There is a lot of research out there about cognitive and lucid dreaming, differing theories of what it is and how it works. I didn’t research it before I began practicing the technique. It was something that came to me pretty naturally while I was still in high school. The form I work with is based on the theory that dreams are the mind’s way of solving problems. You dream a solution or mentally go over a problem, then when you wake you have an answer or can complete the task with greater efficiency.
I know it sounds complicated, and everything I’ve seen on the subject suggests that if you aren’t someone who drops into it like I did, the technique can be a challenge to pick up. Considering how well it works for me, I have to say it’s worth the effort.
So, how does it work?
It’s pretty simple, actually. I pick a time when I’m tired, ready to sleep, bedtime or an afternoon nap. As I’m settling down, I think about my characters, a scene or that plot bunny that just hopped it’s fluffy tail across my path. My mind wanders easily, so the key for me is to really focus, meditate on it. As I drift off, the thoughts of the story continue, and when I wake, my mind has taken that story further than I had it before I slept. I might get bits of a scene, occasionally the overreaching plot arc. Sometimes I don’t get anything but sleep.
I practice this every time I go to sleep. Every night, every nap, I’m working on a book.
Of course this kind of work method doesn’t come without detractors. I’ve gotten my share of comments on how only lazy people would consider nap time to be work and have been told to step aside for the ‘serious’ writers. Funny thing though… some of those ‘serious’ writers who derided me would go on to celebrate how they woke up in the middle of the night with a scene they saw in a dream and had to write that moment. It’s the same thing. They were cognitively dreaming the scene. My method is simply more intentional.
I’ve had other authors who suggest outlining a planned scene the night before, just as you head to bed, then the next day the details will flow more quickly. I know of at least a dozen writers who have increased their daily word counts this way. That’s another form of directed cognitive dreaming.
There are different ways to practice dreaming and use it constructively. If you’re interested in experimenting, I suggest keeping a notebook or journal on your nightstand. Write down what you want to dream just before you turn out the light. It should be the last thing you do, read and think about before you fall asleep.
Give it a shot. I’d be interested in hearing your results.