In today’s NY Times, novelist Colson Whitehead wrote an interesting and in some ways possibly quite helpful piece titled “How to Write.” Whitehead opens the piece saying, “The art of writing can be reduced to a few simple rules. I share them with you now.”
The 11 rules cover everything from writing from experience (incorporating autobiographical elements into fiction), to being more concise (don’t use three words when one will do), to taking more risks and having more adventures (then write about said adventures), but one rule stood out to me.
Rule number 5 was to keep a dream diary. I love this idea because I think that dreams can be marvelously strange and inspirational. My problem is that I don’t dream. Or at least, I almost never remember my dreams. I tend to better recall my nightmares, but even that doesn’t happen often. And it also just happens that I have recurring nightmares about zombies, which I would never use as inspiration for writing because I’m pretty certain writing about zombies would only inspire more nightmares….
Since they (sadly) do comprise the majority of entries, I would like to share an excerpt from a ‘standard’ zombie nightmare that I have recorded in the Google doc/pseudo-diary that I use to record the rare dream snippets that I do remember.
Part 1: In some bunker, there are lots of bookshelves or desks or something like in a library. Crowded, dank, full of scared people running from zombies. Everyone keeps retreating inwards (deeper underground?) but we never actually see the zombies. I’m terrified sick of the impending doom and contemplate ways to quickly kill myself if I need to (to kill myself before they can get to me in case I become trapped and can’t escape – death is a far better alternative than becoming a zombie).
Part 2: At home, in the living room, alone. Frantically calling someone about how I got stranded alone here. There are zombies outside on the streets. I’m holding a weapon, a chair leg with four long nails coming out of it, like from one of the fight scenes in the movie Kill Bill. Three middle-aged women, strangers, come screaming through the front door, running away from the zombies. I’m scared that they’ve been infected, so I kill them all with blows to the head using my weapon.
I honestly have no idea why I’m so scared of zombies – I’m a science major** for goodness sake, I don’t need anyone to tell me that there’s no such thing as the living dead. And I’m also a little worried what the nightmares say about me (I swear I’m not violent and don’t only think about death?). In my defense, the weird weapon in the second dream is not original, I had been watching Kill Bill earlier that day. I don’t think my subconscious is that good at inventing murder weapons.
Anyways…. I’ve heard that writing down dreams as soon as you wake up helps you to remember them, so I’ve been trying to do this. Hopefully I’ll have (and remember) some interesting dreams (not nightmares!) in the near future. They may even inspire some writing. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I’ll just try and plan some adventures.
*This was exactly two days before I took my General GRE exam. For a while I was anxious that somehow this was a bad sign and that I would do poorly on my exam, but I didn’t. So hah.
**Interestingly, a number of my zombie nightmares are set in Baker Lab, the chemistry building at Cornell. There is a certain internal staircase that I will avoid walking in alone because a number of my nightmares have ended with me trapped in that staircase.