Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kimberly Dean on Dreaming and Writing

Kimberly Dean
What She Wants at Midnight
Publisher: Pocket
Pub Date: March 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust

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Author Web site:

What She Wants at Midnight: The man of Devon Bradshaw’s dreams is exactly that—in her dreams. For months, Cael Oneiros has watched Devon while she sleeps. As a Dream Wreaker, it’s his job to bestow dreams on sleeping humans, yet with Devon, he wants more. When she casts a love spell, he gets it. But Devon’s magic didn't come with a warning label, and soon their illicit romance has consequences nobody expected.

Dream a Little Dream

It’s always interesting what you run across when you’re doing research for a story. For my Dream Wreaker series, which kicks off with What She Wants at Midnight, I’ve done a lot of research on the subject of dreaming. It’s been fascinating to learn about the sleep stages, what happens during REM, and what dreams might mean. Yet one article I kept, but didn’t use ("Science Paying Attention to Not Paying Attention" by Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press, March 19, 2007,,
regarded daydreams or mind wandering.

It made me wonder if writers’ thought processes are different from those of “normal” people.

According to research results, on average people are not thinking about what they are doing thirty to forty percent of the time. Unfortunately for us writers, this includes people who are reading, although to a lesser percentage. The human brain just seems hard-wired to wander. Most often, the mind slips to everyday things such as “to do” lists. Fantasies are the next most common, with worries coming in third. In this way, the human mind seems to devote time to problem solving or planning for the future.

As a writer, what do you think about when your mind goes on a little side trip? Some writers may tend to fall into the fantasy category to develop new story ideas. Personally, that requires concentrated thought for me. My wandering thoughts are like everyone else’s . . . I go to my “to do” list. Yet this is where I wonder if creative types differ. My “to do” list includes my writing. Most often, my wandering thoughts go to the mechanics of writing, such as how can I best get my point across? How can I give a hint without giving away the final storyline twist? What’s the perfect sentence to hook a reader at the end of a chapter or how can I segue from one scene to the next? The answer often comes to me in these little flashes of random thought.

I’ll get words. A sentence will pop into my head or a crystal-clear, concise idea will appear. For instance, in What She Wants at Midnight, my editor asked me to add an epilogue that showed where the characters ended up. I consciously chose a direction, but it just wouldn’t come together. I was doing something totally unrelated when a new thought hit me. Why not concentrate on a secondary character? I did, and that approach worked out much better.

So how do your daydreams work? Do you get more than grocery lists and carpooling schedules? Does anyone see pictures? How long do these little blips last? Or do your wandering thoughts never include your works in progress? Tell me, everyone, just how do we do this thing we do?


Anonymous said...

My wanderings range from the mundane "I left my coffee downstairs and the clothes in the washer" to the self-analyzing "why did I listen to that critique last year?" but my favorite wanderings are the "what ifs."

I unconsciously turn my worries and fantasies into what-if situations,and then I take the time to make my contingency plan. "What if someone came after me and my family died instead? Where would I run? Who would I call for help? How would I convince him to help me? What would be his biggest struggle? What mistake would I make that would endanger us all?"

If I like the answers enough, I write the first scene.

When reading fiction, I judge a book's value by its ability to distract me from this analytical process. An excellent book will make me forget all about sentence structure and dialogue tags, and only at the end will I think about character arc. I think it's different for non-writers; they're fighting a different set of distractions.

Anonymous said...

I should add that distraction from the analytical process is not the only measure of value, just a very important one for writers!

Spy Scribbler said...

LOL, I love this post! My wandering thoughts are more like obsessive fantasizing in the world of my WIP. No blips. I fear I'd sooner fit into the absent-minded artist stereotype than any other. It's to the point where I even have a list on my frig that reminds me to grab my keys, purse, cell, and coat. I have a list in every room, to-dos on my palm.

I swear, I'm not stupid. It's just I'm writing in my head that much. I have to see what happens in my head and see the results of different scenarios before I write. I probably daydream two hours for every hour I write.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I have a routine of going on long (3 to 5 mile) power walks with my wife. More often than not, it's not a social event; we both have our iPods on. I tend to have mindless/wordless dance music on to push my pace.

