Sleep and Dream Your Journal Writing Ideas

dreams and journal writing ideas

Harvest your dreams for journal writing ideas.

There’s something mysterious and magical about dreams. In the dreamworld, anything is possible. Our deepest desires and greatest fears come to life. Whether they haunt or beguile, our dreams represent the far reaches of our imaginations.

Journals can have similar qualities of mystery and intrigue. If your journal is full of freewrites, doodles, cryptic notes, and random ideas, then it might read like a road map through your imagination, or it may feel like a crash course through your subconscious.

Journal writing is a great tool for dream exploration, and dreams are an excellent source of inspiration for writing ideas.

You can tap into your daydreams or your sleeping dreams as a way to inform and inspire your journal writing:

  • Record your dreams so you can better understand them.
  • Capture the images in your dreams and turn them into poems and song lyrics.
  • Transform monsters from your nightmares into creepy villains for your short stories or novels.

Sleep, Dreams, and Journal Writing Ideas

Dreams have been a subject of great interest in the fields of neurology, psychology, and spirituality, to name a few. Yet we still know relatively little about the nature of dreams. Where do they come from? What do they mean? In one dream, you’re working out problems from your subconscious, and in the next, you’re a character from your favorite TV show. The white rabbit in your dream symbolizes a call to adventure but the white rabbit in your best friend’s dream represents fertility.

According to Wikipedia:

Dreams are a succession of images, sounds or emotions that pass through the mind during sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not fully understood, though they have been a topic of speculation and interest throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is known as oneirology.

Like I said, we know relatively little about dreams. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put them to good use. Throughout history, dreams have often acted as catalysts for artists, writers, musicians, and inventors. Here are a few famous literary works that were affected or derived from authors’ dreams:

Keeping a Dream Journal

There are many ways you can use dreams in your journal writing. The most obvious is to keep a dream journal. Just keep your journal by your bed and jot down your dreams as soon as you wake, before you even get out of bed (otherwise you risk losing or forgetting the dream). It only takes a few minutes.

You can also jot down a few notes and later use your dream as the foundation for a piece of writing. Your dreams can provide you with characters, scenes, imagery, and even plot ideas.

Journal Writing with Daydreams

Let’s dive right in to what Wikipedia has to say about daydreams:

While daydreaming has long been derided as a lazy, non-productive pastime, it is now commonly acknowledged that daydreaming can be constructive in some contexts. There are numerous examples of people in creative or artistic careers, such as composers, novelists and filmmakers, developing new ideas through daydreaming.

The imagination is a bizarre and wondrous thing. Humans have the capacity to conjure up incredible things, but contrary to popular opinion, using one’s imagination requires time and energy. It might look like you’re sitting around doing a whole lot of nothing. But who knows? You could be plotting the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

In some ways, daydreams are a better source of inspiration for journal writing than nighttime dreams. Since you’re awake, you can take breaks from your daydreams to jot down notes. You’re also more likely to retain a daydream because you’re awake for it. Many people have a hard time remembering the dreams that they slept through.

Dream Your Next Piece of Writing

Dreams are borne of human consciousness and imagination, which provide an endless stream of writing ideas and inspiration that can inform your journaling sessions. Your journal can function as a repository for all of these visions, and you can revisit your journal as an incredible idea warehouse at any time for any type of writing project.

Explore More

Below are some links you can follow to learn more about dreams:

Discussion Questions

Do you ever write down your dreams? Have you ever kept a dream journal? Has a dream (daydream or night-dream) ever provided inspiration for your writing? Is journal writing a habit for you? How often do you write in your journal, and how do you use it with your other writing projects?

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


17 Responses to “Sleep and Dream Your Journal Writing Ideas”

  1. Great post, Melissa!

    I use my dreams as the foundation to many of my short stories. I don’t physically journal them but my “head journal” is chock full of past dreams. And when something triggers a recall of one of these dreams, I find that the stories almost write themselves, they are so vivid.

    You see, in my worldview, there is the sleeping dream and the waking dream. In effect, we make our own movie as our minds rewind and then are reset with things from our so-called awake time. The song “Life is But a Dream” is truer than you would think.

    Yes, I am a daydreamer of the first magnitude (as witnessed by my elementary school report cards!) but I truly have the last laugh as the fiction that I write as an adult wins me praise from my readers. Many comment on my bravery or wish they had said “that.” I say to them: don’t worry about looking foolish. The great artists always took great risks. And many were not understood or appreciated until much later, when society was made ready to receive their advanced inspiration.

    It always amazes me how aspiring writers want to emulate other writers of their favorite genre. I say to these folks: OK, write what you like, but in my book, I admire that chosen few who color WAY out of the conventional lines and literally create their own genre. That is what advances art.

    Wayne C. Long
    Writer/Editor/Digital Publisher

    • I’ve thought about doing a post on the “head journal.” We writers can’t always record our thoughts and ideas, and I imagine many of us have quite a bit of fodder stored upstairs.

      I agree that writers and other artists who choose to ignore convention deserve our admiration and respect for the risks that they take. Yet I also appreciate it when writers do stick with convention. Both approaches can lead to excellence.

  2. I once wrote a short story based on a dream. I dreamed about an ex-boyfriend who I’d lost touch with and woke up with a story about what had happened to him in my head. It was great. I love what Wayne said about daydreaming, too, I think it is a lost art!

