Waking dreams


harnessing the subconscious can release powerful ideas.

In his book, ‘Christabel, Kubla Khan, and the Pains of Sleep,' the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes how, probably under the influence of laudanum, he dreamt his fantastical poem ‘Kubla Khan’:

On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter.

Coleridge never did finish the poem – only 54 lines of ‘Kubla Khan’ exist – but the section we have certainly possesses a dream-like quality.

The poet Milton, who was blind, claimed he used to dream each section of his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost,’ whilst he was asleep and then dictate it to his daughter each morning.

Clearly the subconscious plays a big part in the poetic imagination. Many writers claim their best ideas come to them in that half-state between waking and sleeping. It seems that as we drift into the day, our minds are most fertile, offering us insights into writing that prove elusive as we sit frowning over a computer.

When I was writing the creative part of my Masters dissertation, comprising 16,000 words of my novel, I found myself waking up a lot with ideas whirling round my head. It was exhausting! I kept a notebook by my bed (still do) and jotted down my thoughts, trying to make them as legible as possible so I could access them the next day. Some of the elements of the novel I am most pleased with came from those feverish times.

It’s not good for insomniacs, but harnessing our subconscious can certainly work for our creativity!