by Jeamus Wilkes —
“Welcome to My Nightmare”
Inspired to Scare (ItS) is a bimonthly column by writer, artist, and actor Jeamus Wilkes. ItS is designed to help horror and dark fiction writers plant the seeds of inspiration and nurture its resulting creativity.
Welcome to the inaugural entry for this Inspired to Scare (ItS) column. ItS’s primary function is to stir the pot of creative juices necessary to help the horror or dark fiction writer get words on the page. It’s the first trickle of water in breaking the dam of writer’s block. I could go on with the metaphors, but you get the idea.
In curing creative anemia, often all we need is for our brains to go in a different direction or take a nontraditional approach in creation. I’ll share my own experiences with this, and also relate the experiences and advice of other writer-creators who were able to get out of the creative desert, and I’ll fine tune all of this specifically for us purveyors of the macabre.
My opening shot for Inspired to Scare is “dream journaling.”
Dream journaling is keeping a record of sleeping dreams, waking dream experiences, and your personal reflections on those dreams. It’s easy to start dream journaling, as step one is to procure a journal. You can get one in the office and stationery supplies section of most stores, or a fancy Moleskine notebook of various sizes. Get that journal and own it: Draw on the cover, stickerize it, hot glue googly eyes to it, or keep it as formal in appearance as you like. But own it. These are your dreams. If you want to maintain privacy, proceed with caution in use of online journals, as blogs and journal apps can be hacked or jammed up with fine print allowing outside parties into your head. Invasion of dream privacy makes for a great creepy story idea but probably not a great experience.
My journal has a name/moniker: The Nightmare Country. Not all dreams are bad ones, but for me all of them live in that realm I call the Nightmare Country, where the subconscious traffics with the uncanny, the strange, and can turn fearful at the drop of a hat. A few years ago I decided to put it all on the page. The journal page. The dream diary.
I know some use the dream diary to attempt interpretation or to encourage lucid dreaming. I don’t do either of those things. I try to approach it as the mind offloading without conscious interference. Let it flow. Let the dreams come. Let the nightmares run and wash away. Whereas I don’t encourage those genuinely struggling with regular bad dreams or the same repeating nightmare to keep enduring it (and I hope you have access to mental health resources to mitigate those bad dreams), I do encourage you to let your dream life have its way. And if you are struggling, journaling can be therapeutic.
Write it down as soon as you can upon waking. If you’re late in writing it down, that’s fine. Recall as much as you can. You will only be a few entries into your dream journal when inspiration for a story lands. A dream I had about a creepy kid guardian angel/phantasm became the foundation for my short story, “I Only See Her When I Choke.” Another about hearing the moans and shuffling of zombies outside my apartment became “When the Spirit Leaveth the Flesh.” Dreams will be mashed up with your waking world in your work, and it will be the better for it.
In translating dreams to paper, you certainly have the considerations of grammar and punctuation to make it presentable. But I encourage you to leave as much of that unnatural, uncanny fog and aether of dreamland in your work that you can. Don’t be Freud or Jung or anyone else seeking to explain what is often unexplainable. Leave the unease there, and it will be all the better for it, and your dream then becomes a shared experience. In a sense, the best “straight” horror fiction is only modified dream-stuff. Welcoming the world to your nightmare keeps those elements necessary to throw the conscious mind off-balance in an entertaining way rarely seen in fiction. Welcome the world to your nightmare, and thank you for entering mine.
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- Bulkeley, Kelly. “The Oldest Surviving Dream Journals.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Mar. 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dreaming-in-the-digital-age/201603/the-oldest-surviving-dream-journals.
- Coxon, Dan, and Richard V. Hirst. Writing the Uncanny. Dead Ink, 2021.