Can Hypnagogia Improve your Fiction Writing? Find Out

Jordan Dane

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I really liked TKZ contributor Debbie Burke’s Feb 5th post “Eight Tricks to Tap into your Subconscious for Better Writing.” The mind is an interesting resource for writers. I’ve heard other authors say they dreamed a plot or how certain insights come to them while they sleep. I’ve personally had strange experiences in what I call “twilight sleep,” the realm between sleep and fully awake.

Many experts on dream studies say that dreams exist to help us solve problems we’re experiencing in our lives, or can help us tap into memories and process emotions. It’s possible that if you go to bed with a troubling thought – like a plot point that’s implausible or a character motivation that doesn’t feel right – sleep will allow your mind to come up with a resolution by the time you wake up.

Our own James Scott Bell has a term for this phenomenon. He calls the working brain at night – the boys in the basement. They don’t need to sleep. I’ve experienced this many times. That’s why I keep notepads near my nightstand or jot down ideas on my phone when they come to me after I wake up.


Have you ever sensed you were dreaming INSIDE of a dream? You might’ve experienced a “lucid dream.” Research has shown that lucid dreaming is accompanied by an increased activation of parts of the brain that are normally suppressed during sleep. Lucid dreaming represents a brain state that falls between REM (rapid eye movement) deep sleep and being awake.

Some people who are lucid dreamers are able to influence the direction of their dream, changing the story, in a manner of speaking. While this may be a good tactic to take, especially during a nightmare, many dream experts say don’t force it. It’s better to let your dreams occur naturally.


Hypnagogia is the transition between wakefulness and sleep. It’s what I call “Twilight Sleep” and it has nothing to do with sparkling vampires. It’s a state of mind where you may experience lucid dreaming.

In this state, you can tap into all the good ideas you have stored up, uninhibited by rational thought and insecurities. You’re open to all things. It’s how authors can go to bed knowing our manuscript has a flaw, but not knowing how to fix it. Our mind (or the boys in the basement) come to our assistance during the night when we are open to ideas.

Hypnagogia can also manifest in other ways, like when we may hear strange noises in our house–at the moment we wake up–and we KNOW someone has broken in. This could explain the monsters in our closet when we were kids or how we see dangers hidden in the shadows of our room. We’ve tapped into the primitive primal fear that animals experience where they trust their instincts (in order to survive) and react on pure reflex.

I have an experience like this and never forgot it. It happened in the afternoon while I was napping after a long exhausting day at work. I had the sensation that I was dreaming inside a dream, but I was certain someone was in the empty room with me. I even felt the bed move when they sat next to me. I got the sense they were staring down at me. I was so terrified (my body reacted with the fear – my heart raced and my lungs heaved) that I refused to open my eyes. I was so sure my nightmare would be confirmed. I sensed being touched, but still, I didn’t open my eyes. I never did. But I never forgot the feeling of abject, paralyzing fear and have written it into my stories.

Hypnagogia might possibly be one of the mind’s most vital tools for creativity and for tapping into the words to describe the high tensions or emotions we need to write a scene we may never had experienced personally.

How do we tap into Hypnagogia when we need it?

I believe it takes time to train our minds to open like this, but it could be a good exercise. I know that when I first started writing, I had to tap into my brain to hear dialogue from my characters and visualize each scene. Over time I got better at it. Now it’s impossible for me to be in public. I have no filter between my brain and my mouth. Have any of you experienced this? Oy. It can be a curse, but no regrets. I love how it works when I write–so worth it.

Some authors use image boards to trigger their imagination for the world they are creating, but what if you could tap into twilight sleep and manipulate ideas in your mind – to imagine them more deeply? Find a dark room in the afternoon and relax. Shut your eyes and clear your mind. I sometimes visualize numbers floating in the darkness behind my closed eyelids and count down until I am completely relaxed.