During the walk, I let my mind pick up on the last bit of writing I've done and it goes on auto-pilot. Plot lines continue, conversations happen, and scenes materialize. Sure, there's the occasional visit with Oprah, but I can usually pull myself back to reality and place myself back into the fiction at hand.

Kimber Li said...

I have three notebooks- one in my purse, one at one end of the house and one at the other end of the house. That way I can write down the mundane and the imaginary at any time and not forget. I prefer to jot down the mundane and spend most of my brain cells on the imaginary, of course. But, with a full Real Life, I can't sit down and write whenever I want. It all has to be scheduled. If I have a scene worked out in my dreams, I can jot it down and not forget to add it to the story next time I sit down.

I've researched dreaming a lot too, because of an alien species in one of my stories.

Julie Weathers said...


First off, What She Wants At Midnight sounds very intriguing and is on my to buy list now. Shows what a good blurb can do.

Fascinating post and questions.

Books and Writers Community has a similar thread going on now in Research and Craft.

My mind very often goes to my WIP, when I am doing other things.

I was painting the hallway one day, listening to Celtic music, when Garry Owens started playing. The drums in it inspired a scene with a little orphan boy playing a drum as he stood beside a commander reviewing troops. The whole scene played out in my head up to the point of his death several chapters later as he tried to warn the troops. It was like watching bits and pieces of a movie.

A scene I call In The Lonely Nights was one of those that come to me in that twilight time, when a person isn't quite asleep, but neither are they fully awake.

The twilight time and my mind wandering times are when new characters appear or loose ends get tied up. If I can, I try to think about something that is bothering me about my WIP. I often dream the solution.

Probably shouldn't admit that using my name. For me, my WIP is never far away so it pops up, when my mind is wandering.

I do have to be careful what I let into my mind, though. A writers discussion about 120 Days of Sodom prompted me to look it up on Wiki. Mistake. That I am consciously having to force out of my mind so I can think of something constructive.

Anyway, excellent job on this series premise and also an excellent post.

Anonymous said...

julie weathers said: >>>one of those that come to me in that twilight time, when a person isn't quite asleep, but neither are they fully awake.

The twilight time and my mind wandering times are when new characters appear or loose ends get tied up. If I can, I try to think about something that is bothering me about my WIP. I often dream the solution.<<<

This is me EXACTLY, Julie. That half-asleep, half-awake time is when my muse speaks.
That's what I love this post and wholeheartedly agree that writer's minds work differently! And it's a unique bond to share!
Sarah C.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is fascinating. (And I'm glad it's not just me!) The "what if" daydreaming that Ana mentioned would stress me out. Yet I often go for walks like Wilfred to intentionally daydream.

Julie, it's interesting you brought up the subject of using nighttime dreams to help you write. I just wrote an article on that very subject -- using dreams as a muse. If you're a member of RWA, you can find it in this month's Romance Writer's Report.

Paty Jager said...

When I day dream it always seems to end up being a scene playing out in my head. Maybe not the next one to be written but one that gives me insight into my characters. And that can happen if I'm scrubbing a floor, folding clothes, or driving a tractor. when my mind wanders it goes to my characters.

Interesting blog!

Angie Fox said...

Great post! I'm going to have to pay attention to just where my thoughts wander. Mostly, I think, they tend toward whatever book I'm reading at the moment - why a character made a certain decision, what might happen, how the author structured a certain scene. Sometimes, I think of my WIP, but that tends to lead to illegible ramblings on the back of envelopes or wet, drippy notes written half-in, half-out of the shower.

Although I have to admit the idea my soon-to-be release came when I was feeding my infant son at 3:00 a.m. The house was quiet and my mind was going. For the most part, I'd get excited about an idea overnight, only to wake up the next morning, read my notes and wonder what I was thinking. But the geriatric biker witches idea stuck.

Rachel Glass said...

I do something kind of funny; in business meetings, if someone has an interesting phrase that catches my ear, I'll write it down. For instance, today it was, "Let me hazard an opinion here."

More often than not, it seems like coincidence just brings up a line or phrase, or description that fits in perfectly with whatever novel I happen to be working on.

