I am a person prone to nightmares. They started en force when I was in graduate school. The subject of terror was spiders, occasionally snakes, and they were always, always coming at me while I slept.
As life has moved on and I morphed from an engaged graduate student to a married mother of three, the nightmares have changed in subject, but became no less frightening. I’ll still find the random spider, scurrying over my face whilst I sleep, forcing me into full wakefulness slapping at my face; but mostly now, my nightmares are about my children. This comes as no surprise, I’m sure.
Last night I had two nightmares. Yikes. Two. What’s wrong with me? First, I’ll give a brief recap of the bad dreams and second, I’ll give myself a diagnosis.
I was on a monorail-type train at an amusement park. Think Disney. This monorail was taking my family and me to another location. When my dream started, I was safely buckled in my seat (it was an open monorail, resembling a combination of a roller coaster and the swings). Then I realized my four year old son wasn’t beside me. He had been sat several rows back and was loosely buckled. Well, you can imagine where this is going, though there was no tragedy, so don’t go that far. Phew.
But as we flew across the sky, I began to shout at someone to stop the monorail or to please buckle him in better. Suddenly the monorail started into a series of loops, upside down, sideways, and every way in between. Imagine a mama’s terror and thus you’ll tap into the feelings left in the wake of this nightmare.
To draw it to an end, the monorail stopped and I woke up before I managed to make my way back to him, but he was fine. He did not fall out. Deep breath.
The second nightmare was of an enormous cross between a pit bull and a wolf, like the wolves in Twilight’s New Moon. Ferocious. Deadly. Gargantuan. And this beast was in my house for some strange reason. He wasn’t attacking me or my family (and it was in my childhood home, not the home I share with my husband and children). But the undertone of mad aggression simmered like a sweltering heat. I was terrified of this animal. And I wanted to get him outside.
So what else would a mother of three have in her pocket than a lollypop. I gave him the lollypop, stem and all. He nearly devoured my hand as he scrambled to take the small candy. He was several times bigger than me, but I managed, with him attached to my hand, to lead him to the door. I shoved my hand outside, somehow still holding the sucker. He followed and it took several minutes of struggle, with the beast getting madder by the minute, to get his substantial body entirely outside. Finally he was, but he wouldn’t release my hand. I tried to slam the door with my arm still hanging out of it. Then I woke up.
So, what’s wrong with me?
Now for the analysis:
First of all, I don’t think these dreams had anything to do with an actual fear of my baby falling out of a roller coaster, or a giant wolf eating me. They are a result of stress. Of fear.
Yesterday, I made the very difficult decision to chuck a manuscript that I’ve been working on for nearly a year. I got tired of pushing, prodding and manipulating this work into something it, simply, wasn’t.
It was a very liberating, and frightening, decision. In the midst of today’s writing and publishing atmosphere, I feel an urgent need to produce. The message that I regularly come across is that if you want one novel to sell, then write and publish another. Build your name, your presence, your published book list.
I am busy. Aren’t we all? So when I devote time to writing, I am often taking that time away from other things (people!) that need my attention. So, putting aside a manuscript that I have worked on for a full year was not an easy decision.
But the story wasn’t right. No matter how many hours I devoted to improving this story, it was broken and I finally realized there was no mending it. I held onto it for as long as I did because I felt I had to; that all of those hours would be wasted if I didn’t keep pushing forward. If no publisher wanted it, I was committed to self-publishing it.
Yesterday, though, was a turning point. There was no specific reason why. It just was. And I put the manuscript aside. Like opening the flood gates, freeing my mind of a story that wouldn’t work, I plotted an entire new story and even wrote the very first chapter.
I think I had the bad dreams, though, as a way of ‘giving up the ghost’. They came the night I’d put the old story aside. Perhaps it would make more sense if the nightmares came before I’d made the decision. But I see them as coming at the right time. It was the last remnants of fear, regret, stubbornness to stick with a story that wasn’t working. These feelings floated out of me and left me as the last dream came to an end.
Now I feel light, determined and free. I have taken back control of my writing. I would rather create a beautiful piece of well-written fiction over the next two years than rush and publish a story that is no good, just to add to my list.