What Is Dreamzoning? (7 Steps to Finding New Story Ideas)

Every writer knows a thing or two about daydreaming. But what about dreamzoning? What’s that—and how can it help you cultivate inspiration for your storytelling?

Put simplistically, dreamzoning is basically just daydreaming on steroids. It’s purposeful, focused daydreaming. It’s intense. It’s fun. And if you’re a writer, it’s the mother lode of all story ideas.

I’ve named-dropped “dreamzoning” a lot in recent years, but after an exchange on Patreon with Susan Geiger, I realized some readers may not fully understand what I’m talking about. Susan said:

I look forward to trying out “dreamzoning” (I’ve heard you talk about it on your podcast before but never fully understood it….).

Because dreamzoning is such an amazing tool and experience, I figured it was time to do a core post about it.

What Is Dreamzoning?

The word “dreamzone” came into my consciousness years ago when I read From Where You Dream, a transcript of Pulitzer winner Robert Olen Butler’s lectures about “the process of writing fiction.”

In the book, he talked about how he would take the time to find his story inspiration by sitting back at his desk and “zoning out.” He’d watch the pictures in his head, following them, not guiding them but just watching to see what would unfold. Later, he would record the snippets of his imaginings on index cards and use them to formulate an outline. If he ran into a plot problem or question, he would revert to dreamzoning to find the solution.

Like many writers, I immediately resonated with his description of this deeply intuitive mental space. I’d naturally gone there for years, even calling my imaginings my “movies” when I was young. The dreamzone was the space I lived in between waking and sleep every night, as well as the space I physically played in as a child when acting out my stories (a practice that only petered out in my twenties). It’s where I went mentally when doing the “creative lollygagging” chores of dishes or weeding. It’s the space we all go when we’re in the throes of writing—particularly when we’ve hit that sweet spot of “the zone.”

That said, the act of “dreamzoning” itself is, as Butler indicates, always intentional. It is a purposeful quest into the land of stories in order to excavate needed inspiration. Dreamzoning is a way to fill the well so our creative output doesn’t drain it.

Dreamzoning can be done in any number of ways. It can involve sitting at one’s desk with a handful of note cards, like Butler. Or it can happen on commutes with the scenery blurring past outside. Or it can happen every night before sleep. Or it can become a scheduled daily practice.

Over the years, my own preferred setup for dreamzoning has come to revolve around two key ingredients: fire and music.

It started years ago when my brother staged elaborate “fire nights.” Outside under the full moon, he’d create themed “sets” around a campfire, using a playlist for inspiration. There was a safari theme one night, a Dracula theme another. One year for Christmas, he created a winter wonderland complete with fairy lights, which my two-year-old niece went wide-eyed over, but which unfortunately had to be called due to a blizzard. Later on, he’d just curate playlists (my favorite musical discovery from those nights was Van Canto).

For me, the experiences naturally lent themselves to, you guessed it, zoning out and dropping in on my stories. I loved the experience so much and found it so conducive to inspiration that I eventually adopted it for myself. My fire nights, however, were significantly less elaborate—featuring a three-wick candle instead of a full-on set.

As I’ve struggled with burnout in the last few years (which, now that I think about it, coincided rather suspiciously with my brother’s moving away and the end of the fire nights), I’ve returned to this form of dreamzoning more consciously, incorporating it as a fifteen-minute practice at least three nights a week. Although I’m occasionally reluctant to make time, as soon as I drop in, I’m always reminded, Oh yes, this is why I love stories!

Go on the journey with your characters! Check out the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations.

Why Should Writers Dreamzone?

First and foremost, dreamzoning is fun. Unless you happen to be that one brilliant adult who is still swordfighting and dragon-riding out in the backyard on a regular basis, you’ve perhaps noticed the intense creativity of childhood doesn’t always seem so available. Dreamzoning is a way to access that regularly (without throwing your back out or alarming the neighbors).

