10/25/2010 06:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: Reading My Dreams

I had a very vivid dream about my novel-in-progress -- and I remembered it. I happened to be meeting a friend for coffee the next morning who is a very wise woman, and also someone who has been trained in creativity coaching, so I asked her to help me make sense of the dream. Her first question? "What do you think it means?"

I had no idea. It was a crazy dream, as many of them are, involving an older woman's house, her clothes and her floor rugs. There was a church congregation who needed this older woman -- who was me -- to lead them. I had somehow been elected to replace a different older woman, who was no longer able to serve. Had she died? I don't know. I wasn't happy or unhappy about the role, but I understood there to be a choice about whether or not to accept it.

I knew that the dream was about my story -- about whether to tell it from the point of view of an older woman, or from the point of a view of a young woman. (It's the same character, so the question is about telling the story looking BACK or telling it going FORWARD.) I didn't, however, know what the dream was telling me, if anything. I don't normally remember my dreams, or use them, or even think about them.

My friend/coach kept asking me questions to help me peel back the layers of meaning. "What does a minister do? What power does an older woman have?" I gave clueless, halting answer. I kept saying (okay, I kept whining), "I don't know!"

Finally, my friend said, "What would you tell one of your students to do?"

This, I had a clear answer for: I would tell them just to chose a path and walk it -- or write it. If it's the wrong path, you can go back and take the other one. All you lose is some pages, and some time. But you must make a commitment.

It sounded like good advice.

"Just remember," my friend said, "the dream can mean anything you want it to. You created it."

All her questions churned in my mind the whole day, and soon enough I had an answer. I decided upon an answer. The dream would mean that that I shouldn't "try on" the clothes of an older woman. I should write from the younger woman's POV.

Using dreams as a tool for creativity is hardly new. Writers from Voltaire to Coleridge to Robert Louis Stevenson are said to have used their dreams to fuel their writing. Robert Moss's book The Secret History of Dreaming discussed how dreams have been the secret engine of great lives, events, and works of art. (Moss also has a blog and a website about dreaming.) And the website outlines twelve famous dreams and the creative and famous discoveries they inspired.

To learn how to use your dreams to fuel your writing. check out these tips from Katherine West

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