First of all, apologies for my prolonged absence. Just the small matter of a very significant birthday (suffice to say I’m now eligible for a bus pass), which needed celebrating, with various visiting friends and relatives to share the fun, leaving very little time to think – my usual precursor to writing. I have done no work on the new novel, or any editing of the old one. I wanted some time out to sit and order my thoughts and I felt myself getting rather tetchy when I couldn’t do this because I was too preoccupied planning the next meal.
Celebrations, friends and family are very important so I won’t beat myself up too much about the lack of writing. We all need the stimulation of social interaction to give us inspiration and keep our writing fresh. I mean, where else are we supposed to get all our ideas? Actually, I’ve had some pretty wild dreams just lately, which have given me some great ideas. If you’re like me, you remember dreams vividly, but only for a few moments after waking. Tantalising glimpses of whole new landscapes, peopled with interesting and alluring characters, some familiar, some totally unknown, in a variety of fascinating situations start to dissolve even as I struggle to hold on to them.
So how many plot ideas, storylines and characters are we ignoring by not documenting our dreams? In order to reap the ideas, we have to move them from our short-term to our long-term memory. This is best done by recording them. How often have you panicked about forgetting some precious detail only to relax totally when you’ve found a scrap of paper and written it down?
My memory isn’t very good at the best of times these days, so I always carry a notebook with me. I keep one by my bed, too, in case I manage to remember enough details about a dream to scribble something down. I sleep badly, and wake up several times each night, often abruptly pulled from a convoluted and engaging dream that fade away seconds afterwards. Not wanting to wake my partner, I don’t turn on the bedside light, even though its almost zero wattage has trouble illuminating even the alarm clock.
I hate the sound of my own voice so won’t use any sort of recording device – apparently mobile phones can perform this function these days. Such wonders. Writing in the dark is difficult. (Well, the writing itself is relatively easy, it’s the deciphering session in the morning that’s a bit trying.) So now I use a tiny little torch with an adjustable beam that spotlights the page and doesn’t light up the whole bedroom, and I confine myself to one page because the rustle of turning pages is so irritating when it’s 3am and you’re trying to sleep (or so I’m told.)
Most of our dreams are dull, uninspiring and totally forgettable, but occasionally something different will turn up. Robert Louis Stevenson maintained that he dreamed the entire plot of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and when Stephanie Meyer dreamed about a girl standing in a meadow with a vampire, discussing their troubled relationship, she didn’t doubt that she had a compelling story waiting to be written.
Your idea probably won’t leap, fully formed from your subconscious; it’ll need some tweaking before it becomes usable as the basis of a story or a new character. But first of all, you’ll need to remember it.