I think that everything happens for a reason, and it's amazing what inspiration is around you. I've recorded with my hand-held, descriptions of the trees while looking at them, waiting for my husband in the car, or heck, just anything really.

The wonderful thing about being a writer is there is always something to write about. I love it. : )

Heidi Willis said...

Fascinating post, and a great question. It's nice to know I'm not alone. I think about my writing all the time. I think about the characters and what they are going to do next. I let them talk to each other in my head and try to get the dialogue down. I think about where the next chapter needs to head.

When I go to sleep I lay in bed working out the tough stuff, like Julie wrote, and that is when the best ideas come.

When I'm reading, though, I am undivided reading. Unless the book is really boring or excruciatingly detailed and repetitive, I am 100% in the book. If something sparks a thought or debate or question in my mind, I put the book down and talk with my husband (if he's in the room) or make a mental note to discuss it later with someone.

I love these author posts! There have been some really good ones lately that really make me think about myself as an author or about the power of my writing (and sometimes lack of).

Thanks, Jessica, for letting them speak. And thanks authors for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Shoot, if I wrote according to my nighttime dreams, I'd be in trouble. I'd end up with something even wackier than Angie's book.

I do most of my mind wandering thinking while I'm riding in the car and my husband is driving. I like to think about the details of my worldbuilding, and sometimes work out little bits of dialog with my characters.

I don't know where I get initial ideas. My current WIP came from thinking of the most ridiculous possible romantic conflict ever. That's when I paired up a sex slave with a militant nun. Let the games begin. LOL

Anonymous said...

I loved this post because so often I find the germination of a new story idea coming from my dreams. I'll get to that conscious-but-still-asleep phase and I'll continue the story, nudging it along, exploring more of the setting. If that story stays in my consciousness after I wake up, I play with it in my mind some more. If it is still there hours, days later, then I start writing things down.

Before I started writing them down, I had one of these play in my mind for months - spare moments were stolen to visit these characters and progress their lives. I figure that if I can remember the details enough to continue the storyline in consciousness, then it is a good idea to pursue. If I forget it, then the story wasn't good.

After sharing a dream to a friend about wanting to write, I started writing down the "dream" going through my head. That book has been through several evolutions and is a strong book I am currently shopping around.

I love that I have vivid dreams and I think this is what makes being a writer special. I get to escape into a fantasy land of my imagination and, hopefully, bring a few others along with me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:46... You're lucky you can remember your dreams without writing them down. Another tidbit I picked up in my research was that only ten minutes after waking, sleepers forget nearly ninety percent of their dreams. That's why it's recommended for dream analysis (or to retain story ideas) that a notebook be kept on your bedstand within reach.

Kate Douglas said...

Thank goodness for daydreams and night dreams, or I wouldn't be a published author! I get my best ideas when I'm not paying attention. Great post,

Kate Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate Douglas said...

Sorry, my post showed up twice!

Joya said...

I think the problem-solving thing has more to do with the subconscious mind/an altered state of consciousness than it does with (day)dreams because in my psychology class, we learned that problem solving does not occur in dreams. I think this is because we cannot dream until we are cognitively mature, meaning children don't have the cognitive capacity to have true 'narrative' dreams (which includes fantasies and whatnot) until age 7-8 (if I'm remembering correctly), and children do solve problems, of sorts, every day.

In fact, some people believe in the activation-synthesis theory, which states that dreams are the brain's attempt to make sense of random neural activity. It suggests that the brain is activated by the pons (during REM) and so the brain sort of generates a story to try to make sense of the neural activity.

So anyway, I think the 'daydream' thing where you think about your to-do list or maybe you're on the treadmill and randomly figure out how to properly word a sentence is all about an altered state of consciousness, which generally occurs when you're doing something seemingly mundane (which makes sense with the treadmill since once you're on it for a while, you just get into a rhythm, or even with the to-do list since you have to ACTIVELY think about it first [waking consciousness], but people think about their to-do lists so often that THAT becomes mundane, which is when they slip into that 'altered state of consciousness' where problem solving might occur).