The dreamzone is a meditative state where your logical brain isn’t allowed. Like any form of meditation, logical thoughts may knock at the door, but you keep returning to the intuitive center from which the stories spontaneously arise. If you use music, as I do, it can be an aid and a cue to guide the dreaming. Sometimes, I see a full scene acted out, but often what I get is more like a music video—flashes of dramatic and symbolic imagery syncing up with the music.

Sometimes I get lots of good stuff, sometimes just one nugget, sometimes nothing. But the experience is always renewing and regenerative. It takes me back to the stories of my childhood, which were about nothing but play.

Finally, like any meditative state, dreamzoning can be calming and grounding in its own right within the mental buzziness of the normal day. Fun, useful, and healthy all at once–how about that!

7 Steps to Start Dreamzoning

Ultimately, dreamzoning is a highly personalized experience. You can do it randomly, or you can turn it into a daily practice—either right before writing or at another convenient time during the day. You can do it simply by leaning back and closing your eyes or by staring into the corner. You can do it for ten minutes—or you can do it for two hours (in the right circumstances, the latter is amazing). You can do it with props, or without. You can create an elaborate set around a campfire with high-def speakers and woofer—or you can opt for a candle and headphones.

The only thing that really matters is that you create for yourself a situation in which you can tune out the world and really drop in to your imaginative center.

The followings steps outline my own current process, which I’ve found highly effective.

1. Turn Out the Lights

You might also add “shut the door.” The point is to create an environment in which you can tune out the rest of the world—and your own chattering thoughts along with it. I do my dreamzoning practice in the early evenings, which means it’s not actually dark for half the year. But when it is—it’s even better. (And if you’ve opted for a fire pit under a full moon, better still!)

There’s just something immersive about being wrapped in darkness when going deep into the story realm. It’s like being in a huge dark theater while a gorgeous movie plays on the big screen. If nothing else, the darkness usually helps with concentration.

2. Light a Candle/Fire

The second concentration aid I’ve found transformative is fire. This started with my brother’s campfires, but for simplicity’s sake has now devolved into a three-wick candle on top of a trunk in my spare room (Spare Oom—the portal to all fantasy realms!). Especially when it’s dark, the fire helps focus attention. The flame’s undulating is enough to keep your eye’s attention without distracting you. (Plus, it’s led me to a lot of great fireside scene ideas.)

3. Set a Playlist

The final magic ingredient is music. I set a playlist for the amount of time I want to dreamzone (usually about fifteen minutes—or three songs). Sometimes I’ll specifically choose songs for a particular story I’m working on. Other times, I’ll just randomly select stuff and see where it takes me.

4. Get Comfy

Find a position you can comfortably hold for the duration of your playlist. I generally sit cross-legged on a floor chair across from my candle. If I were dreamzoning for a longer period of time, I would probably opt for a chair with a back. If you’re outside at the fire pit, bundle up against the cold and/or the mosquitoes. As ever, the point is to minimize distractions.

5. Drop In

The whole point of dreamzoning is to get out of our logical, “talky” brains and into our deep imaginative, intuitive cores. For me, as a visual thinker, this looks like mini-movies playing in my head. Back in childhood, this zone was my preferred mental state. These days, the talky brain sometimes has a hard time keeping quiet (it’s kind of like a kid squirming in church). Particularly since my dreamzone practice is only fifteen minutes, it’s important for me to drop in as quickly as possible and stay there. The music helps a ton, and, honestly, so does the urgency. (If I had an hour or two, I’d probably be a lot more lazy about disciplining my thoughts.)

6. Find the Zone

Usually, my brain will pick up a story thread right away, but sometimes it can take me a bit to find a dream that really resonates and interests me enough to follow it down the rabbit hole. If I’m struggling, I’ll consciously bring up a specific story or a scene from the previous day’s dreamzoning and use it to kick-start my imagination. If I’m trying to work through a specific story question or problem, I will gently pose that to my brain—being careful not to start rationalizing answers but just using the question as a prompt to see what my subconscious has in response.

