Advice, Craft, Dream, Fiction, Imagination, Inspiration, Scene, Tips, Writing

Are you dreaming or writing?

You’ve probably heard the term fictive dream, which is when you as a fiction writer do your job so well that you temporarily transport your reader into your story world. We all hope our books do that, right? But before we can transport anyone else, don’t we have to experience it ourselves?

I believe we do. I’ve written about it often on this blog. Some refer to it as being in the zone. I call it dreaming on paper. This fictive dream is the drug that keeps us addicted to writing.

John Gardner wrote this in On Becoming a Novelist:

“In the writing state—the state of inspiration—the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags he can reread what he’s written and find the dream starting up again. This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things—sees them clearly—and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find, understanding even as he writes that he may have to find better words later, and that a change in the words may mean a sharpening or deepening of the vision, the fictive dream or vision becoming more and more lucid, until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead.”

When I’m in this dream writing state, I feel the emotion of the scene. My heartbeat has quickened, tears have sprung to my eyes, or I’ve smiled. It’s glorious!

May you all enter this state of inspiration each time you sit down to write.

This post first appeared on this blog in 2009 titled “State of Inspiration”.

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14 thoughts on “Are you dreaming or writing?”

  1. What a great wish for your readers. I can say that most of the time I do (hence my addiction), and it is glorious. What’s weird is that when I re-read I can’t always tell when I was there and when I was not.


    1. I’ll pay closer attention with this next book, Cathryn, but I believe I can tell. And I think that’s because I “feel” an echo of the dreaming when I read certain parts. Then again, most of Brevity was written that way. I’m having a harder time getting there with this one.


    1. You’re welcome, Erika. When I came across that post, it reminded me how much I enjoyed reading Gardner. I think maybe it’s time to read it again. I never get it all the first time … or second or third. 😉


  2. Perfect. When it happens, it is magical – I love it. It reminds me of my favorite Virginia Wolf quote “it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” Thanks for your wish to all of us Linda.


    1. Oh, I like that quote too, Darlene. I believe it’s true. I think that’s why sometimes we get our best stuff when we’re not trying, when we’re busy with something else.

      And you’re welcome, but we’re even because you shared one with me. 🙂


  3. Except for the upper level and college bound, my 11th graders were 2 – 5 years below reading level. Some were still decoding words by syllables. Some days I would spend an entire class on one page. Read-stop-ask, read-stop-ask. They could speak the words but there was no real engagement with the text. I repeatedly told them, that if pictures did not form in their mind as they read, they were not reading. I suppose I was employing the fictive dream concept without knowing how writers use it as you have presented. It is a reading mechanism as well.


  4. All of my best writing happens when that happens to me. But I’ve found that it WILL NOT happen if I do not have a truly living, inspiration sparked, character. Usually I just spend a few days playing with the character, putting them in a gazillion different situations and grabbing reactions, putting them with other personalities to see the interaction. I’ve got a couple friends that I do it with. It’s a LOT of fun.


      1. It’s a lot of fun. With my main character I’ve been doing it about 6 months now. She’s got an extremely defined personality by now, but I still do it for fun.


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