This month, Clare Johnson, doctoral student at the University of Leeds, England, shares with us her current work on the influence of lucid dreaming on the creative process, in particular novel writing.
The Role of Lucid Dreaming in the Process of Novel Writing
(c) Clare Johnson, England
I am a doctoral researcher with the University of Leeds, England, investigating the role of lucid dreaming in the process of novel writing. My research is rooted in practice as I am currently writing a novel which features lucid dreams, and I am exploring ways of drawing on lucid dreams for inspiration at each stage of the creative process. My research methodology includes a case study evaluation of professional writers, artists, musicians, and lucid dream researchers. Through these case studies, additional insights are acquired into the practical and theoretical possibilities of lucid dreaming as a creative tool across the arts.
In his 1908 paper, 'Creative Writers and Day-dreaming,' Freud compared the imaginative writer with the daydreamer. Both writers and artists slip into a vivid, guided daydream when they create a piece of work. This 'creative trance' represents a contrived balance between waking and dreaming consciousness. This state is similar to lucid dreaming, in which the dreamer wakes up inside the dream and can therefore guide and observe events. In both states, the unconscious is consciously accessed.
Lucid dreams have been known to eliminate creative blocks (Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, LaBerge & Rheingold, 1990; The Committee of Sleep, Barrett, 2001) and sensory experience can be consciously extended in lucid dreams before being reproduced in a work of art or fiction. Similarly, lucid dreams can be used to advance a 'stuck' fictional plot, as the dreamer can actively create dialogues between fictional characters while lucid.
Questions which my research raises and considers are as follows:
This study, while still in progress, provides evidence that lucid dreaming is a state predisposed to creativity and points to the conclusion that writers and artists stand to benefit from working with lucid dreams. I hope to present my work at the 2005 IASD Conference in California.
- What is a 'creative trance' and how is it connected with lucid dreaming?
- Might the high level of perceptual realism in lucid dreams stimulate the imagination more than a state of daydream would?
- Could the practice of lucid dreaming bring writers and artists into closer contact with the imagery and archetypes prevalent in dreams?
- Could lucid dreams be useful in the elimination of creative blocks?
- What are the pitfalls of using lucid dreams to complement the creative process?
- What benefits could be had from writers entering into dialogue with their fictional characters during lucid dreams?
- Do lucid dreams cultivate spontaneity?
- Can lucid dreaming facilitate the creative flow of ideas in art and literature?
Currently I am looking specifically for lucid dreamers who have published novels or short stories. If you fit into this category and would be willing to help me with my research, please email me and I will send you a research questionnaire.
Writing, Dreaming and Lucid Art
One of the main characters in the novel I am writing for my PhD has a series of powerful lucid dreams which revolve around childhood memories. She turns the main images into collages. The idea for these collages came from my own early experience of lucid dreaming, as although I can't draw or paint, when I started consciously inducing lucid dreams in 1993 I was eager to find some means of representing them visually. I used a simple marbling technique, and combined this with images cut from magazines and old photographs.
Hands and eyes frequently crop up in my collages. The hands are linked to Carlos Castaneda's technique of focusing on your hands in a dream to stabilise the scene - a method which I have often successfully used to maintain lucidity - and the eyes represent the conscious gaze of the lucid dreamer. The bright, contrasting colours reflect the extreme visual clarity of lucid dreams. Below is a dream I had in 1998 in which my lucid dream collages appeared to remind me to stay lucid. A selection of my lucid dreams then follows, including the one which won first prize in the 2004 IASD Telepathy Contest.
Surreal art gallery
I am walking through a house and realise through a feeling of weightlessness that I am dreaming. I am instantly alert. It is like moving through a surrealist painting which has suddenly come to life; walls and ceilings are tilted at odd angles, objects emanate a brooding consciousness, colours are loud and shiny. I concentrate on the sensations of my dream body and experience a strange, squeezing resistance each time I lift my feet from the ground. I bounce my knees up and down as if I am cycling, and this takes me up into the air. I drift onto the landing of what has now become my family's house. I float horizontally for a moment, and then do a back-flip so that I am hanging upside-down. Everything looks as it would do in upside-down-vision in reality. I smile at the thought that my family are sleeping nearby oblivious of the fact that I am out here on the landing doing back-flips in my dream body.