You don’t want to fall asleep, so you might consider holding something that will wake you if it falls. Salvador Dali used to hold steel balls that would make a noise when they dropped. Thomas Edison used to hold a metal ball over plate tins that would cause a racket if he let them drop. Test what works best for you in this process.

Does it help to record your results immediately after? A nearby notepad could help solidify your ideas visually as you write them down. Try these sessions for a short period and make the most of them as you get better. I find that if nothing else, the quiet time is good for the soul.

Tips to Recall Your Dreams

If you are a sound sleeper and don’t wake up until the morning, you are less likely to remember your dreams compared to people who wake up several times in the night. Try these tips to improve your ability to remember your dreams:

1.) Wake up without an alarm. You are more likely to remember your dreams if you wake up naturally than if you use an alarm. An annoying alarm can shift your focus to turning the blasted thing off and away from your dream.

2.) Tell yourself to remember. If you want to recall your dreams and make a fully aware decision to do so, you are more likely to remember your dreams in the morning. Before you go to sleep, tell yourself that you want to remember your dream. It may take practice.

3.) Dream playback. If you think about the dream right after waking, it may be easier to remember it later. Which has worked best for you? Making note of it immediately after or is it better to have patience and recall it later?

SUMMARY – This may seem odd if you hadn’t considered it before, but if you’ve been writing for years, can you recall how much your imagination has grown since the beginning? How has your process changed over the years? Have you noticed the changes? As I write, I find it easier to tap into my imagination now than when I first started out. Like I said, my mouth has no filter, by design. This is a good thing as a writer. Not so much if you hang around normal people.


1.) Has anyone experienced Hypnagogic writing? What were the results?

2.) Do you know anyone who has experienced dreams that they used in their writing? Has it happened to you? Tell us about it.

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writerslife, #writetip, #writetips, advice for fiction writers, Writing and tagged , , , by Jordan Dane. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

20 thoughts on “Can Hypnagogia Improve your Fiction Writing? Find Out

  1. Funny (?) that this is today’s topic, having just been awakened 20 minutes early by, and found myself saying, “Whew!” to, a very real and strange and tiring dream involving friends and family and injury and tension and, well, just general mayhem. (And, alas, not a plot solution, but perhaps a new plot idea… 😃).

    I didn’t realize it was a dream while dreaming this one, but I have had the experience a time or two here lately of saying to myself, “Let’s see where this is going,” sometimes to “good” results (like trying to get President GW Bush’s desk out of a swimming pool – not sure if I can use that one), other times just remembering acknowledging it was a dream.

    • Your comment reminded me of another set of odd dreams I had years ago, when I was getting through a death in my family. I don’t normally remember dreams, but these were detailed & strange & darkly funny. It helped me process my grief in a unique way. I haven’t used this experience in my writing–because of the peculiar unexplained humor–but I’ve never forgotten those dreams.

      Thanks, George. I’m chuckling over the Bush desk in the pool. Very specific details that might be construed as odd humor. Dreams are strange buggers. Whenever I write a dream scene into my stories, I make them with random haunting images, usually associated with emotions like grief or guilt. They’re never like a video. The nightmarish nature of dreams fraught with heavy emotions are told in flashes of sights, sounds & the senses.

      Use what you’ve experienced in your writing. It’ll trigger something in you that will bring your writing to life.

  2. Jordan, thanks for delving deeper into this mysterious subject. Hypnagogia is a what an old friend used to call “a fifty-cent word.” I’ll add it to my vocabulary.

    You sent me down the research rabbit hole where I found a related term: hypnopompia, which is the state when you’re waking up from sleep (as opposed to falling asleep).

    I found this article which might explain that terrifying feeling you describe of someone being in the room with you:

    “Sleep paralysis as you wake up often seems like parts of a vivid dream. If you’ve ever awakened from a lifelike dream in which you dreamed you couldn’t move, you may have been actually experiencing a hypnopompic hallucination and sleep paralysis. Hypnopompic hallucinations often include the sensation of falling or the sense that someone is in the room with you.”

