What would you write if you knew you wouldn't be judged for its content? How much could you pour onto the page, if you could blame your silly subconscious for any plot holes and nonsense? And how good would it feel to actually publish something? When I started writing down a dream, I didn't realize I would be answering these questions for myself.
It was one of those dreams that makes you want to hit the snooze button ten times, in the hopes of recapturing the vivid feelings and fantasy. However, it didn't feel like inspiration. It wasn't like a choir of muses singing. It was just another weird dream, typically forgotten by breakfast.
Then I thought of something the writer Ryan North had said. It was an offhand observation, a footnote in one of his Squirrel Girl comics. Basically, he was complaining that some of his friends mined their dreams for story ideas, and it MUST BE NICE to get work done in your sleep. I had thought, hm, I think I could be one of those people. Sometimes my dreams are like stories.
I almost shrugged off the thought and went about my day. But then I decided, why not. I'll just write down what I remember.
What followed was my most productive day of writing ever. I have had higher word count days when doing near-stream-of-consciousness sprints for NaNoWriMo, but the results had never added up to a real, coherent story. The day I wrote down my dream, I ended up with 3800 words that had a beginning, middle, and end - with character growth and everything. A real short story! That I was actually excited for people to read!
Writing my dream, I didn't worry if it was the best story I could imagine. The imagining was mostly done already. I didn't overthink it. I simply followed the sequence of events I remembered, added some dialogue, just a whiff of logic, and tried to capture something of the feelings I had experienced when I was the main character.
The words flowed easily, because the stakes were low. It was just a dream, not the carefully crafted work of my intellect. My ego wasn't really on the line. I took breaks to make meals and take care of my family, but all I wanted to do was finish writing it down. And just before midnight, I did!
I had written a fifteen-page short story in a single day. On a whim. I basically blew my own mind, since I've struggled for years to finish even a first draft of my books.
The next day, I lightly edited it and entitled it Whipped Cream Ninja Dream, which really sums it up in all its ridiculous glory. I logged into my dusty wattpad account and published my first story.
I can't tell you how proud I am of this particular feather in my cap, even though it's "just" wattpad. I put my work out there, without over-identifying with the result. I wasn't putting my whole SELF out there, laying my soul open to review. It was just a thing I made. It makes me realize that a large portion of perfectionism is fear of being judged as a person based on what you create.
The best piece of writing advice I've heard, and one of the hardest to follow: finish something. It's a no-brainer, and so simple that it's tempting to skip over it and try to find more "secrets" and "tricks," figuring you'll get to the "finishing" part once you have something of high enough quality to merit the words "The End."
But finishing projects is a good habit to get into. Without that, the rest is a non-starter, no matter how dedicated you are to your craft. Neil Gaiman is famous for offering this as his top tip, and it's hard to argue.
I'm not going to say that you're "not really a writer" if you don't finish things - not at all. If you write, you're a writer. That's how I've styled myself for a number of years, and rightly so. But let me tell you, I really needed this merit badge. It's a small taste of vindication in my epic quest to finish a book, and all because I let myself follow a dream.