In seventh grade my teacher declared we were having a unit on dreams. We dabbled in Jung, shook hands with Freud, and were instructed to keep a dream journal by our beds. As we drifted off to sleep each night we were to give ourselves the suggestion that we would remember our dreams. Just telling myself "I will remember my dreams" over and over caused me, at the height of this lesson, to remember seven dreams from one night. I was surprised.
Dreams are so full of images and stories it seems a shame to leave them all behind. I know people who don't want to hear about other people's dreams, and I know people who belong to dream groups and organizations to study dreams and work with them. I use dreams the way I use overheard conversations or curious objects I see in waking life, as catalysts for a larger work. Many times a dream can be shaped so that more people than just the dreamer can get meaning and take pleasure from the dream.
Here are a few of the items in my dream kit that I like to work with. Sometimes before I go to sleep I give myself the suggestion to retrieve one, other times I just wake up with the idea and write it down fast. Maybe some of these will work for you. Maybe not.
Titles. I've dreamed several titles even when I wasn't planning a new project. One particular incident involved waking up with A Witness to Curious Speed, thinking I must remember it, then falling asleep again, only to wake an hour later. This repeated throughout the night until finally I got out of bed and wrote it down. Then I had to figure out what it meant. Ultimately, I made a book with poems about change, each with their own separate title: "Channels," "Phases," and "Lanes."
Character Names. I'm not sure I've dreamed the name of a person, but I have dreamed the name of a bird. It was a "blerg." Walking by The Bone Room one afternoon recently I realized that the stuffed turaco in the window looked like my dream bird. So, I had seen it in waking life, after all, but had not remembered it consciously. My blerg, however, did not have a tail, but it will fly into a short story at some point.
Complete Stories or Plots. I dreamed the entire story of Buddha's Bowl. Keeping paper and pen by the bed are necessary dream catchers. If you dream a complete story, don't get up or do anything before you write it down. In fact, you may not even realize it was a story until you start writing. Don't worry about where it started, begin writing from any point in the dream. You can shape it, rewrite, reorder later.
Works-in-Progress Endings. Going to sleep thinking about a story I was having trouble with yielded a dream of the ending. This is the classic "sleep on it" sparking the answer.
Images to Explore. Dreams are full of composites of things we think we know. The waker's job is to be curious. Exploring a dream image can take you closer to a fresh way of seeing and become the start of a new project.