The Hardest Month to Dream

Iced OverFebruary is a month during which we are tempted to dream of the future (probably because the present is so ugly and, frankly, we’re getting sick of it). Whether it’s limited to dreaming about the feel of the warm sun on bare arms and the smell of soil and grass and grilling meat, or if it’s that lake home you want to retire in, February gets us to dreaming. We imagine trips to far-off (warm) places. We think about the goals we have for our working life. We dream of a bigger house, a less stressful schedule, a few days to get caught up.

The cruel reality is that even while February causes us to dream it simultaneously works to crush our spirits, snatch those dreams away, and tell us they are impossible (or at least the timing isn’t quite right yet). The thermometer outside the kitchen window seems to mock our dreams of warmth. Our checkbook solemnly shakes its head when we look to it for some extra money for plane tickets. News of housing markets and job markets drags our dreams down until we realize we are where we are and we will go no further (for now).

February is a hard month in which to practice contentment. And yet, for many it is a time in which we are called to give up a little, to stop thinking so much about our outward selves (like what we have or don’t have, what we can do or can’t do) and focus on our inner selves (our besetting sins, our humble place in the order of things, our desperate need to be washed clean).

I already mentioned to you the 40 Bags in 40 Days thing that I and many others are doing during Lent. And I find as I go through things that I’ve saved (“because I might want to use that later for X, Y, or Z”) that I am an expert at packing away dreams for later. I keep a shelf or a table or a stool, even though I have no place for it in my house, because someday I might have a bigger house and more room and I’ll want it then. I keep books on crafts I will probably never do, as if no one will ever publish another book on the subject. I keep pots for plants I will never have in my house because they would just get eaten and regurgitated by my cat, but I keep them because they are pretty or were a gift.

I pack away all these tiny dreams. But sometimes, it’s best to just let those dreams float away. Sometimes dreams become burdensome. And I think that when they do, it’s a pretty sure sign that they are not the right dream for the time being.

Are there any “somedays” that are making you feel guilty for the procrastinating rather than joyful with anticipation? Any old dreams stuffed in your basement or attic that really ought to be set free? It’s never too early for physical or mental spring cleaning. Maybe it’s time to put on some grubby clothes and get to work clearing out those old dreams to make way for reality–and maybe for one worthy dream you’ll actually pursue.

So, What’s Your Point?

Snowy Forest

My dreams are rarely guided by what we might call a plot. Nothing actually happens in them. They are scenes that flow nonsensically one into the next and go NOWHERE.

My husband can attest to this. The poor man is often subjected to partial recounts of my dreams–partial because at some point he simply walks away because he knows this is going nowhere and yet will not end. He even used my “method” of dreaming in a sermon to illustrate the difference between reading Scripture as a bunch of boring, unrelated stories (“and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened”) and reading it as God’s very well plotted and intentional story (which he generously compared to my more deliberate method of writing) in which we find purpose and meaning. In case this interests you, you can listen to it here. It also contains a fascinating tidbit on the real St. Nicholas, who was apparently a bit of a hothead and prone to decking heretics. True story.

Now, I’ve been busily working on February’s short story, The Door, which I have deliberately made a bit dreamlike. Last week I realized that this was becoming a problem. It was becoming much too much like one of my actual dreams–rambling and random and pointless.

So I stopped writing. And I started plotting. I thought about this story in the shower. I thought about it in bed. I thought about it in the car. I thought about it but did not write down anything I thought of. I just allowed myself to think it through, to think myself into a plot, a purpose, a point.

While turning back toward home on an ill-fated trip through white-out conditions to my office today (Lake Effect Snow = 1, Erin = 0), everything fell into place like fat snowflakes aiming directly for their spot on the ground (rather than swirling madly around my car). I got home safely, put a space heater at my feet, and got back to work with the lovely feeling in the back of my mind that I now know where this story is going.

Dreams are okay. Their very weirdness is interesting. But interesting is not really enough for a story. Writers, we owe our readers a bit more than a rambling but interesting story. We at least owe them a compelling plot or, as is often the case in shorter fiction, a point.

How can you take those intriguing but (admit it) pointless scenes and weave them into a larger tapestry to make them an essential part of your plot? How can you give your readers a clear (though pleasantly winding) path through your forest of very lovely, very interesting trees?