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Night Writer: Books and Songs Inspired by Dreams

Some people theorize that dreams are our mind’s way of working out complicated problems. Some believe that dreams are nothing more than our brain sifting through and filing away information. Others believe that dreams can divine the future or reveal hidden meanings in everyday occurrences. Or maybe dreams are our bodies’ way of telling us to lay off the spicy foods.

For exceptionally creative or brilliant folks, dreams may be where they do some of their best thinking. After hearing a scrap of a melody or having an inspired idea for a story, a few of these creative people awoke and gave us some of our best-loved books and songs. When you’re looking for inspiration for your next masterpiece, remember—the answer may be in your dreams.

“Yesterday,” written by Paul McCartney was one of the Beatles’ biggest hits. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the most-covered pop song ever, with over 3,000 known recorded versions. McCartney claimed that he woke up one morning with the melody in his head. It was a comparatively easy song to write; it took him about two weeks to figure out the lyrics, during which time its working title was “Scrambled Eggs.”

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. Stevenson’s wife recalled that while sleeping one night, he screamed in terror, as if he was having a nightmare. After she woke him up, he admonished her, “Why did you waken me? I was dreaming a fine bogy-tale!” Stevenson dreamed about the villainous Mr. Hyde taking the potion that would turn him back into Dr. Jekyll and conceal his identity, and the plot for the novel was born.

Twilight was inspired by a dream had by author Stephanie Meyer. The book is the first in her successful vampire series, and she divined the story from a dream, after not writing for several years. Meyer writes on her Web site that she woke up from a vivid dream of two people talking in a meadow. “One of these people was just your average girl,” she says. “The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that a) they were falling in love with each other while b) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.” Meyer’s dream of vampire lust resulted in a successful book series as well as a film franchise.

“Angel,” one of the last songs written and recorded by Jimi Hendrix, was inspired by a dream in 1967. Hendrix’s mother died when he was young and he had a dream that his mother visited him from heaven and wanted to take him back with her. This wasn’t the only time Hendrix was inspired by dreams: “Purple Haze” was also inspired by a dream in which Jimi was lost under the sea and was enveloped by a purple haze.

Misery was dreamed up by Stephen King while flying to London. “I fell asleep on the plane,” he recalled in an interview with England’s SFX magazine, “and dreamt about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed the remains to her pig, and bound his novel in human skin. His skin, the writer’s skin. I said to myself, ‘I have to write this story.’” King uses dreams for inspiration regularly. He says, “Dreams are just another part of life. To me, it’s like seeing something on the street you can use in your fiction. Writers are scavengers by nature.”

Frankenstein, one of the greatest horror stories ever written, was dreamed by nineteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin while she was visiting Switzerland with poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. At night, the three would regale each other with ghost stories and challenged each other to write the most terrifying tale. Mary was dreaming when she had the vision of a doctor who fashions a creature out of discarded body parts. In her introduction to the book, published in 1816, she said, “I need only describe the spectre which had haunted me my midnight pillow. On the morrow, I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, ‘It was on a dreary night of November,’ making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.” Later that year, she published Frankenstein as a novel, and married Percy Shelley, as well.

“It’s the End of the World As We Know It” was a huge hit for the band R.E.M. in 1987. Some of the lyrics for the song came to singer Michael Stipe after having a dream in which he was at a birthday party and everyone there had the initials L.B.—Lenny Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Lester Bangs, and Leonard Bernstein.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the song that made the Rolling Stones into bona fide rock stars in England and America. One night, while on tour in Clearwater, Florida, guitarist Keith Richards woke up from a dead sleep with the melody and the title in his head. He recorded it on a portable tape deck, and then took it in to play for the band the next day. When the rest of the Stones heard the tape, they heard Richards playing the opening guitar riff, and then the sounds of snoring.

Compared with these dreams, my own dreams look pretty lazy. I’d much rather dream up the lyrics to a hit song than dream about my teeth falling out. But don’t worry too much if your own dreams aren’t making you millions or changing the world. Not everyone can be brilliant in her sleep.

Updated August 11, 2010

Allison Ford

Allison is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty, style, entertainment, and pop culture. She was part of the editorial team at DivineCaroline (now for more than three years. She loves makeup, sparkly accessories, giraffes, brunch, Matt Damon, New York City, and ice cream.

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