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Putting Dreams to Paper

Post eight in the discussion from Richard Bausch’s “Letter to a Young Writer.”

My favorite quote in Bausch’s entire essay:

You are trying to tap a part of yourself that is closest to the dreaming side, the side that is most active when you sleep.

A few years ago when I read the first Twilight book, I remember being insanely jealous that Stephenie Meyer could just have a dream and jot down a story that sold like wildfire. After all, I’ve had dreams that would make a great story. can do that. I realize now that she must have put in a lot more effort than just penning a dream, but she made it seem so easy.

For several years, writing was on my mind, but I credit this moment for being the turning point that made me decide to be a serious writer. First, I got a notebook and started writing down every dream I had. I churned out some crazy, bizarre stories that would make me blush if anyone ever seen them. And then I shared them with a few people who most likely had inward groans going on behind those polite smiles.

I used to get frustrated when I’d go to sleep and wake up dreamless. I’d even take naps just on the off chance that I’d dream something. To me, dreamless meant idea-less, and I’d turn to writing these stiff responses to challenge prompts.

Then, one day I realized that writing IS dreaming–dreaming while you are awake.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve strayed from my outline because I’ve gotten “lost” in the story. The characters have taken me places I didn’t mean to go. The setting has turned into something completely different from what I’ve envisioned. And it’s been a great thing.

Bausch advises:

Dream the story up. Make it up. Be fanciful. Follow what comes to you to say and try not to worry about whether or not it’s smart or shows your sensitive nature in the best light or delivers the matters of living that you think you have learned. Just dream it up and let the thing play itself out as it seems to want to. And write it again, and still again, dreaming it though.

I’ve had similar advice from people on the forums–get the story down and then you can rewrite it to get it where you want it to be.

Bausch continues:

And then, as you educate yourself each time through more as to what it is, try to be terribly smart about that. Read it with the cold detachment of a doctor looking at an x-ray for a lump. Which is to say, you must learn to re-read your own sentences as a stranger might. And say everything out loud. Listen to how it sounds.

Great advice, but I think sometimes it means you have to put the work aside and let it simmer a while before that detachment can be achieved.