Dream desperately

I’ve never grown up. Not really. I’m still a big dumb kid, clumsy with puppy-like energy and with that big dumb look on my face when I’m caught doing something naughty. I still need my bed-time stories. But there’s no-one to read them to me anymore. So I read them to myself.

This is, ultimately why I write. I can’t sleep. I have a long history of insomnia and restlessness. So I developed a technique, as one does, of calming my mind and setting myself clear to dream. I tell myself stories.

Just about everything I’ve ever written has been composed in this state: when I’ve lain in bed and tried to distract myself from the morning. In that slow, suggestible state I have created worlds and wonders and witches and wrestlers: stories become multi-volume epics, rewritten and rewritten like a palimpsest until nothing of the original remains. When I’m dozing on bus or train, semi-conscious as a passenger in a car, focussing on song-lyrics and what they’re saying between the words.

This is why I write. Because without my stories I’d be a haunted, pale figure who carries poison in his fingertips.

Night Shift was a meta-story: a tale within a tale, a side-project that I snipped out almost complete from its surrounding skein. Oneiromancer is a small part of a wider cycle, selected because it’s the most real part of a whole horrorshow of freaks and weirdos.

Which is not to say that I could use these tales in the form in which they were originally created. Composing tales in the head and setting them out on paper – for others to eventually read – are entirely separate disciplines. The semi-conscious ramblings of a sleep-starved mind do not a good story make. It’s like translating from a foreign language – or, rather, updating a 19th century tale for a modern audience. The ideas are there, present in their shambling, lumpen form. Now you must build a new shiny body, replacing magic with science and putting the machine into God.

I am a sinner because I don’t keep a notebook and I don’t scribble half-formed ideas when they occur to me. I believe in the filter of my memory to sieve out the bad ideas and to concentrate the good. To me, writing down ideas is to disturb the fragile equilibrium of my thoughts. I don’t want to be inspired: I want to be haunted. I want to be hunted. Rousing from that blissful state is to lose it, like a lama too eager for Nirvana. Desire is the enemy.

Trust your mind. Trust your dreams. As you’re lying down to sleep remember that those thoughts will one day return to support you, maybe five years, maybe a decade from now (both Oneiromancer and Night Shift were originally devised just this side of the millennium).

Terry Pratchett once signed a book for me with the advice ‘dream desperately’. I’ve still to find wiser words for a writer.

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