Lyndsey Garrett on dream journalling.
The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.
Journaling has never been my strongest skill; there’s always a twinge of envy at the gorgeous scripts I see others maintain of their lives or daily routines. The brief attempts I made of diaries as a teenager were usually dull encounters with breakfast, lunch and dinner, somehow skirting all the interesting or emotional stuff that actually happened during the day. The same happened again when I attempted to keep a bullet journal, only partially succeeding with the tracking schedules you could setup.
Putting pen to paper always felt so concrete; once written down it couldn’t be taken back. The same fears about speaking in a group or reading on a stage would reappear when trying to write in a journal. I couldn’t be open with myself, let whatever thoughts that came to mind freely flow onto the page. Then, in late 2018, I was introduced to a journal form where I could reach that open connection with the page. Dream journaling.
Dreams are a way of the brain processing things it has experienced, both positive and negative. They often seem perfectly logical when we’re asleep only to be revealed as nonsense when we wake. Writing a dream journal feels almost like free writing, a process where you write non-stop for a period of time with whatever comes to your mind and without worrying about punctuation. With dream journaling it’s writing down what you remember whether or not it seems to make sense to you when you’re awake.
Dreams can provoke ideas for stories or poetry or even topics to explore in creative non-fiction, and a journal is a great way to record them for later reference. My own journal started as part of a poetry module assignment, a particular class studying surrealism and the idea of tapping into the creative potential of our unconscious minds. We were asked to keep a journal for a week and use its contents to form a poem; I’ve been keeping the journal ever since.
The pages I’ve filled are not a pretty sight, they’re the rushed five minute scribblings I can get down before I need to be up and getting ready for work. Often it feels like there’s always more detail I could add, but what makes it to the page are the instant memories and feelings of the dream. There’s no right or wrong way to keep a dream journal and writing something each morning feels like an achievement. There are many nights where I don’t dream, or I only have a vague feeling of dreaming without a distinct recollection. I still note those nights down. Even the absence of dreams can lend itself to poetry or prose.
I now have a box of these small journals which I keep beside my desk. When I experience a creative block or just need to do something different from the task at hand, I’ll pick up one of these journals and flick through it. Reading back on old dreams or vague recollections of feelings or colours has soothing effect, one that either sparks something for the piece I’m working on or just helps me relax. Not everything in those journals will make it into a piece of writing but the words are still enough to remind me that the mind can create some truly weird and fantastical scenes. Even the smallest detail can be enough to start a creative journey.
Lyndsey Garrett lives in London. She took a bit of a wrong turn after school and ended up as an accountant for the next several years. As a current Creative Writing BA student at Birkbeck University she’s now working hard to remedy that! Lyndsey was a Notable Contender in the 2017 Bristol Prize. She is a member of the Secret Garden Writing Club and manages the MIROnline Blog.