Keeping a dream journal involves the routine recording of your dreams for the purposes of reflection and analysis. And not only is it a great exercise for gaining insight into your unconscious mind – it can also be a lot of fun! As well, the very action of keeping a dream journal can improve your ability to recall future dreams because it conditions your mind to view remembering them as important.
So how does a dream-journal novice go about keeping and maintaining one? The following are 5 steps to get you started!
1. Minimize All Distractions
One of the most important things to consider when keeping a dream journal is that your memory of your dreams will fade quickly upon awakening. You want as few impediments and distractions as possible between waking up and putting pen to paper! Some things to consider:
- It’s best to write in this journal first thing in the morning, as soon as you wake up. Not after a shower or breakfast or brushing your teeth. The more awake your body becomes, the more your dreams or key details will fade from your memory forever
- Whatever tools you end up using to record your dreams (and we’ll argue below why a pen and a journal are best), make sure to keep them beside your bed, just in reach, and not across your bedroom or in another room. You don’t want to get up out of bed to get anything.
- If you use an alarm clock to wake up make sure to set it to a beeping alarm instead of to music or a radio station. You don’t want voices to distract you and pull you away from the morning’s first order of business: writing!
- Make sure you have a light-source that is easy to turn on. This could be a desk lamp or reading light. Basically anything that doesn’t require a lot of effort, like physically getting up.
2. Select Your Writing Tools
In terms of what you use to record your dreams, you have multiple options – but, in our opinion, a journal – pen and paper – are best. You could use a voice recorder, but that limits you specifically to your words. What if you want/need to sketch something as well?
You could also use a computer, but that comes with too many potential distractions and interruptions. You have to open your computer, turn it on, wait for the program to load. It may be slow to load or – something that tends to wake your mind up – it could make a lot of noise. And word processing programs often come with distractions, such as spell-checkers, that impede the free-writing process (see below). You don’t want to think about spelling and grammar when you’re in a race to get as many thoughts and ideas down on paper as possible! And, on top of all that, there’s just too many other potential distractions like your email or Google (you may have the desire to look a word or an idea up in a search engine – you want to resist that urge until later!)
No question – pen and paper are best. They’re simple, reliable and just versatile enough! As for a choice of journal, it could be a good idea to get something nice and fancy – something that will give you that extra encouragement or inspiration to use it every morning!
3. Prepare Your Notebook
Like we keep saying, you want to do as little as possible between waking up and writing down the details of your dream – so it’s probably a good idea to think about formatting ahead of time. Some things to consider:
- It’s always a good idea to date your entries for posterity. If you ever want to read old entries it helps to have dates. And, as some dreams are puzzles you can solve over time, it’s always good to make sure you hold on to as many of the puzzle pieces down the line as possible.
- As we’ll discuss below, the writing process is a two-part process: free writing followed by analysis. Whatever works best is different for everyone, but one good idea is to write a line down the center or the page, keeping one side for the details of the dream and the other for analysis. This way you can have the details and their corresponding analyses side by side. Again, it’s good to make this dream journal easy to read for future reference.
- It’s good to experiment with formatting, but whatever formatting you choose (for some, it might be best to have as little formatting as possible! Just putting pen to blank paper) make sure to make it easy for your sleep-addled brain to understand!
Write anything and everything down. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling. Don’t worry about anything except getting as much as you possibly can down on paper. Who or what was there? How did you feel? If you remember something particularly visual, you may decide that it’s best to switch to sketching.
It’s good to experiment and find out whatever works best for you – but one tip we recommend is writing in the present tense. Doing this allows for better recall as you’re putting yourself back in the moment and describing the dream as if it’s actually happening right then and there.
But what do you do if, the first several times, you remember very little? Try to write down anything. For example, what’s the first thought or emotion in your mind when you wake up? The kinds of insights this exercise may yield may surprise. But don’t worry if you have very little to write down at first. Remember that the more you keep a dream journal the more you’ll begin to remember your dreams!
This may be easier for some than others, but what you want to do after getting it all down is analyze what you’ve written.You may want to do this right away or later on. Ideas and theories may pop into your head immediately or you may have to let the idea percolate in your head for awhile before you find something concrete.
As for the analysis process itself: again, write down anything that comes to mind. Interpret the details, come up with theories, ask a lot of questions. One good tip is to try to figure out associations. “I met a talking cat in the dream. What do I associate cats with? I associate them with my friend who recently lost her cat.” Think about anything significant you’ve been going in your life recently – this can help give a wider context to your dreams.
Some days you may have very little to work with — your dream may be too simple or vague — but other days you may traipse upon some significant insights. Keep at it enough and you’ll always find something interesting!
Another idea: keep a monthly evaluation. After a month of keeping the journal analyze and evaluate what you’ve learned so far or any significant insights you’ve discovered.
But also – make sure to have fun with it!
Have We Missed Anything?
If you have any additional thoughts or stories, feel free to share them in the comments section below!
About Paperblanks: We have been producing superb writing journals for twenty years. We are book people, and we believe that the written word matters and that our blank books have a critical role to play in the art and continued practice of writing itself. For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at paperblanks.com.