Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writer's Dreamland: the good, the bad and the ugly

by Cat Woods

A few weeks ago, I received a message in my inbox. It came from an editor I was courting about a chapter book series. I was on my phone at the time, and the message with the first few words popped up on my screen:

What are you, a deaf mute?

A second later, another email popped up from a different editor:

You have an inflated sense of self.

I can't begin to describe the feelings that washed over me. Terror, confusion, anger...I was literally sweating and couldn't force myself to open the email to read the scathing rejections I knew were coming my way.

You see, we writers bust our butts to do things right. We work hard to balance story, plot, character, description and dialogue. We want to woo our agents, editors and public with our wonderful words. What we don't want is a rejection so hurtful we never pick up our pens again.

I rolled over and snuggled closer to Dear Hubby, thankful my nightmare was nothing more than a dream.

Ah, I know what you're thinking. I just cheated you out of a good rejection story. I started my piece with a dream, which is a huge no-no 99.9% of the time. But this dream happened to be real and since it isn't the opening scene of a novel I'm trying to pitch, I thought we could dissect it together, as I'm a huge proponent of believing my dreams.

So, long story short, I am a pretentious deaf-mute. At least according to the monsters trolling my sleep. Or am I?

Instead of letting my dream ruffle my writing feathers, I took the rejections seriously. What about my writing could possibly make me seem like a deaf mute? The answer was actually quite simple. I am a sparse writer in regards to description. I tend to favor the less is more approach and let my readers fill in the details with their own imaginations. (Personally, I feel my dream rejection would have been more solid if it had called me a blind mute, but beggars can't be choosy, and dream editors apparently aren't perfect.)

That said, I had something solid to consider before actually sending my submission out to the editor I want to woo.

That's the good part of dreams. If we stop a second to consider what our subconscious is trying to tell us, we may just learn a thing or two.

The bad part of dreams: dreams are so tempting to use in our writing because we dream every time our heads hit the pillow. Dreams are an integral part of our night life. They help us sort through problems. They lend us support and can be a huge source of inspiration. It is an easy trap to start stories with dreams, solve our MC's problems with dreams or to finish off a plot line with the whole "it was nothing more than a bad dream" solution. Readers tend to hate these devices, and for good reason. They are over-used and seldom done in a way that doesn't feel trite. Often, readers feel cheated out of a good story.

The ugly: dreams can be dream killers. Inflated sense of self. What the heck does that mean? I try to be humble. I don't like to be snobby or snotty or pretentious. And while I know that good intentions don't always work out the way we want them to and that we mere mortals tend to be really bad judges of our own characters, I'm not quite sure how to interpret this dreamy tidbit.

Inflated sense of self.

That really hurts. It rubs raw my self confidence and makes me second guess what I'm doing and why. It makes me want to stuff the submission package I've been laboring over into a huge e-file and leave it there for the cyber monkeys to steal the next time they are being naughty.

Inflated sense of self.

This terrifies me. Does it mean that my writing sucks? Or that my subconscious is begging me to quit planning a series when I'm incapable of following through? I have no idea: I was too busy sweating and trembling and being too much of a baby to open the dreammail and find out.

All I really know is that dreams have an ugly side that has nothing to do with trying to run away from a murderer and not being able to move our legs. They have the uncanny ability to make us second guess ourselves and believe things that may or may not have any truth in them.

As writers, it's ironic that our waking dreams of hitting it big can clash so painfully with our night terrors. Finding the right balance is crucial to our success--and our sanity.

So, dear readers, what writerly dreams have haunted you? How much stock do you put in your dreams, and how do you let them affect your writing? How, if ever, have you used a dream in your writing? What are your pet peeves when reading about dreams in novels?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods loves to dream. In college, she kept a dream journal for her psych class and found that her subconscious is as quirky as her waking self. She also learned that her uncanny ability to change her dreams is called lucid dreaming. She'd been "changing the channel" on her nightmares since she was bit in the foot by a wolf in the second grade, and thought that doing so was normal. Alas, nothing about Cat is normal except her dream to write. For a peek into her whimsical life, you can find her at Word from the Woods or Cat 4 Kids.

2 comments:

Debra McKellan said...

I've never had a rejection nightmare (God, that would depress me), but the story I'm trying to publish now was birthed from a dream I had.

Matt Sinclair said...

Many of my dreams have inspired stories, most of which remain incomplete and/or unpublished. But I'm a big believer that dreams can hold messages our conscious minds don't hear or refuse to acknowledge.