Last night I had my first-ever writer’s anxiety dream. Anxiety dreams are, as I understand it, pretty common. Many of us have woken in a sweat after dreaming we’ve arrived at a mid-term or final exam only to realize we haven’t studied, or done any of the required homework. Long after I stopped flying, I used to have pilot anxiety dreams in which I would take off from a controlled airport, only to realize that I never got clearance to take off.
But I have never had an anxiety dream about writing—until last night.
The dream went like this: I had found a piece of paper with some numbers on it. For some reason that made perfect sense in the dream, the numbers fit a pattern that gave me an idea for a story centered around the numbers. I wrote the story, and I suppose I published it somehow. Not long after, I began to receive photocopies of the original paper I found with the numbers on it. Over and over and over again, the photocopies came in, and I realized, with sudden horror, that I had used those numbers without permission, plagiarizing them, essentially, and that these photo copies were the revenge being extracted on my increasingly guilty conscience.
The dream went sideways from there, as dreams often do. I tried to find out who created the original so that I could apologize and explain the misunderstanding, but each time I had a lead, I lost it. I fretted with increasing panic that everyone would think I was nothing more than a plagiarist—a fate worse than death for any writer.
I awoke in the middle of the night to great relief that it had all been a dream. But I knew, as with most anxiety dreams, that although it was the first time I’d had such a dream, it would probably not be the last.
If you are not a pilot, you probably don’t get the stress of the pilot anxiety dream. And if you are not a writer, or artist of some kind, you probably don’t get the stress of the panic-inducing plagiarism anxiety dream. But I’ll wager that any writers reading this will shudder in fear and anxiety at the though of having such a dream themselves.
As to why I had that particular anxiety dream, well, I chalk it up to an unusually high level of stress. I don’t put much stock in dream interpretation. I see dreams as a memory function of the brain. That said, I do recognize that I tend to have these anxiety dreams at moments of heightened stress. This dream was a new wrinkle on an old theme, and it infringed on activity that almost always relieves my stress: writing.