Writers’ nightmares (literally)

For my designated blog day this month, I was going to discuss the ongoing Time Wars between writing and book promotion, seeing as I have a new release next week (or possibly this week, depending which store you ask, which gives it an exciting lottery feel!) but also a June 1 deadline.

Then Kelly covered that yesterday in fine fashion, and last night something happened that turned my thoughts to another topic: the writer’s nightmare(s).

I’m not normally one to put a lot of stock in dream interpretation, certainly not in any predictive sense, but I think that recurring dreams can tell us something about our own fears and hopes. Or if nothing else, provide a good laugh at our own expense, which is always healthy.

The first of mine is almost embarrassingly mundane and obvious, but it took an odd turn for the worse lately:

Getting lost – I’m driving a car, or wandering through a college dormitory building or a hotel at a science fiction/fantasy convention. I can’t find my way through the same path I’ve trod/driven before.

I take a wrong turn.  The doors are missing.  The street names have changed. I recognize no one. Usually I’m alone in these dreams, and being me, I refuse to ask for help.

The metaphor is clear: the dream represents the novel-writing process.  I’ve successfully completed several books, but somewhere in the middle of each, it feels impossible.  It feels like a completely new, bewildering, frustrating journey.

I’m alone in the dream because I don’t generally share my work with anyone until I’m finished, at which point I hand over the manuscript to my editor and a small handful of readers/critiquers (and maybe my agent if I’m feeling insecure). Five people, tops, read that horrendous first effort.

But last week, the same dream took on ominous new dimensions.  The car I was driving so ineptly was full of people I’d never met. They scowled at me and shook their heads. Finally I stopped to ask directions from a group of folks at the side of the road.

In response, they looked at my clothes and laughed. I said, “Obviously I’m not from around here.”  The people I was transporting got out of the car (clearly giving up on me) and continued to scowl.

This is me writing my first contracted YA novel. I’m new to this aspect of publishing and have yet to learn the customs (and apparently the fashions).

Hence the Dream People’s laughter.

Also, this time it won’t be a tiny handful of folks taking a gander at my (usually abysmal) first effort. Because it’s a new series with a fair level of interest, my editor will probably share this draft with others at my publishing house, so they can all decide whether they made a horrible mistake in buying it. My agent will read it, and not just to assure me it doesn’t suck.

(Speaking of my brilliant agent, she already sold the German and Brazilian rights, so if I turn in a mediocre manuscript, I’ll be disappointing people on three continents—hooray!)

Hence the Dream People’s scowls. Grr, bad, clueless author. We’re taking your keys away now.

The other nightmare, which I had this morning, is less obvious and more original.

Plane crash – I’m standing outside my home or a farm, tending the garden or a stable of animals, when a jumbo airliner crashes a few hundred feet away without harming me. Rather than bursting into a fiery ball of jet fuel, it merely bounces (which at that speed is probably just as unfortunate for the passengers).

I decided this morning that the plane was the publishing industry. Or possibly the economy. And that despite the turmoil, I’ll be fine, just tending my garden, like Voltaire’s Candide.

So what’s your recurring dream or nightmare? Have they ever been caused by books, either ones you’ve written or read? Share in the comments, and don’t be shy–we’re all weirdos here, right?

*glances around*


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  1. 1. Heather

    I had a character physically assault me once to get me back to work. In my dream, I was walking blithely along the sidewalk and literally ran into him. I apologized for the collision, but he got really angry and started shaking me. I woke up startled, and smacked my face on the bedpost, leaving me with a fat lip the rest of the day. The result? It got me writing, alright – I made his death scene just a little more traumatic!

  2. 2. Jess

    For most of my life I have had the recurring dream of being chased through the streets at night, always involving a chain link fence and the effort to climb over it, typically being pursued by something with a knife. Sometimes the person is supernatural or a were, almost always a knife, no matter what. No idea what it means. I haven’t had it in ages.

    Lately I’ve been having thriller-style dreams of science fiction: evil mechas.

    I get nightmares from books all the time, but just your run-of-the-mill scare because I’m a wuss.

  3. 3. Shannon

    My dream involves me entering an apartment building (Japanese-style – you know, like 50,000 stories tall with no elevator) and climbing the stairs to a friend’s place. The “friend” is female, but other than that I know nothing about her. When I reach her apartment, I notice that the door is open. I enter cautiously, calling her name and looking for signs of struggle. There’s nothing. Everything’s in it’s place, but she’s not there. I walk to the back of the apartment, pushing open the door to her bedroom and walking in. I turn full-circle, still looking for anything out of place. I turn to leave the room, but notice that the door I’d pushed open is now again halfway closed. I realize there’s something in the apartment with me, and I got to push the door shut and barricade myself in the room, but when I do, there’s a force pushing back from the other side. We battle it out and I lose, and suddenly there’s a man there…wearing 40′s style loose, blue-collar worker clothing, complete with a dark taxi hat that sets his face in shadow. A shiny silver gun is pointing straight at my chest. I gasp and he shoots me, 3 times.

    This is the really scary part, because I can FEEL the bullet wounds. They burn like hell, but I’m in shock…and all I can do is think, “Please God, please God, please don’t let me die.” Everything goes black.

    The dream picks up with me stumbling toward a hospital made completely of glass. There are people milling about outside, but no one even looks at me, much less bothers to help. The dream always ends right when I step up to the door.

  4. 4. Shannon

    Another nightmare I have is where I leave a brick building, apparently a grocery store, and I’m walking to my car when I notice the hood is up. I drop whatever I’m holding and run the rest of the way only to discover that all the fluids in my car have been siphoned out and my tires have been slashed. I run around the parking lot, begging people to help me, but no one does. I try to call every person in my family, but no one answers. I get into the car and manage to start it. The scariest part of the dream is where I attempt to drive home to my parents, nearly killing myself since I have no brakes, no transmission or power steering fluid, and four flat tires. Somehow I make it to my parents, stopping the car by running it into the big oak tree that sits in their yard. The dream ends with my dad opening the back door to greet me.

    Weird thing is, when I first had this dream, I woke up that morning and got ready for work and when I walked out to my car, I noticed that it was sitting quite lopsided in the parking lot. My heart sank and I just knew someone had slashed my tires (although I don’t know why anyone would). Come to find out, I’d picked up a nail from the interstate and one of my tires was flat. Scary, scary.

    I have no idea about the first dream I posted, but I think this dream was my subconscious bringing up my fear of attack from other people. I have a horrible history with people who were supposed to be my friends and loved ones turning on me, and it’s become quite crippling. But I think the end of the dream, with my dad running out to meet me, signifies that I’m not as alone as I sometimes feel and there ARE people I can trust.


  5. 5. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Ah, the chasing dream. A classic. I have no idea what it means, either. I think the key is, what does it mean to you?

    My other recurring dream (not a nightmare until it’s over) is making out with [insert gorgeous celebrity], only to be interrupted by my conscience reminding me I’m married.

  6. 6. Jeri Smith-Ready

    How weird. I saw Jess’s comment first and answered that, but the others weren’t here earlier. I’ve noticed comments coming up in the wrong order before.

    Anyway…Heather, I love that dream! And I love your reaction.

    And Shannon, wow, those are some vivid ones. Thanks for sharing!

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