Then I float into a different place where a girl is writing in a notebook. I glide over to read her words, hoping for dream guidance for my novel. To begin with, as my eyes skim the words, I understand the content perfectly, but as soon as I backtrack, I see the words mutating, turning into nonsensical, jumbled phrases. I laugh and point this out to the girl, explaining that this is a dream and so nothing is stable. She replies that while this is true, if you read very fast you can still get the essence. To demonstrate, she shows me a T-shirt she's just printed and tells me to read the text on it very fast. I do. It says, "The most powerful force in the universe is the will." Then I read it again slowly and it is gibberish. The girl is pleased to have proved her point.
I feel my lucidity spinning away from me. The girl has vanished. What to do?
I decide to look at my hands, and this is very odd as one of them looks normal but the other is grotesquely distorted and misshapen, like a Hall of Mirrors reflection. I remind myself that this is all an illusion, but still find I want to change my hand into something slightly more respectable. I attempt to do so with a flash of willpower. It calms down a little, but is still bloated. As I stare, it becomes a frightening skull-thing. At this point I get the impression that my real eyes have opened slightly in my bed, and I see there is a bit of duvet jutting directly in front of my vision - could this be the cause of the huge hand image? There is no time to speculate, and no way of telling if my real eyes did actually open or not, because I am directly back in the dream again. My hand has resumed normal proportions now and I am ready to explore some more, but I'm still struggling to get back to a state of strong lucidity.
For a moment, the dream scene acquires the texture of gravel and shifts sideways. As I start to slide with it, I catch a glimpse of one of my lucid dream collages, one with a dragon flying down over mountains. It has been blown up to poster size and is oddly elongated. This, I realise, is a mental reminder in my dream to remain alert. I am fully lucid again, and the dream scene stabilises accordingly. As I drift over to view my collage, I am distracted by another picture - not by me this time. It is of a woman sitting on a couch, painting a person sitting at an easel. It is a dark, slightly disturbing image, but I like it. I move on past other strange images, and the squeezing resistance in the air has returned. I can't move fast; it's like floating through deep space, except I am in this corridor-shaped art gallery. Further down the hall, I see another of my lucid dream collages, this one with a stretching purple hand. Being immersed in this glutinous air is making me feel sluggish. I want to keep looking at the pictures, but I also want to curl up and sleep. I lose lucidity.
I am lying on a beach watching cirrus clouds evaporate in a blue sky. A sense of spaciousness and possibility makes me realise I am dreaming. I pick up a handful of sand in my fist to test how real it feels. As the grains slide through my fingers I experience the texture as a colour; deep orange.
I look at my hand and it is full of this luminous orange.
I look back into the sky and there are coloured lights exploding across it.
For each colour of the spectrum, I hear a different sound. Some of the colours are musical tones, while others buzz or crackle. I remain lying on the sand for a long time, listening to this orchestra of colours.
Planets for Eyes
I am at a riotous party. People are playfully winding sari-like scarves around their limbs as they dance. I realise my feet are only grazing the ground when I walk. This reminds me of one of my earliest childhood memories, of floating down the stairs behind my mother at the age of three and calling to her to look. Disappointingly, by the time she'd turned around, my feet had settled back onto solid ground again.
I consider my current weightlessness and understand that I am dreaming. I weave through the dancing crowd and go into the bathroom. I peer at myself in the mirror which runs the length of the wall and grow fascinated by my eyes. They are large and shiny with huge dark pupils and as I watch the irises and pupils melt together and morph into two planet Earths which begin to spin slowly. The world is in my eyes, and I am in the world, I think. I float closer and closer to my reflection, thinking how curious it is that in this dream, I have planets for eyes. I get so close I can see the oceans and mountains, like a satellite picture. My nose bumps into the cold mirror. I wake up.
