attention, though, because they can signal a disruption in our lives and sometimes, provide the answer.

Sigmund Freud believed dreams were a window into our subconscious, that they paved the way to satisfy urges and secret desires that might be unacceptable to society. I agree with the first part of his theory, but I think the latter depends on the dreamer. When it comes to dream interpretation there’s no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all definition.

Case in point: crime writers dream about murder. If an average Joe plotted revenge in his dreams, it might be cause for alarm. When writers delve into the dark recesses of the subconscious mind, it’s research. 🙂

While some sleep experts believe dreams are an anomaly of sleep, others think they may help us save memories, problem-solve, and manage emotions.

Dreams and the Brain

During REM — rapid-eye movement, when brain activity piques — and non-REM sleep, we have the potential to dream.

Dreams are connected to the creativity part of the brain, called the Superior temporal gyrus.

We have three creativity sections of the temporal lobe…

  • Superior temporal gyrus — mainly auditory, this gyrus is responsible for processing sounds, sound level and frequency, as well as interpreting language and social cognition.
  • Middle temporal gyrus — connected to recognizing familiar faces, contemplating distance, and interpreting word meanings while reading.
  • Inferior temporal gyrus — visual stimuli processing and recognition, memory and memory recall, particularly with objects. This gyrus stores the color and shape of objects so they’re easily recognized when we see that object again.

This could explain why serial killers, who often have temporal lobe damage or malformations, experience different phases before, during, and after they kill. And why, during the Aura Phase colors become vibrant.

Did you notice in the 3D image the temporal gyri aren’t limited to the right-side?

Right Hemisphere vs. Left Hemisphere

Dreams and the brainBrain cells in the left hemisphere have short dendroids which pull in information.

The right hemisphere branches out wider to absorb distant unrelated ideas, connections between concepts, and is responsible for insight and Ah-ha! moments. It’s here where our creativity comes alive.

Part of the Brain Responsible for Dreaming

The cerebral cortex is responsible for our dreams. During REM sleep, signals are sent from an area of the brain called “the pons” and then relayed through the thalamus to the cerebral cortex, which attempts to make sense of these signals. The end result is dreaming.

The pons also send signals to neurons in the spinal cord, shutting them down, causing temporary paralysis of the limbs. This safety switch prevents the dreamer from physically acting out dreams and harming themselves. However, there are exceptions. A condition called REM sleep behavior disorder exists. Can you guess what this causes? If you said, the pons fail to paralyze the limbs during REM sleep, you’re correct.

Why Dreams Are Difficult to Recall

Some researchers believe we’re not designed to remember our dreams. If we had perfect recall, dreams might get confused with real-life memories. During REM, maybe our brain shuts off the Inferior temporal gyrus, responsible for memory recall. And why, we may only recall our last dream before waking, because that part of the brain is now switched back on.

Studies show people actually have more brain activity and more vivid dreams during REM. Others say our brains store dreams, which is why the tiniest detail later in the day can trigger the memory of what we’d dreamed the night before.

8 Tips to Recall Dreams

Sound sleepers are less likely to recall dreams. If you fall into this category, consider yourself lucky; the rest of us don’t sleep as well. Even so, maybe these tips will help:

  1. Don’t use an alarm clock. We’re better off waking naturally. When that annoying buzz startles us awake, we’re concentrating on slapping the snooze button rather than dream recall.
  2. Once you get in bed tell yourself to remember your dreams. This may sound silly, but sometimes making the conscious choice to do something works wonders.
  3. Upon waking, don’t move. Studies show if we remain in the same position as when we had the dream, we’re more likely to remember the details when we wake. Keep your eyes closed and concentrate on the emotions you felt while dreaming. Were you frightened? Exhilarated? Blissful? By first tapping into our emotions, we’re more likely to recall the circumstance. In this case, the dream.
  4. When you wake, concentrate on recalling your dream rather than reviewing your to-do list for the day. Easing into your day promotes healthy living and helps with dream recall.
  5. Regular routine. Going to bed and waking at the same time each day aids in dream recall.
  6. Keep a dream journal next to your bed. When that perfect plot idea jolts you awake, scribble the scene in a notebook before you forget, the more detailed the better. Or sketch pictures of what you envisioned. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense yet. Author Ruth Harris suggests several pads, pens, and notebooks that would make perfect dream journals.
  7. Tell your significant other, roommate, or writer friend your dreams. By bringing dreams into your reality, it helps to recall the next one. Maybe skip the intimate dreams if they do not include your partner. I can hear it now, “Don’t blame me. Sue told me to tell you my dreams.” An angry mob of jilted lovers storms my home, with pitchforks and murder on their mind! Seriously, though, the above link is fascinating and might also help explain why you’re having sexy dreams about Mr. or Mrs. X.
  8. Studies show pleasant aromas cause happy dreams. Whereas unpleasant odors cause bad dreams and/or nightmares.
  9. Don’t get discouraged. Mastering dream recall takes time. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.

