“It’s like a dream you try to remember but it’s gone, then you try to scream but it only comes out as a yawn” Barenaked Ladies
Do people who aren’t writers/writers who don’t get most of their story ideas from dreams feel the same heartbreak I do when that happens?
I often get my story ideas from what I call story-dreams, dreams that are so elaborate and cool that I wake up knowing they need to be turned into stories. Lately my subconscious has been doing this thing where I’ll realize it’s a story-dream and then start writing down the details so I won’t forget them. But I’m still dreaming, so writing things down does no good! Then I’ll wake up, which snaps the magical cord that tied me to that realm, and most of the ideas vanish in a puff of taunting. Those few ideas that do stick around long enough for me to grab my notebook and scribble them down somehow look absurd all by themselves in the light of day. But I keep them anyway, because I remember that feeling. I remember being immersed in the world of the dream, gazing around me in wonder, and knowing, “This. This is what I am capable of. And I can’t wait to share it with the world.”
I can tell I’ve come so far as a writer in a relatively short amount of time when I look at my first NaNoWriMo novel from 2009—seriously, no one is allowed to read that pile of good ideas conveyed through laughably sophomoric words, character tropes, and narrative devices unless and until I figure out a way to fix it. But it’s moments like this that let me know I still have so much more to learn. Because my story-dreams are as unique and elaborate as movies, but when I try to write them down it all falls flat.
For example, I can write that this princess’ home palace-and-city-in-one was a “sprawling city,” but every sprawling city is different. Even the skylines of American cities are unique from each other, and this was nothing like an American city. Or I can write that the wall was “intricately carved,” but every intricate carving is different. How do I convey how the open nature of this wall twisting with vines (or tree roots?) was designed centuries ago to live in harmony with nature?
The fear of not being good enough is, I think, universally human. For this particular aspect of that fear, I made up a word.

phantasmagoria (“a vision of a rapidly transforming collection or series of imaginary and usually fantastic forms, such as may be experienced in a dream or fevered state”)
aphasia (“loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand written or spoken language”)
phobia (“a fear, horror, strong dislike, or aversion; esp. an extreme or irrational fear or dread aroused by a particular object or circumstance”)
phantasmagoriaphasiaphobia: the fear of being unable to find the words to describe the images seen in my dreams
I might alter it slightly, now that I’ve run across the word agraphia (“loss of the ability to write intelligibly or to express ideas in writing”), which seems more in line with what I want to convey but doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well. Which do you like better?
The ability to look this fear in its face and call it for what it is definitely helps. Fears lose some of their power when you name them. I remind myself of two things:
1. I am getting better at writing, which proves that I will continue to do so.
2. I will never be perfect. It will always be a struggle.
If, in writing my stories, I am a conduit for the divine (shorthand for my vague science-meets-spirituality-meets-agnosticism beliefs), then this struggle is a divine struggle. When I “get it wrong,” it reminds me that I’m human, and when I “get it right,” it gives me a taste of the divine. I consider myself lucky to have something to care so deeply about.

So I keep going, hoping one day to write something worthy of being turned in a Hayao Miyazaki movie (Yes, I know he’s retiring. Shush).

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