by Melissa Iwai

Yay! We’re halfway through this year’s Storystorm! How is it going for everyone? The ideas for inspiration of the previous guest bloggers have been great. I just love being part of our KidLit family! As my husband, Denis Markell, has told me numerous times, the people in the Kidit are so much more supportive, open, and welcoming than those in the cutthroat world of theatre and television! And comparing it to my (very) brief life in academia, I agree whole-heartedly.

Though I am surrounded by positive, encouraging, like-minded people, I am my own worst critic. And sometimes that critical voice can stop me and hold me back before I’ve even started putting ideas to paper.

I have always loved writing stories and illustrating them from the time I was a little kid, and I don’t remember having this “judge-y” voice in my head back then.

I just remember how much fun it was to create. So how do I turn off that critical voice when I’m brainstorming new story ideas?

I raid my brain when that judge is asleep. Or at least not fully awake.

OK, here’s where this post might get too “woo-woo” to you, but hear me out. If you have this issue—and even if you don’t!—I encourage everyone to start keeping a dream journal if you don’t already. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just a notebook or scraps of paper will do (though try to keep them together for easy referencing later!)

Scientists have said that keeping a dream journal can enhance one’s creativity. In the Journal of Creative Behavior, a study concludes that “Enhanced dream recall through daily dream logging fosters aspects of creativity….[and] that increased awareness to dreams increases creativity through a ‘loosening’ of stereo-typed thinking pattern.”

From my own personal experience, I have found this to be entirely true. I have been dream journaling on and off since I was a teenager. When I was younger, my motivation was to learn how to lucid dream (dreaming in a semi-conscious state and directing the dream). Later I became fascinated by how powerful dreams are as a window into our interior lives and how they can be used to understand ourselves better. Then, relatively recently, I have realized that my dreams are actually a huge potential source of creative ideas. The seed idea for my first authored book, SOUP DAY, came from a dream I had. In it, a mom chopped onions with her little girl in a warm colorful kitchen. And they were making soup!

Did you know that the discovery of the Periodic table, the mechanism of the lock-stitch sewing machine, and the song “Yesterday” were all inspired by dreams? “Yesterday” was so fully realized in Paul McCartney’s dream, he thought it was possibly someone else’s song that he had heard before. Luckily for pop culture, he recorded it while he still remembered it.

I’m not implying that if you record your dreams, you’ll come up with a complete piece of work, but I would wager that you will definitely connect with another part of yourself you might not even know was there. You may also figure out a twist or a solution to an existing story idea you are already working on.

At the very least, you will amuse yourself.

And the exercise of writing upon waking is sure to get your creative juices flowing, uncensored, sans critical voice.

Can’t remember your dreams, you say? You CAN train yourself to do it. And the more you practice this daily habit, the more you will remember—and in more detail.

Tips for Mining Your Dreams for Material:

  1. Keep a notebook or paper and pen by your bed, Jot down anything you remember when you wake up to go to the bathroom or upon waking up in the morning.
  2. Make an intention to remember your dream right before you go to sleep.
    Say out loud to yourself, “I will remember my dreams”. You may also make an intention to solve a problem in your dream.
  3. Don’t stress if you can’t remember anything in the morning. Relax and try to give yourself time to just lie in bed before leaping out of it (the snooze button is helpful). Sometimes I have the best ideas in this twilight state before being fully conscious – I’m not entirely dreaming, but I’m not entirely awake either. This is a great time to focus on a specific problem you might have. You’ll be surprised at what kinds of connections your brain will make. For example, what a character in a story might be, what their day might look like.
  4. After you are more conscious, go over your notes and rewrite them more clearly — chances are they look a bit like chicken scratches. If you do this in the morning, you’ll have a better chance of remembering what you were referring to. And then later, in the future, you will be able to actually read your notes.
  5. Every now and then review your dream notes. Maybe something that you dreamed in the past leaps out at you, and you see a kernel of a story idea in it.

So if you’re like me and sometimes have that voice in your head filling you with negativity…just wait until it goes to sleep! And who knows? Maybe a fantastic new book idea might come to you…and that really would be a dream come true!

Melissa Iwai is the author of Soup Day and Pizza Day and the illustrator of many other books, including Let’s Go to the Hardware Store and Truck Stop, by Anne Rockwell. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her son, Jamie and her husband, author Denis Markell. Visit her online at and on Facebook, Twitter @meliwai & Instagram @melissaiwai1.

Melissa is giving away a copy of SOUP DAY.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!