So, my beloved TKZ family, are you able to recall dreams? Have you ever used dreams in your writing?

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writers, #writing, Writing and tagged , , , , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers") and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Her backlist includes psychological thrillers, the Mayhem Series (books 1-3) and Grafton County Series, and true crime/narrative nonfiction. Now, she exclusively writes eco-thrillers, Mayhem Series (books 4-7 and continuing). Sue's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on Investigation Discovery. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

23 thoughts on “Writers and Dreaming

  1. I don’t dream that often (or as we say, recall), & I’m glad I don’t. The bulk of them are annoying–ones that I believe come about because of dificulty in obtaining certain goals. The other dreams, the very infrequent ones, are short & silly–just goofy stuff with me processing either recent events or involving people I know or wish I knew (like favorite actors, etc.).

    When I actually DO dream a dream that I can remember upon waking–dreams where I can remember enough of it to make it worth doing so, I will immediately get up & write it down. I’ve only written down 2 so far this year.

    Never had a dream become fodder for story material though. Have only used a dream in a story once but it had more spiritual overtones rather than just straight up being a dream. For my other stories, it has not been an appropriate device to use.

    • Well your post prompted me to skim through the dreams I’ve managed to write down over the years. Some funny stuff too. Including a dream from summer 2005 where I went to a Bon Jovi concert (bizarre in itself because I’m a hardcore old time country music fan). As you entered the concert venue they handed you a blue bowl, also strange.

      Turns out they catapulted scoops of ice cream out into the audience from a machine on stage & you had to catch it in the bowl. ROTFL!!!!! And even though I’m not good with hand/eye coordination in real life, I’d not only caught the ice cream but some toppings too. LOL!!!!

      Then on the way OUT of the concert they had a chocolate pie throwing contest.

      Dreams are truly bizarre.

  2. I use dreams all the time. Most of my story ideas are triggered that way. I’ve kinda trained myself, unconsciously, over the years to remember, and it gets very annoying when I’m really tired and get woken up by dreams.

    Funny story, I’m still trying to figure out how my latest story idea, which came to me ten days ago, actually happened. The dream I had was of two fifth graders discussing how they couldn’t do whatever they had planned with their friend over the summer, then having to tell that friend who got very upset. That’s it. And it turned into a crazy sciene fiction-esque, brain manipulation, country destroying story.

    • Hahahaha. I love writers’ brains! It’s amazing how such a small detail, like two fifth graders chatting, morphed into what sounds like an action-packed story. Write on, AZAli!

  3. Sue, lots of great info in this post. Thanks! Brain study fascinates me b/c it’s like an entire complex solar system within our skulls. So much uncharted territory we don’t understand.

    When I was younger, I kept a dream journal and used to have good recall. In recent years, I seem to dream very little. Or maybe I just recall very little. Perhaps it’s b/c, while awake, I spend a lot of time “dreaming” in the fictional world?

    Your serial killer link will definitely cause nightmares tonight! Chilling facts.

    • I’m fascinated by the brain, too, Debbie. We’re kindred spirits, you and I. 😉

      I don’t recall dreams like I used to, either. I’d love to think it’s due to daydreaming in the fictional realms, but alas, I fear it may be age-related. I think we dream less as we get older. At least, it feels that way.

      Sorry for the nightmares! You should know not to click a link marked “serial killer,” especially when I linked it. Hahaha.

  4. One dream I had involved a group of us (no one I knew but they were friends and/or family in the dream. Car breaks down in the mountains, no cell service, had to walk to town populated by zombies. This was well before Walking Dead. Should’ve jumped on it.

