Writing Prompt: "Dream Writing" by Anelise Chen

This week, to accompany our reading of Leonora Carrington’s animal fables, my students are completing creative exercises derived from Surrealist practices: exquisite corpse, automatic writing, assemblage, and, of course, dream writing. In times like these, I think it’s best to approach writing from the dream side.

To prepare, stow your phone in a drawer, far from reach, before going to bed. Better: Hide it under your couch cushions, or lock it up in a timed box. Consider nestling it between two heavy sacks of rice in the pantry. Close the door. Keep it somewhere you can’t access unless ladders or strong hands are involved. Accidentally lose it in the heap of unwashed sweatpants. Alternately, open up one of the many boxes of frozen pizza purchased in a moment of indiscretion, slide it in there.

Resuscitate an alarm clock. Set it for 5:53 am. Place a glass of water, half full, by the bed; lay paper and pen next to it. Sleep. Upon waking, immediately record the images, feelings, and snatches of dialogue you remember in your dream state. Repeat this process as many times as you need.

Whatever you do, don’t try to turn it into an intellectual game, as Leonora would have said.

About the author

Anelise Chen is the author of So Many Olympic Exertions (Kaya Press), an experimental novel that blends sports writing, memoir, and self-help. She is a finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, and in 2019 she was named a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 awardee. Chen is an assistant professor of fiction at Columbia University. She is working on her next book, Clam Down, about a woman who is transformed into a clam via typo.


* indicates required