Some Renowned Writers Dream Up Ideas--Literally


Stephen King had written about 700 pages of the novel “It” when he got stuck. He went to bed frustrated, thinking about what should happen next.

The answer emerged in a nightmare as scary as the horror story he was writing.

King dreamed he was the little girl in the book, trapped in a creepy dump with discarded refrigerators that had leeches hanging inside. One flew out and sucked the blood from the girl’s hand. The dream found its way into the novel.

“I woke up and I was very frightened,” he recalled in Naomi Epel’s book, “Writers Dreaming.” “But I was also very happy. Because then I knew what was going to happen.”


A literary publicist who has listened to the dreams of countless authors, Epel is no stranger to the mysterious messages of the subconscious. It was one of her own dreams that inspired the 1993 book, and now she shows aspiring artists how dreams can nurture their work.

“It’s like we have the dreaming brain that thinks in images and is not linear, and then the critical brain. You have to have both,” she explained while taking a break at last week’s annual conference of the Assn. for the Study of Dreams.

“Most creative people at least trust that information when it comes up,” she added. “Many people don’t remember their dreams every day. When a big dream happens, they listen, they go with their process of exploration.”

William Styron listened. One morning he woke up with the image of a beautiful young woman with concentration camp numbers tattooed on her arm carrying a book.

That very morning, Styron recalled in Epel’s book, he wrote down the first words of “Sophie’s Choice” exactly as they appear in the novel.

But writers can do more than transcribe their dreams. The images are so powerful that many writers, Epel found, try to get into a dreamlike state to generate new ideas.


Maya Angelou said she plays solitaire to hypnotize herself back in time.

“I don’t know how this is like dreaming, but it is,” Angelou told the author.

During a writing workshop at the conference, Epel gave Angelou’s use of cards a new twist. In 50 cards Epel created to jump-start writing, artists are offered strategies ranging from “change your point of view” to “zoom in zoom out”--reminiscent of Amy Tan’s practice of focusing on an image that will take her into a scene whose details gradually emerge in the writing it inspires.

Lily Myers, who attended the workshop, was impressed.

“These people have started here, so I can too,” said Myers, 45, of Oakland, Calif. “I’ve written about my dreams but never thought of using my dreams to write about other things. That seems like a juicy new possibility.”

In 1979 Epel spent a year working in Berkeley at a now-defunct home for schizophrenics who would interpret one another’s dreams, “and all sorts of wild things would happen.” But she never imagined how far a single dream several years ago would take her.

In the dream, she was in a basement, watching a man who clearly didn’t want to be disturbed working at a table. She was quiet, so he let her stay. They didn’t speak.

A fellow dream buff Epel described it to recommended that she spend some quiet time alone. She made her way to the word processor, and “Writers Dreaming” emerged.

“It was because of that dream that I went from dreaming of success to having some kind of success,” Epel said. “It was definitely transforming.”