    Another snippet was a terrifying location: cold (I’m a Floridian), narrow highway over an angry sea with huge waves breaking in front and behind us.

    When I was little I had a recurring dream of a werewolf stalking me in the forest. Daddy told me next time I had that dream to smack the werewolf on the nose and tell him to leave me alone. I did. The werewolf apologized. Never had that dream again.

    • Wow. What smart advice your Dad offered, Cynthia. Never heard that before. Makes sense, though. You confronted your fears (i.e. the werewolf) and took back control. Love that.

      The cold, narrow highway sounds like a fantastic location for a murder. Perhaps the killer dumps the body in that angry sea?

      • Without going into too much detail, my therapist (needed one after seven years of domestic abuse) told me I could manipulate my dreams, mostly nightmares. I had one recurring dream about bears. They hunted me with the intent to kill me. He told me, as your dad told you, to face him.

        I tried, but when its huge paw swung toward me, I jumped back in the cabin and slammed the door. After a few more therapy sessions, I was able to stop the nightmares.

        I love the fact that the werewolf apologized to you!

  5. I recall almost all my dreams, and yes many have inspired books. I’m going to venture out into a spooky area and tell you many of my dreams are premonitions, very detailed depictions of real life that later, sometimes days or years later, come true.

    Briefly, I saw my fiancé dressed in military uniform being thrown in an explosion. The next day he announced he’d volunteered for the army. Eight months later he was injured in an RPG explosion in Vietnam. I knew years before my children were born that I would have three, two boys, and a girl. Because of dreams I knew I’d divorce my abusive husband (the one who was inured in the explosion)and marry again. Six years later I married my second husband and the dream replayed in real life while on my honeymoon on the Oregon coast. Every detail was there: the color of the sky, the ocean, the curve of the road, the car we were driving (bought new just before we were married). One dream allowed me to save my daughter’s life and launched an entire series of supernatural thrillers. I knew in advance that two of my husbands would die premature deaths. Several other dreams told me I would marry for the fourth and last time. I’d be allowed to grow old with this man. We are now entering our 17th year of marriage. All of these, and many others, have found their way into my books in one form or another.

    I’ve had too many to even begin to list here, so I only highlighted the bigger ones.

    Fascinating article about our brains, dreams, and the source of our creativity. The brain and its physical relationship to the rest of the body and our thoughts and emotions are my sister’s specialty. She holds a PhD in Experimental Psychology and teaches research at the college level. She’s been a great resource for research on serial killers and other criminals. She’s even studied brain slides from Dahmer.

    Thank you for posting and starting a stimulating conversation!

    • Cecilia, you’re not alone on that limb. I’m right there with you.

      Although sporadic through my life, I’ve dreamed of several people who “visited me” in my dreams to say goodbye. It started in third grade when I dreamed that a classmate’s father died. Mind you, this girl, Marla, and I weren’t friends. She was very shy and introverted.

      Anyway, I woke my mother to tell her, and she assured me everything was fine. Later that morning in homeroom, I noticed Marla wasn’t in class. The teacher announced that her father had passed away the night before.

      At sixteen, I was working at a hair salon. One night, my boss’ father came to me in my dream to give his daughter a message. The next morning, I find out he died within minutes of my dream (which I knew from being startled awake). Same thing happened with both my parents, only the “visits” were a lot more personal, obviously.

      • Oh thank you for sharing with me! I hesitate because most of my friends and family think I’m nuts, and at best are uncomfortable with my dreams. Guess I can’t blame them, considering…

        That’s cool about you having visits. I see scenes, like in a movie and the dream plays out as if I am watching a movie. Every detail is there. I could paint the scenes, even now.

        Fascinating how the dreams manifest. Would love to explore if the differences have to do with how we interact with our world. I am an artist and see the world as paintings. Maybe you are more people oriented and thus receive visits? Or maybe none of that matters and our gifts, if you want to call them that, is based on things we won’t understand until we pass on to the next life. Still, so fun to share with those who understand! Thank you, again for sharing.

        • I’m usually reluctant to share on this topic, too. You were so brave to share your story, I couldn’t let you sit on that limb alone. <3

          Your theory makes so much sense. I am people oriented, although some days I do like to block out the world to recharge the batteries. 😉

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