Transforming Nightmares into Novels

Even unpleasant things can turn out in your favor.

Listen. I know it’s super cliche to talk about stories that were inspired by dreams. But I’m not talking about dreams. I’m talking about nightmares.

I have anxiety dreams all the time, so I guess you could say I’m used to waking up in a cold, dark panic. But, at least for me, there’s a difference between dreams that terrify you and nightmares that just straight up creep you out.

So I had a nightmare the other night – it didn’t last long, but I still remember its storyline. I woke up not in a panic, but almost in wonder: that was weird, where did that come from, what does it mean?

Granted, I don’t really put much thought into what dreams “mean.” But just having woken up, in that place somewhere between asleep and awake, I remember thinking, That would make a really interesting thriller.

And this, my friends, is how new story ideas are born.

It’s not the nightmare itself that inspired a story, but it did make way for a few interesting ideas for the start of a new book. Thinking about it still creeps me out, but in that way you know you have to put it on paper someday. I really like that feeling – how you just know you have to make a story out of something, even though you don’t know how all the pieces fit together yet.

Technically, this all started with a particularly unpleasant experience – nightmares are not fun. But the idea that good things often come out of bad things applies here, too – you could have an awful life experience, but maybe someday you can use bits and pieces of that to build a new story.

Of course I’m already working on finishing two books and am only participating in one (my last) WriMo this year, so I might not get the chance to put this idea into words until November. But that’s okay – sometimes the best ideas are the ones that roll around in your head for awhile. There’s a time for creative spontaneity and a time to let an idea develop before you introduce it to the world.

All this to say, one of the most enjoyable things about making writing a prominent part of your life is training yourself to believe nothing that happens to you is insignificant. I treat all my life experiences as though I’m supposed to save what I see and learn for later. Without experience, you’re very limited in what you have the capacity to write about – it’s not about what you already know, but about what you’re willing to learn.

The nightmares can refrain from interrupting my sleep for awhile, thanks – but at least I now have some motivation to attempt to write my first thriller. Yay?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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