7. Make Notes

Finally—and this is super-important—I make notes as soon as the dreamzone practice is over. Otherwise, like my night dreams, my gleanings from the dreamzone tend to slip away. I keep a running document of notes for all my story ideas, and at the end of a dreamzone session, I’ll just take a quick minute to type some one-sentence descriptions of ideas, answers, or images that I can use to trigger my memory later on when I start writing or plotting in a more logical way. When I look through my notes, I’m often surprised by all the good stuff I’ve recorded but have forgotten about in the interim. It always reignites my excitement about a story!

***

When people ask me to name my favorite part of the writing process, my answer is always “conception”—or, more to the point, daydreaming. Dreamzoning has become my main go-to tool for retaining the playfulness of my childhood creativity in conceiving and nurturing my favorite ideas. It’s good fun in its own right and an incredibly powerful tool for nurturing inspiration on a regular basis. Give it a try!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever tried any version of dreamzoning? What was your experience? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).

___

Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. My favorite dreamzoning activity is forest bathing. Next is a hot bath. It’s interesting how these activities seem linked to childhood. I grew up acting out scenes in the woods and creating elaborate dramas with my action figures in the bathtub. For my husband’s sanity, I suppose it’s good I no longer need action figures in the tub.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Absolutely. I can’t wait until deer-hunting season is over and I go back into the woods behind my house again.

  2. Thank you for this. I thought I was going crazy. Now, I have my diagnosis. And, let me tell you dreamzoning is not always or necessarily fun. It is creative for sure. I wrote a one act stage play in five days (first draft). I was living the story most of that time, not thinking, not dreaming, just living it in my head whatever that crazy state is called. Good to know what it is.

  3. Excellent post, Kate! I was a lot like you eons ago when I was the age of my grandchildren. Your comment about “Spare Oom” cracked me up…Lewis must’ve spent a lot of time in his.

    Dreamzoning will certainly become part of my daily…umm…schedule. (Need to find another word for that. “Schedule” is so talky-talky!) 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve come to quite like the word “ritual.” I also like thinking of my day as a “flow” rather than a schedule.

      • Good ones…schedule is now out of my vocab…

      • Oo, I need to borrow this! It’s ridiculous to feel harried so much when there’s no one but me to harry me.

        On the subject of dreamzoning, I do a similar thing called noodling, which moves back and forth between writing notes and staring unfocussedly into space. Always fruitful, though, like shopping, I may come back with something quite different to what was on my list! (Example: wanting to know what this character’s Lie is. And coming back with “he likes fried dumplings but not pickled eggs”.)

      • Polly Hansen says

        Oh, I just watched that documentary called “Happy.” They were saying happy people “flow,” or that happiness was being in the flow. Cool.

  4. So this is what I’ve been doing! Thanks for explaining it. I dreamzone in the middle of the night, usually I wake up (around 3 am) and am wide awake (some sort of sleep cycle) for 45 minutes or so, and I dreamzone the next one or two scenes visually in great detail. The darkness, quiet and no distractions really helps to focus. I don’t even need notes the next day, the scene flows from pictures in my mind into words very easily.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s interesting. That in-between state is often one of the richest since we’re so close to the actual dream state when sleeping.

  5. I pop in and out all day long. But my best is at night or first thing in the morning, and you’re right they can drift away. I think your idea of taking time for it is a good one, I’m going to start doing that.

  6. Great post, Kate. I read Butler’s From Where You Dream. I recall him naming this process as “dreamstorming.” Is dreamzoning your term? I don’t see dreamzoing identified as term in his book. I like dreamzoing better actually.

  7. Dreamzoning helped me figure out how to solve several major plot problems and has become my go-to method to brainstorm. A life-saving (or should I say, book-saving technique)! My preferred method is to take my notebook outside to a sunny spot and alternate between half-conscious napping, jotting down questions and ideas, and watching the clouds go by.

  8. Thank you for making public what I use daily without knowing the fancy name; until now. If I couldn’t lay back on my comfortable bed during the day on occasions to help he think through the road blocks and story options, I would be completely lost. Regardless of where I am, I create by running movie scenes through my mind. Call it what you will, but I use the dream-zone all of the time. If I fall asleep, that’s not a crime. My best ideas come from this naturally easy technique, and I rely on it endlessly to stay creative. Thanks again Kate.