Of course, I'm just an undergrad student, so what would I know? I've learned not to question it, though. When those rare moments where the perfect word or the greatest plot twist comes into my head, I just take it and run. :)

Interesting post, though! The comments have been fun to read. :)

Julie Weathers said...

Kimberly, I'm learning quite a few writers tap into that twilight time.

I used to dream movies. Now I content myself with bits and pieces of works. They aren't always exactly what I am working on at the moment, but they find a home sooner or later.

With my murder mystery, I could almost program myself to work subconsciously on a stumbling block and wake up with the answer.

I wish I was a member of RWA, that would be a fascinating read. Unfortunately, although my fantasies include some romance verging on erotic at times, I don't have the talent to write romance.

I stopped by Hastings to pick up one of your books tonight, but they didn't have any so I had to content myself with a new knights templar book.


Julie Weathers said...

Sarah, if you get a chance go by books and writers forum. Not sure of the exact name now since it's changed a few times since I joined. I have it linked on my blog, though.

One of the new writers was asking if authors actually "hear" their characters talking. That spiraled into a discussion of how writing evolves. It might interest you also.

I may link this thread to them if no one here objects.


Julie Weathers said...

Kimberly, sorry if I am bugging you, but now I am wondering something else.

Do you "hear" your characters? Can you see scenes play out for you?


Anonymous said...

Wow! Aliens, geriatric biker witches, and sex slaves with militant nuns... It just makes you wonder how boring a non-writer's day must be.

If anyone is interested in my Dreams As A Muse article, send me an email at and I'll send it to you.

And shame on Hastings!!

Julie Weathers said...

"Wow! Aliens, geriatric biker witches, and sex slaves with militant nuns... It just makes you wonder how boring a non-writer's day must be."


A writing exercise one month hinged on the idea, "An Unbroken Glass." I couldn't figure out anything and went to sleep pondering it. I dreamed up a scene where an erotic dancer wants my elf captain to join him in the "dance of love" for the entertainment of the banquet guests. She is quite shocked he expects her to "dance" with him in front of a crowd and drops her wine glass.

I've actually had quite a bit of fun with my erotic dancer.

Life is always intersting for a writer.

Yes, shame on Hastings. They will be ordering some, but I had hoped to pick one up tonight.

I'll be e-mailing you, Kimberly, and thank you for offering to do that. My mind tends to be like a sponge about writing.


Sarahlynn said...

I, too, have to keep a notebook by the bed, though I don't record my dreams. Sometimes thoughts spin harmlessly through my head as I'm trying to fall asleep, but other times they're more insistent and I have to write them down, lose them forever, or lie awake obsessing over them. These thoughts can involve to-do lists, one of my WIP, relationship tension, a blog idea, or anything else.

Just last Sunday afternoon, after getting both of my daughters to sleep and curling up in my bed for a rare weekend nap, I soon found myself irritably tromping out to my desk to type up a short presentation on Down syndrome for young children. I have no need for such a presentation, but I had it in my head and needed to get it out. (It's pretty good, if I do say so myself, and the moment my daughter's preschool class seems to need it, I'm ready!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

I never see my character's faces. It makes it challenging when the art department wants descriptions so they can create covers. I do see some scenes play out. In my book HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, the heroine slips on the ice, tumbles through the door into the gym, and swan dives at the owner's feet. Totally saw that.

I think I might tend to "hear" more than I "see", though. I'll get dialogue, but it's not like I'm hearing voices. As I mentioned before, things come to me in sentence structure. It's very weird how the writer's mind works.

Oh, I also need to give a call out to Kate Douglas who was very helpful to me with my dream article. She uses dreams quite frequently as her muse!

Julie Weathers said...

Just read the dream article. It was outstanding. I'm going to copy it off and put it in my writing notebook to read again if you don't mind.

I was surprised and pleased to see some people have very active dream muses.

Some of my most vivid "memories" of scenes are the ones imprinted in the twilight time. It's like I can walk through the scene and live it.

I was glad to see this isn't a sign I am on the verge of being certified insane.

Diana Gabaldon had some interesting comments along this line. Sometimes it's like watching a scene right in front of you and sometimes it's like the characters are in a heavy bag and they just bump against you and give you an impression of what's going on.