  3. Dawn Herring says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post on Dreams and Journal Writing. You give such vibrant examples of how you can use daily and nightly dream journaling to enhance your life and your writing. I’ve been keeping a dream journal for over a year, faithfully recording whatever dreams I remember in the fullest detail possible. I understand the benefits of seeing the recurring themes that emerge. You can read about my dream journaling in my blog post, Dream Telling:

    I have chosen your post, Dreams and Journal Writing, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 12/22/10 for all things journaling on Twitter. I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog, Refresh with Dawn Herring.

    You’re welcome to follow my @JournalChat account for all things journaling on Twitter. 🙂

    Thanks for such a wonderful, thoroughly written, enjoyable post!

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    @JournalChat on Twitter

  4. ChicCreekGirl says:

    I wrote my first novella on this idea of dream and subsconcious as pathways to our self-understanding. Still polishing it. I enjoyed reading this post, more so because I was facing a problem recently.

    Does anyone have any idea why we do remember some dreams and not others?

    I used to get forward flashes at times too, and dreams were always there to guide me about what bothered me in real life. I would then wake up and write them down and go on an analysis marathon. Now I can barely remember the dreams when I wake up!

    • I don’t know why we remember some dreams and not others, but I do know there are many exercises for promoting healthy dream recall. I included a link at the bottom of the post, and you can probably find a lot more information on dream recall by conducting an online search or by visiting your local library or bookstore. One simple tip is this: before you fall asleep, tell yourself that you’ll dream and remember your dreams when you wake up. Turn this into a affirmation and repeat it to yourself when you’re lying in bed. I’ve found this simple action is hugely beneficial in remembering dreams.

  5. Michele Gunderson says:

    Thanks for your wonderful post, Melissa. I do journal regularly, and I have studied dreams in graduate courses on Freud and Lacan, but those explanations of where dreams come from and what they mean were not that helpful to me creatively.

    I love your way of looking at it: “we know relatively little about dreams. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put them to good use.” Great point! And so true of a lot of what goes into our writing — we might not know where it comes from, but it bubbles and churns and something comes alive…..

    I’ve heard that dreams are an exaggerated version of what we are living day-to-day… I’ve also heard that they are a place where we dump psychological stuff that we don’t need — kind of like a place to put the detritus of our lives, things that have entered our consciousness that we don’t want to focus on.

    Dreams may be both of these, or neither. But if they tell us the underside — what we don’t want to look at — or if they exaggerate what we’re focused on in our daily lives, either way, they’re a wonderful resource.
    What a rich place to turn to for our writing.

    I have sometimes incorporated dreams in my writing, but not nearly as often as might. But when I do turn to dreams, I find it is an amazing trip…..

    Thanks for the great reminder. I’ll turn back to dreams once again, and see what arises……

    • Hi Michele. I have always found dreams to be fascinating — all the more so because we know so little about them. I personally think they have a range of functions, depending on the dreamer’s needs. Symbolism in dreams varies from person to person (depending on how each individual interprets any given symbol), so it makes sense that their very purpose varies as well. One dream’s purpose might be to clear out clutter while another serves to work out issues. It’s just an idea I’ve been toying with. Maybe someday science will finally figure it out.

  6. Anthony says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Interesting post as well as the replys that accompanied it. I’ve read some books (self help) that actually recommend journaling your dreams as they may hold some certain insights as to what your subconscious is trying to say to you. Your article made me think that this might be worth pursing, especially now that I’ve started writing more and taking my writing seriously. It may turn out to be a good source of inspiratio. The thing about my dreams though is they hardly make any sense to me at all. Perhaps I should stop trying to make any sense and just write what I dreamt. We’ll just have to see.



    • Hi Anthony. I think it’s a good idea to write down the dream and worry about what it means later (or not at all), especially if your reason for recording the dream is to gain inspiration for writing. I know that dreams are used and examined in many capacities, which is why the study of dreams is almost as fascinating as the dreams themselves. Good luck to you.

  7. James Thayer says:

    I want to add a couple of cautions about using a character’s dreams in fiction. First, interior monologue (a character’s thoughts) is usually the least interesting aspect of a novel, and should always be made as short as possible. But dreams aren’t just interior monologue, they are uncontrolled interior monologue, meaning that not only does the reader have to listen to the character think, the reader has to listen to the character think a dream, and as we all know, dreams are flighty, and because they aren’t even anchored in the story—they are dreams floating in the character’s head—are seldom of interest. If the dream isn’t flighty, it isn’t credible.
    And a second reason dreams are a problem in a novel is that a story demands the reader suspend disbelief. The reader is sitting in a chair reading a novel, and the reader knows that the story isn’t really happening, that it is only words on a page. But the reader suspends disbelief because he wants to enjoy the story as it unfolds. But a dream asks the reader to suspend disbelief twice; once for the story, and then again for the dream. The dream is fiction within fiction. This double suspension is often too much for readers. It brings their heads up from the pages.
    But most importantly, agents and editors flip through pages containing dreams. They simply aren’t interested.
    There are exceptions. If the character is Orual in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche, and Orual’s dreams are messages from the gods, then maybe a dream sequence is fine. But this is an exception.

    • James, you make some good points about interior monologue and dreams in a work of fiction. I’m in agreement, but I have to point out that I’ve talked to many readers and writers who are fans of interior monologue — even some who enjoy works of fiction that are mostly comprised of characters’ inner thoughts. Personally, I prefer when the characters are revealed through the story’s action, and I think this is probably the majority opinion on the matter (thus the old adage: show, don’t tell).

  8. Terry Dassow says:

    When I was in university, I wrote a zine which was structured in the illogical time lapsing which dreams often move through. There are so many ways to use dreams in writing! I love this topic, thanks for writing about it.