  9. I like the page set for “Patreon family.”
    Dreamzoning: I use it to put myself in a character’s place to learn wheat they love, what worries them. Then some of the images or ideas I adapt for my writing. tis works really well when you are working on a novel.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. The best writing comes from not just thinking rationally about what a character would but really inhabiting them.

  10. I normally wake up around 2-3 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep an hour or so. I find myself reviewing my latest wip (whether I want to or not). So I use that time to imagine what my protag will do next. I almost always use those ideas the next day.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Next best thing to sleeping! 😀

    • Gary Lee Webb says

      Mike,
      That is a very traditional way of working/sleeping. More common during the mediaeval period, biphasic sleep is roughly 4 hours of sleep, a few hours of activity, then another four hours of sleep. Those couple of hours in the middle can be very productive … and of course, they are the source of the term “burning the midnight oil.”
      I do it myself regularly. The sleeping mind is a wonderful source for creative ideas.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Gary, glad you mentioned this. I remembered something along those lines, but couldn’t recall it well enough to reiterate it.

  11. Yes, I find being a visual thinker (and learner) is a big help for me. I will be asked how I came up with a certain scene in another country. I tell them I had been to that place and later the scene just played out in my head visually. Same thing with initial outlines. They flow visually.

    By the way with the power of the internet at my finger tips, I checked out Van Canto. Wow! Wunderbar!

  12. Thank you for providing a term for what I have been doing all this time. I try to set aside time at home to focus, but I generally do this while I’m driving to and from work (probably not the safest habit.) It really helps when I have come across a problem. I just start with where I’m stuck and let my mind wander around it, trying what-ifs and different scenarios until I reach the right one. The only problem with dreamzoning and driving is not being able to take notes, but I am usually able to get to pen and paper or at least my email to send a note to myself as soon as I reach my destination.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, there is something about scenery zooming by that seems really conducive to the dreamzoning state.

  13. Lying in bed just before falling asleep. That’s when my dreamzone appears. I didn’t know that’s what it was, though. Thanks for the post. I’ll be more aware of it from now.

  14. I heard a message once from the founder of FaceBook. She called it “white space” and I immediately connected it with writing. She said, in her business, she strives to help creatives enter this “white space” free of distractions so they can imagine and create. My best place is in the shower … at least until the hot water runs out! 🙂

  15. Fascinating. Thank you. What you’ve described is a hypnotic state like that of children’s imaginative play. It involves shift of control from the frontal cortices to what I call “the Guardienne,” a term that most aptly describes the region’s main purpose. Besides being your protective core, the Guardienne is also is the seat of the imagination.

    The conscious mind can do creative thinking, but is also very likely to criticize its output, bringing the process to a screeching halt. The Guardienne, on the other hand, has no conscience*, and is unlikely to censor its ideas in midstream.

    A full description of the Guardienne and its functions and associated behaviors, both good and not so good, are found in my ResearchGate preprint: bit.ly/2tnFyhv

    * This can be problematic. Please see the preprint.

  16. Doug Pierson says

    I find that one should never be very active, that is walking about in crowded spaces, when dreamzoning as it can be detrimental to your health. But that’s where I find myself during waking hours. There are times I have no control over what and when RB (right brain) is directing me toward and I have the bruises on my hips and shins to prove it. I blame it on my patchwork sleep pattern which mysteriously began when I started this new novel. Funny how things work.

  17. Bob Hazlett says

    I do this quite often and by step 5, I’m sound asleep

  18. I have done something similar many times, but never went into it as much as you described. I certainly am going to try diving much further in.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I find that if I don’t make time to do it purposefully, I don’t slip into it as easily as I used to.

