But two nights ago, I had what I think is my first identifiable writer’s stress dream. Oddly, it begins with a search for a seafood restaurant that’s gotten good reviews but is known for being in a sketchy neighborhood. I am scouting it out at dusk, just as it’s getting dark and the crowds are thinning out. I have trouble finding the place, and when I do it’s an unassuming little white building with no signage. I knock on the door, and a bland almost faceless male guide opens it and ushers me in, but he moves so fast I can’t keep up with him.
Once inside, I’m not in a restaurant but a shabby house with exposed pipes, chipping tile, and peeling wallpaper. I walk down a long white hallway toward a swinging 2-way door, the kind that normally leads into a kitchen. Only when I go through it, my guide has disappeared, and I have no idea which way to go. I turn left and go through a door to find myself in a tiny claustrophobic room. I’m suddenly terrified I won’t be able to get out. I pull aside a long curtain that hides a changing room, then try another door that’s locked. I begin to panic until I realize I can leave through the same door I entered.
However, this only brings me to more hallways and similar dead-ends until I open a door that leads to an enormous, cavernous space. The room seems to grow downward as I watch in awe. Concrete ramps appear, but the space is mammoth and dark and rugged, like the Mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings. I’m beginning to wonder just what I’ve gotten myself into when a fluorescent light flickers above me, and the space slowly transforms into a giant library. Rows of bookshelves appear, and books magically fill them. The scary ramps are no longer frightful, so I descend into this basement library, wondering what I’m doing here when I was supposed to be finding a restaurant.
Even though I’m a fiction lover at heart, something compels me to the non-fiction section at the other end. I walk past rows and rows of books until I come to a library carrel holding a large folio laid out to showcase the portrait of a female figure. Just as I’m about to read who she is, I wake up.
Eventually I fell back asleep. When I woke later, I told my husband about the dream and asked him what he thought it meant, and he turned to me and said, “It's probably about your writing.” And you know, I think he was right. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working feverishly on my sequel and trying to write an outline of the entire book for my editor. The dream seems to tap into a lot of the fears and self-doubt that have plagued me.
In the dream, I go looking for a restaurant that doesn’t look like much on the outside but has gotten good reviews. These, I think, represent my expectations going into the writing process. But as I plunged into the actual writing, I found blank white hallways that led nowhere; exposed pipes and peeling wallpaper—all the messy false starts and loose story threads and dead-ends of writing a first draft.
The deeper I went, the darker and more overwhelming the entire manuscript became until it seemed like an endless cavern, too terrifying to investigate any further. But then—light! And books! And a sense of relief that I was in a library, a place of comfort and order and new ideas. Somehow I had crossed a threshold, turned a corner that let me know everything was going to be okay.
That mysterious open book in the non-fiction section still bothers me, but maybe my subconscious mind was directing me to take a look my own life and experiences and draw from those. Sometimes we’re so lost in the world of our fictional landscape that we forget where all good fiction ultimately stems--from real life. I have a feeling if I’d had time to investigate that book more closely, the woman in the portrait might have been me.
Do you have stress dreams? What’s the wildest one you’ve had?