I am a writer who is also a lucky enough bitch to have just sold my first novel, which might imply that I am feeling steady, calm, and content about my writing career — but my characteristic skill, the one I’ve honed with more vigor and precision than even my writing, is the ability to worry about anything, at any time.
I sometimes write while I’m falling asleep out of some anxious desire to “be productive” during the 10 minutes or so between turning off the light and losing consciousness. As a result, I am probably destroying my skin due to chronic sleep deprivation, and I often have elaborate stress dreams about writing.
Here are five stress dreams I’ve actually had:
1. In my dream, I’m on the phone and I tell my friend that writing on the side of a cliff “really gets my inspiration going.” My dreams are usually structurally disjointed, and scenes connect to each other not through fluid movement but instead via Godardian jump cuts. So, suddenly, I’m on the cliff, with a beer. I’m pulled and pushed by great gusts of wind, but I don’t notice because I’m writing the best work of my life. Time speeds up and in the space of an afternoon, I write an entire novel. My back is not cramped from sitting over a computer, my eyes don’t water from strain, my hands aren’t cramped. The novel is a masterpiece that needs no revision. In my haste to save my masterpiece, I knock over my beer. The puddle of liquid spreads precariously close to my computer, threatening the only copy of my life’s greatest work. In attempting to save my computer from the liquid, I knock it over the cliff. I dive off the cliff after my computer. I catch it, but I die.
2. I am sitting in some nebulous, dark space, the blank page in front of me, and my head swimming with beautiful sentences. Not only are the sentences I’m thinking of perfect, but I’m able to express them perfectly on the page, with no loss of beauty or meaning between thought and word. But every sentence I write deletes itself as soon as I finish it. I reboot my computer to try to fix the problem. When the computer boots back up, it catches on fire. I try to write anyway. My hands catch on fire. They burn and I scream as my flesh bubbles and melts, but I try to keep writing. The sentences delete themselves. I pour water all over my computer then realize what I’ve done — I’ve ruined it. The screen goes black and neon green words appear: “You did this.”
3. In a different dark, nebulous space, I am laying in my bed. I get out of bed and step onto the floor — but I don’t feel carpet under my feet, I feel the smooth metal of my laptop. I’ve forgotten I put my computer on the floor, but it’s too late, and I put all of my weight on it. The computer case cracks with a loud, exaggerated sound and a horde of chattering cockroaches slither out of the crack. They are huge and horrifying and disgusting. They scatter everywhere. I get the feeling that some of them are looking for me. I feel nauseated and run away from them, to my desk. I stand on the chair. I look for my back up hard drives in their drawer, but the only thing in the drawer is candy. The cockroaches catch up with me and start climbing the legs of the desk chair. They want the candy.
4. Mid-sentence, I forget how to write. I call my Mom to ask if she kept any of my stuff from elementary school, so I can teach myself to write again, but before I ask her I get too embarrassed to admit that I’ve forgotten how to write. I hang up. I open Google and type “How to write?” I don’t recognize it as writing when I’m doing this.
5. In my dream, I know it’s about a week after my book has been published. The dream begins when my phone rings; I see that my mom is calling. I answer and put the phone to my ear. I hear my mom’s voice as she says, “Catie, I haven’t been able to find any reviews of your book. Can you send them to me?” “No, Mom,” I say. “There aren’t any reviews.”
Photograph by Joseph Mohan, view more of Joseph’s work here.