Hunting for Fictional Characters
I'm standing around with people at a party. "Of course," says a young man in a brown leather jacket, "in dreams, you can float." I immediately glance down at my feet and see I am floating several inches from the ground. Well, I think, this is a lucidity cue I couldn't miss even if I wanted to. I propel myself instantly upward and out of the window, moving my feet and arms in the way I would when swimming up to the surface of a pool after diving in. I shoot up into a beautiful sky overlooking grassy lawns with wooden picnic tables and people drinking in the sun. It's very detailed, with vivid colours. As real as reality - except I'm hovering about 15 metres above it all.
I remember my decision to meet Alida (the main character in my novel) in my next lucid dream, and taking a deep breath, I shout at the top of my lungs, "ALIDA!" It is hugely liberating to shout like this in the fresh air. Some of the drinkers glance up at me in amusement but do not seem surprised. I recall reading the other day the opinion of Russian philosopher Ouspensky that lucid dreamers cannot pronounce their own names in a lucid dream without waking up. This scene is so solid and my lucidity so matter-of-fact that I decide to try it. Deep breath. Then I shout my name on a long breath, as loudly as I can. "CLARE!"
Nothing happens, not even a tremor in the scene. I laugh and do it again. It feels so totally as if I'm really shouting that I wouldn't be surprised if my body in bed was also shouting something in my sleep. Still hovering, I wonder if perhaps what Ouspensky meant was that lucid dreamers can't say their names in a dream and simultaneously sleep-talk the word aloud in their bedrooms without waking up. This idea intrigues me, and I ponder it until I realise that the thought of my real mouth and vocal chords is now making me feel less lucid. The scene has grown somehow sparser and less colourful.
I pull myself together abruptly by concentrating on two men below me who are chatting. I swoop in low and eavesdrop on their conversation, which is in German. I then soar over the picnic area asking random people, "have you seen Alida?" Nobody has. This is the same lucidity I had in a dream a week ago; strong and sure and effortless. I let go of the idea of looking for Alida, since she doesn't appear to be here and the thought of trying to conjure her up doesn't appeal.
The sun is glancing off the heads of the drinkers and flashing in their eyes when they laugh. I swim through the air with expansive strokes of my arms, twisting my body into lazy somersaults and letting the hum of conversation wash over me.
I am on a bridge which is covered in foliage. There are dead birds littered all over it and this upsets me. I cross the bridge carefully, trying not to step on their tiny bodies. As I am about to descend the other side, I see the tail of a dead squirrel sticking out from the greenery at an odd angle.
I feel a strong reluctance to walk past it. "Why does everything have to be dead?" I ask aloud, looking around me. Then the realisation comes to me that I am in a dream, and that nothing has to be dead after all.
I jump boldly from the bridge. For a split second, I don't start to float as I'd expected, but then I do. I drift down into a field and recall my intention to find R in my next lucid dream. I concentrate totally on him. "I am now going to find R," I say with great conviction. I run into the air and circle around about 30 feet up. I see a beautiful valley to my left and am tempted to go there but remember that I must find R and not get distracted, or I'll lose lucidity. I will him to come to me, and can't seem to get him at first - I'm not sure where to start looking in such an unfamiliar setting. Then I look down at the ground and to my amazement R is standing there wearing his big duffle coat. I call to him to come and fly with me, and remind him that we are dreaming. He looks up, and suddenly I am very close to his face. He looks deep into my eyes and confesses that he doesn't know how to fly.
I tell him I will help him, and I grab his arm and lift him into the air. He is quite hard to lift so our take-off isn't exactly smooth, but we are both feeling really good, flying higher and higher. Suddenly R understands how to fly alone. We fly independently of each other over hills and fields, and I have the vision of a kestrel; I can see the petals on yellow flowers far below, and the quiver of butterfly wings. I notice detail after detail, until at some point one of these bright details sucks me in and the dream changes.