  19. I’ve never heard this called that before. It’s also a dissociative trauma response – finding a safe place in your head when you don’t feel safe. It’s been pretty instinctive for me since I was a small child – the only way to sleep was to imagine yourself in a completely different place, sometimes as a completely different person. Doesn’t help the nightmares.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sorry to hear about your nightmares. 🙁

    • Lisa, ask your doctor about low dose Prazosin. It’s used to treat high blood pressure, but in a very low dose, it helps prevent nightmares. I have PTSD and it’s the only thing that has helped. If you’re a trauma writer, you’re in good company, so was Tolkien and there are many others. There’s an African proverb that says: Sometimes the blessing is close to the wound.

    • Deborah Turner says

      Lisa, I recognize your space. I’ve been there, do this. Trauma and PTSD are hard to deal with. I’ve found that dreamzoning helps deal with the abuse i dealt with as well as gives plot points (not always the same thing; the answers for myself stay with me, but the plot points go in the book). The psyche can fix itself in the dream zone.

      I’ve heard Sionnach’s African proverb before and it’s so true.

  20. Nice to see all this spelled out. I’ve always been a daydreamer just for the entertainment value. When I started writing, I discovered a host of writing “partners” in dreamland. Mostly I run through scenarios while napping in my favorite chair. Often I will think about some problem just before falling asleep. Then, right on schedule, I wake up in the morning with a solution staring me in the face.

    Perhaps there is a huge consciousness dimension we are just now tuning into. Yunno. Something more than the usual experiential stuff.

    Cheers and Happy Writing!
    Adam James

  21. A cappella metal, Who knew?! Your description of dreamzoning for character development brings to mind the idea of method acting. The idea there is to take on the persona of the character, focusing on the motivations and attitudes from which the lines in the scripts would flow. It brings a sense of authenticity to a performance, a flow from that inner core. It is also reminiscent of the heightened focus (in this case, the imagination) combined with heightened relaxation (shushing the critical voice) that is described in self-hypnosis. No, not a woo-woo loss of mental control, but a recognized mental discipline akin to meditation and, apparently, dreamzoning. 🙂

    I find myself being a very active dreamer during sleep, waking up with memories of what my wife and I call shifting story dreams. I like the idea of pursuing the stories while conscious but still allowing them to shift and flow.

    For myself, I find music problematic because I have spent so much of my life as a musician and it tends to bring out the critical voice. There are a few acoustic albums by Phil Keaggy that have been treasures, though: The Master and the Musician and Beyond Nature. Both have such excellent musicianship and such evocative musical settings that they seem perfect for zoning.

    Once again a delightful and thought-provoking post. Thank you so much for the gift of sharing your process of discovery. 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I could see how being a musician would change your relationship with music in a daydream capacity.

  22. Alex DeLuca says

    I tried dreamzoning, and it worked pretty well! It was a little difficult to make my mind be quiet and see what ideas came, but that probably gets easier with time. An idea though: maybe there could be another type of dreamzoning if you’re looking to find something more concrete, where instead of letting images drift to mind, you could try to imagine a scene that you’re having trouble with, and sort of guide it to completion? That way you can get ideas for something more specific.

  23. Fantastic! Thanks for the post! This reinforces my faith in what I have been doing. And I seem to do this quite a bit. I use it as a tool to work out whole scenes, particularly details that need to be logically correct and I can go through repetitive or alternate versions in my mind until it is the best. Then I write it.

    Music is a distraction for me and I’m easily distracted. I find that I’m too tempted to start analyzing the music. I’m a critical listener when it comes to music, probably why I compulsively built my own amplifiers and loudspeakers. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, you definitely don’t want to be doing anything that distracts or pulls you out the moment.

  24. I like your approach, though I march to the beat of a different drummer, one with a big red nose, stringy yellow hair and a face full of make up. For the past year or so, I’ve realized that whenever I have something I can’t quite work out in my writing, it was time to hop on my bike and get in some alone time, pedaling hard, but not really pushing it. Reading your article reminded me that I used to take lots of walks to day dream and to think things through. Many times these would be late at night were it was just me and my head out for a stroll. I’d have never told my father this, but raking the leaves or mowing were great dreamzoning opportunities as well.