She was much more eloquent, of course.

Anyway, fantstic article and thanks to you and Jessica for opening this discussion.


Anonymous said...

I recently had a debate about dreams with a writer friend of mine. He defined it as follows:

“I like dreaming. It’s like living twice a day.” I agree. In one life, we are encased in realities; in the other, we roam lands marred by neither limitations nor boundaries.

I also think writers create a third world, one that permits travel between the two, giving us security and substance, yet also a vastness into which we escape and explore. This third world is what I believe we share with our readers.

I don’t think our minds function like “normal” people. There are times when a thought hits me to such an extent that I cease to be fully aware of my surroundings. Or maybe more aware? All I know is that I can glance at a face or an object, and see what others fail to acknowledge.

A little man on a park bench isn’t a random stranger, but a person. Full of life and thoughts and feelings. History. I see his eyes from a distance and, without conscious effort, pull the image deeper into myself to take a better look. It’s as if my mind snapped a photo of him and wandered off with it. My imagination decides his eyes are grey, watery, sad, yet kind. Toast and poached eggs for breakfast, ate alone at a small, battered Formica table. Gazed through pale green curtains at the street beyond while an old television played in the background.

Someone is nudging my elbow. “Are you okay?”

Am I? The question washes over me in waves, rippling inward, and it takes me a moment to respond. Suddenly, I am sad. This little old man, long gone, has become a memory—a memory that logic would state is not mine.

When asked what she thought of the little old man, my friend responds, “What man?”

Go figure.

I don’t know how to turn this part of me off; it’s on or it isn’t. Usually on. Overall, I have learned to function through it, letting these inexplicable thought gatherings to flow parallel alongside my “real world.” The general consensus is that I’m a bubblehead. A daydreamer. Weird even.

Sometimes I agree.

Anonymous said...

Great topic! It's so interesting.

I find myself daydreaming when my mind wanders far more often then I make to-do lists or think about daily tasks. I often purposely day dream as well - or I should say purposely create time everyday when I can daydream. My "thinking time" is very necessary to me. I get quite cranky when I don't have it. I often daydream potential scenes from my WIP, but just as often I daydream scenes that I know won't be in the story - they just make the characters more real to me and round them out. I also daydream stories that I'm not writing - a character pops into my head and I make up a story. Usually my daydreaming is very "dialogue" heavy. I do visualize it, but mostly the pictures are sort of hazy or in soft focus.
I go through periods when I don't write very much - and then I dream about writing. I actually dream the words, as if I am reading a book to myself.
I do need to start keeping a notebook by my bed because I have very full movie like dreams and so often think it would be a great story, but then I forget them. I do think though that many of those ideas come out again later when I am writing, even if I don't realize it. I also sometimes have repetitive dreams, where I revisit the same "story" several times...and then those do influence what I am writing.

Anonymous said...

Great topic -- one I just recently discussed with my cp. Often, especially if I'm stuck, I'll have to walk away from the MS and do something very mundane like take a shower. Then once I'm relaxed, I will see a film clip in my head, complete with dialogue. It is not the entire scene; instead, it tends to be the highest point of confict in a scene. When it happens, I run to the laptop. :-)

A completely different situation occurs when I'm very deep into the storyworld. This may sound a little weird, but I feel almost as if I'm in a different state of consciousness. I am so in tune with the characters that nothing else exists. These are the magical writing times, and I think the times when we do our best writing. There are definitely some gold nuggets to mine from the subconscious.

Julie Weathers said...

I've been drawing a blank lately on my WIP due to some outside influences. One of my tried and true critiquers suggested I do a prologue with the murder of the king's guard to set the scene. I had the germ of idea, but it wasn't working.

I read Kimberly's article on dreams twice yesterday and once again before I went to bed.

Ba da bing.

Spider venom, not spices. Tie in the kidnapped girl's family to the murdered monk. Eliminate all witnesses to the web of sorrow.

It was like watching pieces of a puzzle falling into place.

If you all haven't read this article, it is really a treasure.

Anonymous said...

Yay, Julie!!

Thanks everyone for participating. It's been a really interesting discussion.