Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A Lost Dream

Dreams are often filled with garbled messages and strange people—do they really mean anything? In all likelihood, yes. The problem is, dreams tend to dissolve on contact with the waking world, like cotton candy in your mouth, and the harder we try to remember them, the faster they disappear. In literature and movies, dreams are often presented as perfect bits of narrative with often-clear symbolism that everybody – reader and fictional protagonist – ‘gets’. The reality is, they usually look more like something out of a David Lynch film:

I woke up at that slippery point that would still be considered late Saturday night, but is really Sunday morning – somewhere between 1 and 2, according to the clock, though I could be misremembering – with a crystal clear image in my mind, something from a dream I’d just been having. “Yeah,” I thought. “That’s good. That would make a great story.” And then, turning it over once or twice in my head, I went so far as to think, “That might even be better than my NaNo. I might want to scrap the NaNo and do this instead.” That’s how good it was.
You already know where this is going, don’t you?

I sat up in bed and wrote out a couple of lines in my head. I heard the words, saw a scene working out. “Yeah, that’s good.” And then I went back to sleep.

In the morning I stumbled down through the dark, made myself coffee, sat at the computer and started checking NaNoReviMo messages (17-1/2 hours for Peggy—way to go!), eyeballed some blogs—and it hit me: I had an idea last night, a good idea.
And that’s all I can remember, is that I had a good idea.
I broke a fundamental Rule of Writing, one that may be even more important than “Show, don’t tell”; “Avoid adverbs like the plague”; etc.
Keep a notebook handy at all times.
The funny thing was, when I was getting ready to go upstairs to bed, I eyeballed my notebook. It was sitting there, smack dab in the middle of my desk, standing out like that one Pope in the ‘Find the Pope’s in the Pizza contest’ (“All two hundred and fifty-four…Some are easy, some are hard…”). I looked at that notebook and thought, “I should take it up, just in case.” I wasn’t planning on writing, and nobody really wakes up in the middle of the night with a great idea that just needs to be written down right now, do they? That’s just some cheesy cliché. It doesn’t really happen, does it?
Apparently, it does.
I can console myself at least with the fact that I may not have written anything down even if I’d had the book. It’s quite likely I would have just gone back to sleep, without even thinking of the notebook. Or maybe I would have written something illegible, or something nonsensical. I went to my writer’s group and tried to write my way to it, by writing about what I thought I could remember about this dream, or image, or whatever it was. I don’t think I got any closer to it, however. But I did learn my lesson. Last night, the notebook came up with me.
And I brought a pen, too.

14 Responses

  1. You're right! this totally coincides with my blog post this morning. At least you didn't have that great idea and then read some of it and think…okay, what? Lol.

  2. I've definitely had this happen to me a couple of times. And then I started using a notebook, and the problem became making sense of my notes the next morning. Usually whatever idea felt so brilliant while I was asleep gets reduced to one image or one partial scene in my notes that makes no sense out of context. Hope you have better luck than I do!

  3. I hate it when that happens. Truly. I keep a notebook and pen by my bed but I'm usually too lazy to write stuff down in the middle of the night! LOL. I actually had this dream that was quite coherent and I was lucky enough to remember it in the morning. It will probably be the book after the next one I write. Sorry you couldn't recover it!

  4. The whole thing reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry writes something down in the middle of the night that he thinks is really funny, then spends the rest of the episode trying to figure out what he wrote.

  5. Hey JeffO, I just found your blog! I used to keep a notebook and pen by my bed and write down dreams, but I don't do it as often. I should again. Sometimes inspiration comes the best then.

  6. I can't count the times this has happened to me. About 99.9% of the time no notebook. Who knows if these really were good ideas though? It could be just dream logic, like the way "Oh dear, I'm naked on the moon. I guess I should play the trombone. That'll fix it" seems perfectly normal and sensible when one is asleep.

  7. Cassie Mae just blogged about this. I'll tell you what I told her. I do some of my best thinking as I'm falling asleep, so I keep my iPhone on my nightstand and jot down thoughts on the notepad. It's illuminated so I don't need to turn on the lights and it's right there next to me so I don't lose any thoughts running to my desk in the middle of the night. An electronic tablet would work just as well, if you have one. As for dreaming itself, my first novel was inspired by a dream (and a song) and I remembered it vividly since it was so disturbing. I wish I could duplicate that with my current WIP.

  8. I have a tiny notebook and mini pen that I can put in a pocket or my purse and take with me everywhere. I'm still getting in the swing of using it, but I do have it with me, always.

    I also have another notebook on my bedside table. People use them in different ways, which is always interesting – as a writer – to read about. I've even toyed with a digital recorder, but I'm a little leary of the image of myself speaking into a recorder as I shop for milk.

  9. I hate when that happens. The image is SO clear. You have it all planned out, then it's gone. But, I think all the really great ideas will pop back up. They will not leave you alone. So, keep the notebook and pen close. ;0)

  10. Well, that's pure frustration. But I love how you describe dreams: "…dreams tend to dissolve on contact with the waking world, like cotton candy in your mouth…" If nothing else, you came away with that beautiful description.

  11. Dang! I hate that! Hopefully the idea will come back.

    My last idea for a book came in the same part of the night. My son had just come into my room when I was dead asleep to tell me that he was sick. The last four seconds of my dream echoed in my head as I followed him back up to his room. What if he hadn't woken me up? I'd have never had the idea that spawned an entire book. (Nor would I have been awake enough to remember it!)

  12. I've done that a countless number of times . . . I always tell myself I need to bring a notebook along everywhere I go (I finally have one next to my bed) but I always forget or figure I won't think of anything. 😛

  13. Thanks for the comments, all. I had some faint image in my head. In my Writer's Group I tried describing physically what I remembered (or thought I remembered); it may not have helped bring back the dream, but it might have given me something to go on for something else.

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