    As I’ve grown younger, I’ve developed an addition for audible material – both books and courses, and that’s good, but I need to budget some time for dreamzoning as well. So far, I’ve been blessed to not have the “I don’t know what I want to write” problem. More like “other story ideas, get thee behind me whilest I finish my current work.” However, sometimes I look at a piece and know it isn’t quite right, but don’t know why. It just doesn’t have any pop. I think more dreamzoning can fill up my pop.

    Thank you for another lovely article.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      These days, it’s so easy to fill up every little minute of downtime with something “productive”–or at least distracting. Ironically, it takes real discipline to just play or be still.

  25. Kristy Werner says

    Wow! I thought I was just weird. Thank you for putting a name to what I do so involuntarily all the time. I do believe I will try a planned session. I’m stuck at the moment on my WIP, so this should help tremendously!

  26. I love this concept! I am one of those who finds the concept of meditation something that just can’t work for me (and I’ve tried), but this has a lot of the elements of meditation, but consciously working through stories that are in my head. What a neat idea. I find myself often too regulated in my writing (outlines, sitting at the computer, hashing it out), and I think this would be a really interesting thing to try. I’m going to give it a shot!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve been very resistant to meditation most of my life as well–until I realized that being in a flow state when writing is essentially meditative.

  27. In January, I read an article on the Chicago Review of Books titled 8 Writing Tips from Jeff VanderMeer. So much of it is about training the subconscious, which isn’t something I ever thought about doing in an intentional way. Jeff talks about defragging our subconscious by eliminating social/news media/outside drama, etc. Makes sense but is hard to do in practice.

    For me, I’ve only ever accessed the white hot center of my imagination/dreamzone during a run or a cycle class. Moving my body, usually vigorously (it doesn’t seem to work when I walk) is the only way I’ve found to naturally turn off my talky brain.

    After reading Jeff’s article, I started paying attention to what my subconscious was delivering to me…interestingly, because I was hyper-fragmented at the time I uncovered this heightened meta-awareness of my thoughts, I noticed most of my “gifts” came to me as social media posts. #amwriting

    Depressing, right?

    So I made an effort to step back from social. It worked like a charm. My characters started talking to me once again because I wasn’t so worried about what I was going to say to my followers on Instagram. I did this from January until March, when, you know what happened next……

    Anyway, I’ve been struggling with my writing this year because my kiddos are home, I wasn’t able to move my body as much with the gym being closed and no childcare so I could take a run outside. I’ve blamed a lot of my struggles with my WIP (which is my first ever attempt at a novel-length story) on the lack of time and my kids being home. But, if drilled down to the core, it’s the loss of my imagination and the fragmenting of my subconscious (due to worries about COVID, social injustice, the election, my kids, cancelling #alltheplans, etc.) that is the root of my creative woes right now.

    Katie-I went down the Helping Writers rabbit hole this morning, reading your linked posts within each article. Thank you for doing this, because it helped me put things together. An old article you wrote about better daydreaming referencing Eric Maisel was enlightening. Maisel said one of his clients realized her block was due to her lack of daydreaming and without incorporating daydreaming into her daily practice she was in danger of losing her writing life.

    Coincidentally, I just bought Maisel’s new book, The Power of Daily Practice, after listening to the audio version available at my library. Maisel goes through 21 challenges that may be holding us back from keeping our daily practice, whether it be writing, exercise, social justice, piano, knitting, you name it. When I listened to his book the first time, I thought writing was supposed to be my daily practice. Now, after reading this post and many others from your site, I’m wondering if what I actually need to incorporate into my creative life is a daily, focused dreamzoning practice that doesn’t have to involve me running or cycling.

    Although I enjoy the benefits exercise brings, it’s not always available to me right now and it’s quite the exhausting way to write a story 🙂 Sitting in front of my fireplace for a few minutes each evening before dropping into sleep sounds nourishing, even if the story benefits don’t come to me right away. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks very much for sharing the VanderMeer link. I remember really like his book Booklife years and years ago. And so glad you’re enjoying the posts. Hang in there!