    These great words should rack up the points in Scrabble!

    • Sleep paralysis is a common explanation for people who “wake” to see ghosts and nasty things. It is most commonly a scary experience, but some see happy or neutral things. The most common scary hallucination is an old woman sitting on your chest. That’s called the old hag syndrome. According to anecdotal evidence, some of these experiences may be real with the dark thing taking advantage of the body’s paralysis to cause terror. Outside evidence like objects moved, information given that the victim can’t know otherwise, or other observers reporting something happening can show that it isn’t just sleep paralysis happening. (Yes, I’m interested in weird sh*t.)

  3. I didn’t know what I did had a name. 🙂 But almost every morning when I first wake, I experience what you’re talking about. If I went to bed with a problem in my story, my first thoughts have the answer to the problem. Same way with a character who is hiding from me.

    On occasion, I’ve dreamed someone is trying to kill me, once even to go so far as to smother me–I woke up gasping for breath. The fear is so real that one time I actually grabbed the gun in my nightstand because I thought someone was in the house.

  4. Love this topic, Jordan! Another technique to tap into your subconscious is diaphragmatic breathing. For those who don’t recognize the term, it means breathing from your diaphragm rather than your lungs. It takes practice to master. Think of how a baby breathes … the way their stomach rises when they inhale and falls during exhale. They’re breathing from their diaphragm. Singers do this. But it’s also a fantastic exercise for creativity (also used for pain control).

    • I sang in ensemble competitions when I was younger. I learned about diaphragm breathing from instructors, something singers do apparently. Thanks for the tip, Sue.

  5. During my first novel draft I awoke at 2 AM and wrote for seven solid hours. That’s the longest day at the computer I ever had. It surely was the result of one of those two big words.

  6. Thanks for the post, Jordan. Mary Shelley who dreamed up Frankenstein–and she wasn’t even 20–comes to mind. What an inspiration! I often forget my dreams so I like to write ideas down fast, fueled with caffeine first thing in the morning. And a no-brainer for me when I’m keyed up and can’t go to sleep is to start working out the twists in my manuscript. Helps me drift off. I used to put a stopper in the crazy stuff, but I don’t anymore. I can always edit, and sometimes the crazy stuff is the best. My next mystery involves a mummy and the hunt for an ancient Nazi in Mexico…I dream on.

    • Ha! I love this, Nancy, Authors typically are extremely open minded. It’s always fun to be around my crazy writing friends & I love brainstorming story ideas with them.

      Good luck with your mummy story. Sounds intriguing. Keep dreaming.

  7. When my mom was little, her neck was broken in a tractor accident. She had super vivid dreams from then on, to the point of seeing things in the room with her as she woke up. There was a certain picture she had to put out in the garage, because at night, there were always faces looking at her from that picture.

    One time when I had a high fever, I was waking up, and watched my smoke detector scurry around the ceiling on spider legs. Eventually it went back to its proper spot on the ceiling and folded the legs in. I was suspicious of that smoke detector from then on.

    • Trauma like your mom survived could easily instigate vivid dreams. Fascinating. I feel for your mom.

      If you’re a writer, Kessie, your mom’s close brush with death could be an interesting backstory facet to a main character. The onslaught of nightmarish dreams could give your character some interesting crutches to deal with-deciphering what could be real or hallucination. I can see how such a thing could isolate someone.

      Thanks for your comment.

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  9. Fascinating topic! An especially intense dream/nightmare woke me from a dead sleep about twenty years ago. I got up and wrote it all down. It’s the first chapter of my first novel and the characters are based on that crazy dream. Since then I’ve written three novels and a screenplay based on that dream. Now I let myself dream and don’t worry about whether or not I’ll remember it. It always seems to show up somewhere. My dreams range from boring to insanely scary, but they’re always vivid and usually realistic. I smile when readers ask me, “Where do dream up this stuff?”

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