Dream Telepathy and Tree Shouting
In a Copenhagen youth hostel at around midnight, I conjure up a strong visual memory of Beverly D'Urso standing in the auditorium a few hours earlier, clutching the envelope with the dream telepathy image in it and inviting us to dream of her. 'Okay, Beverly,' I think. 'I'm listening.' Then I drop straight into an exhausted sleep. Several hours later I wake up feeling thirsty and drink some water. I think briefly of the telepathy contest and scan my dreams but they are just a tangled bulge of impressions from the conference. I wonder what the telepathy image might be, and go straight back to sleep again. This time the sleep is a lighter one.
Green begins to seep into my dreams. It hangs in translucent blocks of colour as a backdrop to the dream action. It reflects off people's faces.
Soon I am surrounded by it and the scene morphs into a spacious park full of big old trees. The air is fresh and I feel happy. I am wandering around with IASD members, commenting on the greenness. In the distance, a woman's voice is shouting 'Tree! Tree!' as if she has just discovered the answer to some fundamental question. I glance in the direction of the shouts but see no-one. I hesitate, looking into the woods, but I'm not lucid at this point and I'm caught up in the pleasant social interaction with the other dream characters. I feel it would be rude to leave them.
Later, we are all at the conference site in a high-ceilinged room, discussing the dream telepathy contest. I see Beverly across the room and know that I'm dreaming this. Beverly looks cheerful but I think she's got to be tired since she must be having a sleepless night trying to transmit the image. I ask her how she is feeling. She flings her arms out, grinning, and says, "I've just been shouting the word inside my head!"
"That's interesting," I say, "because in my last dream, people were shouting about trees." I want to ask her outright if tree is the image she is projecting, but think this might be cheating. A woman across the room says excitedly, "I've been getting that, too. Tree shouting." We get into a discussion about the nature of greenness. Is green a positive or negative colour? We agree that it is both dark and light. Deep and beautiful.
Then the scene changes and I am alone before an image of a big leafy tree. Even the background is green. I remember that the IASD people said we should try to draw the images we see tonight in our dreams. Dutifully, I take a pen and paper but I am no good at copying things and there is a pale patch of brown down to the left of the picture which is distracting me as I draw. It might be an owl. I try to draw it and as it seems to want to speak I give it a speech bubble, but then can't think of words to put in it. I scribble the owl out and glance again between my spindly, inaccurate drawing and the serene tree before me.
It finally dawns on me that trying to draw the dream image is a waste of time, since I'm dreaming and nothing more than the memory of this whole scene will remain with me when I wake up. I toss the pen and paper aside in relief and look again at the tree image. Then, very slowly, I wake up. I am smiling in the dark. 'The telepathy picture really might be a tree,' I think. Since I am in a youth hostel sharing a room with 11 other girls, I can't switch on the light and record the dream, so I just go over it in my head and go back to sleep until morning.
The moment my alarm clock goes off, I snap into ultra-organised mode, as my plane is leaving that afternoon and I need to get packed up and then race over the river to catch a few final workshops at the conference. I scribble down the tree dream in disjointed sentences, but in the cold light of morning I am convinced I haven't accurately dreamed the image. I push the telepathy contest to the back of my mind.
When I walk into the second or third workshop of the day, Beverly is sitting there. "I had a dream about you last night," I tell her, and recount the dream. When I've finished, she asks me if I've entered the contest and I say no. She asks me if I've seen the four images and I say no. Then she tells me I should write down exactly what I've just told her and hurry over to Registration and enter my dream before the competition closes. The workshop is about to start and I don't feel I can just run out of there but in the end Beverly says, "Clare, you've just exactly described one of the images. You should definitely enter the contest."
When I get to Registration with the slip of paper upon which I scribbled down my dream, there are three images which don't resonate with me at all, and on the end is a picture of the tree I tried to draw in my dream. I return to the workshop and can't concentrate on anything the presenter is saying.
As I had to fly home that day, I missed the dream ball and so only discovered a few days later that I'd won the contest. I was intrigued to learn that Beverly did actually shout about trees inside her head while attempting to communicate the image. This experience has given me food for thought concerning receptiveness in lucid dreams. I'm certain I'll be able to work it into my research, or my novel... or both.
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