  28. Deborah Turner says

    I’ve always dreamzoned. Sometimes it’s a running story in my head that lasts for weeks and I take elements of it for my books. Other times, I go specifically for the problems in my book. My logic brain asks where is the problem and sets my brain off to go find the answers. I don’t get in the way, or toss out any of the answers. Logic and Dream work together to get where I need. Sometimes, I just love my story and don’t want to leave the universe I’m in, so I stay there and work on plot or characters, or even worldbuilding. Every once in a while, the dreamzone helps answer a question in my own life.

    Music is absolutely essential in my life. This year has been hard to write; I’ve felt utterly stifled, which is ironic, since I need masses of alone time in order to write, but somehow being forced to be at home stopped the creativity in its tracks. I learned to stay off social media, refused to watch the news, reduced my stress, spent a lot of time this summer sitting in the sun and getting a tan, while … dreamzoning. We have a place a block off the Pacific Ocean. The sound of the ocean soothes me, so I spend a lot of time walking on the beach. I basically took care of me this year. At the end of the summer, we came back to Michigan, where I live most of the year. I come for the winter and the snow, which I love. But I can now write, and the words are flowing. I can’t wait to get into my office every day and start following my characters around to see what they are doing. I’m usually out of my office by 5 every evening, but even then, my mind is reluctant to leave its creative space, so I let it zone while I make dinner. I think I practice this constantly. It’s the best part of every day.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I’ve found that the dreamzone is one place where logic and imagination actually do play very nicely together.

  29. I’ve fallen into the Zone many times–and that’s where I get my story ideas–but I’ve never thought about doing it on purpose. I can’t wait to try!

  30. I’ve been a daydreamer since I was a kid, when I got in trouble for it in school, so I suppose the “art” of daydreaming got buried for a long time. I like that this method takes it from a creative pastime to a creative discipline.

    I think everyone, even non-writers, would benefit from this especially now.

  31. Polly Hansen says

    “The dreamzone is a meditative state where your logical brain isn’t allowed.” I love the intentional steps of this practice, everything from setting aside time, to creating a dreamzone environment complete with MUSIC! I especially love the idea of dipping into dreamzone when I have a plot problem and getting my logical mind out of the way. What fun. Time to let the mind play and have recess. Thank you for this exercise.

  32. Jack Bannon says

    I was excited when I heard about the book From Where You Dream sometime back. I ordered it immediately and read it with interest. Disappointingly, I found the advice about how to enter the subconscious or ‘dreamspace,’ in my case at least, accomplished exactly squat. After much reading and attempting to apply the author’s advice, I decided the book was a bunch of, well, I suppose scubala would be a polite way to say it. I confess that despite the authors credentials and personal history, I deposited that book into my circular file a month and a half later. Not a good return on my investment.
    I do daydream though, sometimes with visceral and dizzying results, but it’s always a product of my own volition. It’s not the sort of unguided visual or conceptual experience the author describes. I have also sat and refused to write anything that didn’t occur to me from my subconscious as the author described as a technique to avoid writing ‘dreck.’ My paper stayed blank for a long time. Perhaps I’m cursed to a lifetime of dreck production. I hope not.
    Despite my own fruitless endeavors dreamzoning from where I live, you seem to have profited well from Mr. Butler’s book. Despite my surprise (as you may have surmised, it left me drier than if I’d eaten an entire box of saltines after three days in the desert without a canteen), your enthusiasm forces me to believe there’s something here I could learn.
    I’ve read your seven steps several times, and I will try to make the connection with fire that you describe, but if you find any other tips within you that you feel compelled to share, please post more practical tips or feel free to send me an email.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Everybody’s different, and I believe there’s nothing more personal than a writer’s process. We can pick up ideas from one another, but ultimately the only thing that matters is what works for us and what doesn’t. So soldier on. At least you have saltines to keep you from getting hungry. 😉

  33. Dreamzoning is one of my favorite things to do, to the point that I’m often more concerned that I do it TOO much and that it gets in the way of other things—including actual writing. Do you have any insights on how to reign things back when that happens, and ensure that it’s ultimately channeled for productive creative output?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nah. No such thing as too much dreamzoning. Someone in the comments above mentioned a post from Jeff VanderMeer, which I found very inspiring. He basically talks about how he spends more time “dreamzoning” than writing–and considers it the height of productivity. I recommend scrolling up and reading it.

