Writing Dreams

I RECENTLY FINISHED Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore.” Murakami has been described by some critics as the greatest writer still living today. This book in particular has been labeled as one of his best. (For more, see my review on Goodreads.)

Murakami writes his dreams. There are thousands of blogs, essays, reviews, pieces on the web talking about how incredible a writer, how revolutionary his stuff is. There’s a common sense of expressed amazement at how fantastic his writing can be. “Kafka on the Shore” includes scenes and imagery as varied and off-the-wall as WWII era UFO’s; a strange, enlightened old man who can talk with cats; a sociopathic, animal-mutilating Johnnie Walker; Colonel Sanders as a pimp; a mysterious stone disc with the power to somehow affect the world; a precocious, “well-equipped” 15 year old boy’s possibly incestuous sexual dalliances. All of this is very imaginative, sure. But I contend that Murakami is simply regurgitating his dreams on paper, and tying these scenes and imagery together (only loosely) with a kind of working plot.

Good writers can do this. They can dream on paper (or onto their MacBooks). These dreams can be rich and littered with reference and subconscious allusion. These dreams can be beautiful. Murakami is one of the most notable I’ve ever encountered. The best writers, however, can make these dreams actually mean something. They can manifest conscious meaning out of the fanciful and sometimes ridiculous creations of the subconscious. (Murakami’s stuff is of the former, not the latter variety. Despite the volumes of literary analysis produced on his writing, I think there’s little conscious meaning here. Plenty of interpretation, sure. But literature can be so much more than a portrait, a pretty picture that necessitates an MFA degree and an audience to “understand.”)

Dreams are important, though. They can tell an author things about themselves that consciously he or she would never have discovered. When used directly, too, they offer an unlimited source of powerful “archetypal” scenarios and imagery. This stuff can be totally fresh, totally unique. Writers need to tap this source. Utilize it. Expand on it. But not depend on it. I keep a dream journal for this purpose, and it’s invaluable. I once wrote a short story immediately after experiencing a single, potent scene in a dream one morning—that of an astronaut caught in loose footing on the steep slope of some abyss, his feet struggling frantically for purchase as he falls slowly in light gravity toward the bottom of a chasm on some alien world, its depths as black as the airless space around him. “The Fall” then becomes a story of an overwhelming and ironic discovery as well as the realization that comes from the ultimate psychological release: the acceptance of an impending death. None of this was in the dream, of course, but the clarity, the vibrancy of a dream-image will often lead to deeper things. Maybe deeper truths.

Below are a few entries from my dream journal. I punch them out onto my iPhone immediately after waking up, so as not to miss any detail. They consequently have a rough (but uninterpreted) quality. I have plenty more that are vastly more intense (but also vastly more personal). These seemed “PG” enough for a blog post. Recording dreams is a difficult task but I encourage any writer or artist to tackle this. The source is invaluable; the well never dry. 



(1) I’m a cop again. I stop at a sandwich shop. Dad is with me. Emily W works there. They have to “outsource” my sandwich request. It’s very busy—a trendy place. The next day I take dad to get my sandwich at another shop. This one is run by Edward James Olmos. It’s a few mins past closing. He hooks me up anyway.

(2) Charles S. Dutton is speaking to a crowd, some kind of political rally, warning that the issue of racism should never be a “backdrop,” or be allowed to fade into the background. Someone speaks up, an assertion that yes it should be. Institutional racism as our parents and grandparents knew it, no longer exists. And the obsession with it today is a lingering, a malignant dwelling on the past. A protester, some kind of flag, “backdrop” … Let race fall to the behind, a secondary issue. “Let it go away.”

(3) Open space. Scouting for one of Grandpa’s treasures. In prep for a “flight” we’re going to take over the area. You start by running. The slope becomes very steep though. You end up quickly climbing trees … Massive tall trees. A whole forest, of dead redwoods. You jump from tree to tree after you’ve climbed, looking for a way DOWN. You jump from one to another, 30 feet off the ground, and realize quickly that you’re stuck … Once on this tree you can’t go anywhere, can’t climb, can’t jump to a better position, etc. The only option is to go back the way you came, only the branch that you jumped from (and hence would jump to) is perilously thin and light and dead. You’re stuck and quickly become terrified. You see no other option and you wake up almost as a psychological safety measure. “It was just a dream,” you force yourself to admit in wakened, conscious relief.

Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.

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