The power of dreams

To quote Captain sensible (of ‘Damned’ fame): ‘ … If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna get a dream come true?’ Well, if it’s that recurring dream of mine where our fish tank springs a leak and floods our lounge, then I’m not sure this is good advice. But talking of dreams becoming reality, how about this one? Last Saturday my wife, Helen, had a dream where pigeons dive-bombed her, dropping their load of guano like feathered couriers of uric acid. Come Saturday afternoon, we were returning to our car after buying some groceries, and what should we see but a wood pigeon perched on our car roof. It panicked upon seeing us approach, then peristalsis took over— I mean on the part of the pigeon, not me. It lightened its load and flew off into the nether reaches of Aldi car park.

Was Helen’s dream prophetic? At one time you could consult a soothsayer or village shaman for such interpretations. Of course the Old Testament has that wonderful story about Joseph— apparently he had a multi-coloured coat or a coat with long sleeves (depending on which translation of Hebrew you take) and was a bit of an arrogant git. Anyhow, after many trials and tribulations including ending up at the bottom of a pit, threatened with fratricide, having temptation put in his way by Potiphar’s ravishing wife and finally being thrown into jail; he ended up interpreting Pharaoh’s dream about thin and fat cows. It earned him a pretty penny (or shekel) and an enviable position in court. So I guess there’s money in this dream-reading lark.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I like to make synaptic connections with the worlds of music— and there’s plenty on offer relating to dream-like states. Some are literal and some metaphorical.

The Everlys crooned about their young love in beautiful harmony during 1958 when they released ‘All I have to do is dream.’ This was specifically day dreaming under the influence of adolescent hormones.

Songs about nightmares abound in the sphere of hard rock and heavy metal.

Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper welcomed us to his nightmare in the seventies, but a favourite track of mine came out in the early eighties by Gillan. Unlike the Everlys, our Ian screamed that his woman laughed at him in the dead of night: Gillan – Nightmare .

Two years earlier, Alex Lifeson of ‘Rush’ wrote the instrumental ‘La villa Strangiato’ along with Geddy Lee and Neil Peart. He said that the piece was inspired by his nightmares. The live version I’ve linked to is a superb performance where Rush are at the top of their game – try and follow the time signatures in this one! Rush – La Villa Strangioato

Aerosmith had a classic with ‘Dream on’, another metaphorical allusion as far as I can tell: Aerosmith – Dream On

How could I let this opportunity pass me by without mentioning the incomparable ‘Dream Theater’. On the last album to feature Mike Portnoy, their virtuoso drummer, the boys opened with the bombastic ‘Nightmare to remember’ – a piece (you can hardly describe DT’s offerings as mere ‘songs’) that really evokes the dread of haunted dreams: Dream Theater – A nightmare to remember

But I’m going to finish this musical detour by mentioning a song that most clearly captures the dream-like state, and it’s Heart’s ‘These dreams.’ The music and lyrics work together to instill that sense of half-sleep, when inspiration can strike the artist like no other time: Heart – These dreams


So, can dreams be useful to a writer? I must confess, there have been times during my restless nights, when exposed to REM sleep, that melodies and chord sequences have entered my mind unbidden. Sometimes, I have picked up a guitar and recorded them for later use. But more often than not I have simply turned over, the tune lost forever. The abandonment of these inspirations leaves behind the void of a great opportunity missed. Whether they would stand up to scrutiny in the cold light of day is anyone’s guess because I haven’t yet labelled them as ‘inspired by a dream.’ Maybe I should.

As for writing fiction, I can’t remember ever having a plot or character come to me in my sleep. Rather, when I’m writing, I tend to enter a fugue state after a few minutes, a kind of lucid dreaming. I wonder if it’s the same state Stephen King describes when he talks about his esperience: “If I sit down to write in the morning, in the beginning of that writing session and the ending of that session, I’m aware that I’m writing. I’m aware of my surroundings. It’s like shallow sleep on both ends, when you go to bed and when you wake up. But in the middle, the world is gone and I’m able to see better.”

King claims that a good number of his stories are inspired by dreams, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the title of one of his collections of short stories was ‘Nightmares and dreamscapes.’

If you want to read more on the thoughts of established writers regarding dreams, you could do a lot worse than check out this blog: They include such authors as Maurice Sendak and Maya Angelou.

So, I’m curious, Connoisseurs of Chaos. Have you a dream to share— maybe one that recurs, one that came true, or one that inspired you in some way? Have you ever written a story, wrote a song or painted a picture that was inspired by a dream? As ever, share your thoughts in the comments below.

Until next time, I’ll indulge a bit more in my lucid dreaming, then bleed the resulting thoughts on to the page.






Title image: Aeron Alfrey


  1. Kevin says:

    Great post, I’ve always been fascinated by dreams/nightmares. When I was a boy I had a reoccuring dream about a wicked witch living in the shed down by the creek in our backyard. In the dream she’d try to break into the house and get me when I was alone. Terrified me as a boy. I had a lot of nightmares like that – someone trying to break in. Eventually I learned to control the dream/nightmare. I recall a reoccurring dream where I was running down the big hill I lived on and going so fast I literally leapt into the air and got away from my pursuer. I’ve never used dreams/nightmares for creative works, either. But I think experiencing such terror/fear of that witch but being curious about her too influenced by interest in horror.

    1. Tom says:

      Thanks for sharing those insights, Kevin. I think nightmares probably had a greater hold on me as a child than they do now – reading horror seems to have sorted that one out! For me, it’s the fear of this life, with all its challenges that paralyses me more.

  2. I have written a story based on a dream a couple of times. Actually my novella WIP was inspired by a dream that really disturbed me. In it I found out some dark secret about my (late) father. It inspired me to think about how we know and remember the dead and it’s turned into my Masters creative project.

    I’m kind of the opposite to Stephen King, I write best if I type near blind immediately after waking. My thoughts are loose and unrestrained somehow. Of course, it needs a lot of editing but what doesn’t?

    Great post, most thought provoking.

    1. Tom says:

      I can relate to that ‘stream of consciousness’ mode of writing. It produces valuable rough diamonds that take on a rare beauty after the editing process. Thanks for sharing.

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