  34. What an interesting concept this dreamzoning! While reading it, I think that what I do is the total opposite of dreamzoning, but still it has a similar result: meditation. Just sitting on my bed with my back against the wall and just like you could do with dreamzoning I play soft meditative music in the background. But instead of letting my creative mind run wild I focus on my breathing, then I notice thoughts coming up and go back to my breathing.
    By being intensely focused on this I eventually get story ideas that I wasn’t looking for, or found a solution for something I didn’t see before.
    Doing this daily from 5 to 70 minutes has not only helped with this kind of creativity, but also with overal personal growth as well: overal better mood, heightend concentration, and increased empathy.
    Meditation for me is like praying – only it’s not talking to and thanking God, all of that instead is done with inner silence.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I see dreamzoning as a form of meditation, and all forms of meditation as a type of dreamzoning. The more active imagining is obviously closer to creation, but I think the still mind helps us get closer to the imagination in general.

  35. Gina Scott Roberts says

    I have ‘zoned out’ for decades, just never knew there was a term for it. And you’re right, it’s very grounding and relaxing–I use it a lot when I’m having trouble sleeping.

    For most of that time I saw more comic book style images as I was an avid collector/reader. It changed to movie style after I co-wrote with a friend who had studied screenwriting and tended to think that way. These days, it’s sort of a combination, like those movies that take panels from a comic book and ‘animate’ them.

    Whatever form it takes, it’s a practice I intend to continue and appreciate learning I am not alone, thank you.

    PS: For those dealing with mosquito invaders during dreamzone time, I have one proven tip: marigolds. Kept my brother’s patio clear of mosquitos all spring, summer, and fall when it was normally a rallying point for the whole neighborhood since there are woods and TWO creeks around his house.

  36. Bruce Paulik says

    This reminds me of my daily meditation practice when I was running a business. 15 minutes of sitting at my desk, door closed, eyes closed, letting my mind settle. When I came out of this meditative state (always naturally after about 15 minutes) I would often have insight into some work problem that I was wrestling with.
    I will certainly be using this dreamzoning technique to help the creative process for my fiction writing. Thank you!

  37. Jose Garcia says

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve found myself doing this semi unconsciously. Your framing of it as a conscious tool is very inspirational and helpful.

    Your blog is a god send.

  38. I must try this at night when I can’t sleep. At the very worst, it might help me get back to sleep when I wake up in the early hours.

  39. This was one of the best explanations of the technique I’ve found. I’ve always called it guided daydreaming, but dreamzoning sounds better! 🙂 BTW, I used to get in trouble for daydreaming in school! My second grade teacher made a point of calling me out on it in my report cards. I haven’t tried turning the technique into a regular ritual, but it’s a great idea. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful insights into the process!
    Best wishes,
    Robert Herold
    Author of The Eidola Project
    robertheroldauthor.com

  40. It sounds so pure and fun. This is something I’ve wanting to do for a while, but the constant mind chatter and the grim images from the past block any progress, yet I miss that childlike place in my mind with all my heart, I hope I’m able to return to it someday.

  41. ” Fire Nights” What a suggestive word pair. Fire Nights. Two words. Only two words. They even bring the outline with them. ” Fire Nights” Thank you, All I had to do to Dreamzone was hear those two words. They sing with imagination and pulse with life. The ebb and flow of “Fire Nights” Thank you.

  42. Wow!! I’m so glad I stumbled on your blog! This is me! This is how I create! I have always been a dreamer, have always “lived” my stories in my head. It helps me to get them out when I “live” them or visualize them. I’ve never had a name for this. And to be honest, I was always a little embarrassed that I did this. Now I know I’m not crazy or the only one and will try to intentionally set up a time to dreamzone!! Thank you!

  43. Gina Scott Roberts says

    Don’t feel alone! I was always embarrassed about doing this, too. That’s the nice thing about communities like this, we find out we’re not as alone as we think.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.