I write all the time – except when I’m sleeping. It’s not that the dreams I occasionally have serve as raw material or inspiration for my writing. As far as I can tell, what happens when I sleep has no connection to my writing at all, other than getting me well rested when I get enough sleep. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I don’t like sleep. I love to sleep. But it’s as far away as bright sunlight is to the dead of night when it comes to my writing – all parts of which, including its deepest origins, take place for me when I’m awake.
It’s a good thing, too. If I get eight hours or less of sleep a night, that gives me sixteen or more hours of time to write and daydream, which is the source, in one way or another, of everything I write.
Here’s an example: About a year ago, I walked up to my car in the parking lot of the Chauncey Square shopping center, having just finished a great swim in the New York Sports Club pool upstairs, and did a classic double take. Parked right next to my car, a 2006 silver Prius with almost 100,000 miles on it, was another Prius, same year and color. I couldn’t tell, of course, if this other car also had traveled 100,000 miles, but it certainly had enough wear on it, and, if you looked closely enough, I could almost imagine I saw the same scuffs and dents, in the very same places as on my car.
This was the trigger for my story. And, in the ten-minute drive back home, I daydreamed “The Other Car,” a magical realism little tale about a man who was encountering the very birth of an alternate reality in which he was the major player. One of the many great things about daydreaming is that it is inherently multi-tasking, and allows you to do other things as you tell yourself your story. So I got home perfectly safe and sound, something I’d have been unlikely to do if I had actually fallen asleep at the wheel and dreamed the plot of “The Other Car”.
It is true that when you’re asleep and dreaming, you sometimes are aware that you’re dreaming, but there’s very little more you – or, at least, I – can do with that, regarding my writing. I get good ideas as I’m falling asleep, and rush to write them down, but that’s still really daydreaming not dreaming, because I’m still awake. The same is true about waking up in the morning with a way of moving past a plot impasse in my story – it might seem like I had just dreamed that, but, actually, that part of the story came to me after I had woken up.
The problem with dreaming a story when you’re fast asleep is you have no way of recording it. The best you can hope for is memory, notoriously unreliable when it comes to dreams, and writing down your recollection of what you dreamt, after you’ve awoken. In contrast, recording is always available to the daydreamer. I prefer writing to voice-recording my stories, and have been known to pull over to the side of the road and feverishly write down some lines, sometimes even paragraphs. Cell phones are a fabulous help with this – you can jot down a note, email it to yourself, and it’s right there for you when you get home to your slightly bigger screen.
Daydreaming, like writing, is best done alone – at least, again, for me – which is why driving, with no passengers, has worked so well with me. So are long walks. Swimming, which is what I had been doing before encountering the other car, is good, too. I hate to interrupt my laps, but, on occasion, I’ve gotten out of the pool, walked to my locker, taken out my phone, and written down a crucial scene. (I’d save a little time leaving my phone by the side of the pool, but don’t want to risk its accidentally being kicked in or deliberately stolen.)
By the way, I love spending time with my family, but, just as with sleeping, it’s important to recognize that neither is conducive to writing at the same time. That’s why I always say to anyone who asks that the single best thing you can do to clear your path as a writer is be willing to be anti-social on occasion. There are a million worthwhile and enjoyable things to do in life. But if they require your interaction with other people, you won’t be writing at those times.
Of course, a conversation could spark an idea for a story or a way to move forward in whatever it is you’re already writing. Any experience, like my seeing the other Prius, can do that.
The key is leaving yourself space and time between the conversations to let your daydreams take over. I wrote “The Other Car” in less than a day, and, I was so happy with it, I asked my artist friend Joel Iskowitz to do a cover, which he did, and I published the story on Amazon Kindle the next day. The ease and speed of publishing on Amazon has made the synapse between finished story and publication almost as short as between the brain and fingers that wrote the story.
You can do it all in a day now, as befits writing from daydreams, from which you can dip in and out of reality at the speed of thought. Or, to paraphrase John Sebastian, any day is a good day for a daydream if you’re a writer.
Paul Levinson is