My mother told me bedtime stories to send us to sleep. She kept telling them as we grew older, and the stories darker. She never meant to send us to bed with nightmares… not always. From the ring wraiths hunting us down, to the malevolent Nargun lurking to our door. The monsters outside might have faded now we’ve ventured into the dark as adults, but some of the nightmares never leave.
And that’s why you should keep a book by your nightstand.
It occurred to me it’s been a very long time since I’d done a writing blog (look next week for that disaster reason), and I’m on some medication that gives me very vivid nightmares. I’d always had very real dreams, most nights it’s something kind of crazy. When I thought about the dreams they became less real the longer I was awake until I couldn’t remember why the sight of the ironing board left me shivering.
Don’t ask me. I don’t remember. I’m kinda glad I don’t.
But it’s been occurring to me that a notebook by my bed not just to track ideas and plot hole fixes would be good for keeping track of nightmares too. I had one the other night and want to use it to write a short story to submit. I have another that I vividly remember because who wouldn’t remember clowns chasing them on stilts. Giants coming to eat people out of houses, and no, at that point I’d never seen Attack on Titan. Closing my eyes because if I could see them (don’t ask me what them is) they could see, and then find me. That bundle of crazy belongs in its own novella.
The advantage is also two-fold because those nightmares that leave you waking up screaming put you in that moment.
Heaving breaths in relief it’s a dream.
Skin prickled with terror all the way up through my hair across the soft fragile dome of my skull.
You can write down how it makes you feel as a descriptor, which helps you calm down as I discovered after a rather unpleasant nightmare.
Nobody likes really bad nightmares, but while you’re having them you may as well use them as story inspiration. Situations or events we might never be able to envisage, the random choices we make or others around us that make no sense, are chaotic, shocking, visceral and downright terrifying.
The other thing I find is that there tends to be a lot of symbolism in dreams. A way of your mind telling you something. Some of the most stressful periods of my life come with heaps of dreams about bugs attacking me which I now recognize and know I need to take care of my mental health. Sometimes they are delightfully creepy and I don’t realize it’s a nightmare until I’ve woken up terrified, start laughing, and you guessed it, write it down.
Your imagination isn’t just a source of good material while you are awake. Keep that notebook for when the real monsters come out to play, and they aren’t the ones under the bed, they’re the ones inside your head.