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Monday, August 1, 2011

Stress Dreams & Writing Deadlines

I was an anxious little kid. Consequently I used to have a lot of stress dreams. As a child my fears were big and amorphous, and my dreams followed suit: lions outside my front door, tidal waves bearing down on my house. As I grew older and my fears became more concrete, so did my dreams: showing up for a test I hadn’t studied for, realizing I had worn underwear to class. Even now I often have teacher stress dreams about showing up for school without a lesson plan or not being able to subdue an unruly classroom full of kids.

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?


Heather Anastasiu said...

I'm always fascinated by dreams too, often examining them later and thinking 'hmm, I wonder what my subconscious is saying here' :) Love how complex our bodies are, the way worries and stress manifest in such creative twisty ways in our dreams :)

Eve Marie Mont said...

Heather, I know! Our subconscious minds are some crazy dudes. And I could be entirely wrong in my interpretation, but if it helps me move forward in my MS, I'm gonna go right on believing it!

Anonymous said...

I'm also fascinated by dreams, but I never remember any good ones. The rare ones I remember are usually bad and involves somebody trying to kill me or I'm being bullied. So I wake up with my heart beating really fast because I so anxious. Hopefully I'll remember a good one some day :-)

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I totally have stress dreams, but I can't remember any of them with any level of detail even CLOSE to what you've written here! I'm in awe!

Mostly I dream that I've forgotten to do something and everyone is waiting for me to finish, hanging around my house waiting...in the middle of the night. And I'm so tired... ;)

Eve Marie Mont said...

Alyssa, I have those annoying "forgot to do something" dreams too--ugh! Hey, I'm loving the new haircut!!!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love trying to figure out what my dreams may or may not be trying to tell me. Unfortunately, I usually don't remember all the details. I do, though, remember a chunk of one stress dream where I neglected to show up for any of the classes of a college course and ended up, somehow, taking the final in my pajamas. I'm sure that dealt with feeling unprepared.

Eve Marie Mont said...

Cynthia, at least you weren't naked, right? For some reason, I've avoided that horrible fate. Even my sleeping self is too modest.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I've had stress dreams, for sure, but my husband's stress dreams are the most interesting in our house because he actually acts them out. One time he got out of bed, went to the kitchen, pulled out about 10 paper towels and brought them all back into the bedroom and proceeded to "clean" something off the bedroom floor. I asked him what he was doing and he--still sleeping--explained that a kid had spilled chemicals and he was cleaning up the mess. He was doing his science teacher student teaching at that point and there were A LOT of stress dreams associated with that experience! lol! Thankfully now that he's been teaching awhile, he doesn't have as many.

Cool post. I like how you were able to pinpoint your own insecurities in the dream.


Eve Marie Mont said...

Oh my gosh, Amy, your husband's dream is definitely the most bizarre. I go back to school next week, so my teaching stress dreams should kick in any day now. The MC in my WIP has a disorder like your husband's--she acts out her dreams and she can remember them when she wakes up. It's called REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. Weird, huh?