Think about an anxiety dream you have had, especially if you have a recurring one, such as missing the bus, being late for the plane, or being unable to dial the phone in an emergency. (Not that these are mine or anything!)
The genius behind most anxiety dreams is that they offer scenarios that are potentially workable. You aren’t usually asked in these dreams to take a test in a subject you’ve never heard of, like advanced crystallography, but rather one you’ve got a passing acquaintance with, like 7th grade world studies – or if it is a subject you’ve never heard of, at least the test is usually on paper, with a pen or pencil. Some piece of the dream, in other words, is familiar and probable. If it weren’t, you’d just give up. But in an anxiety dream, you always try to solve the problem.
Do a freewrite on some of your anxiety dreams and their details. Then pick one and write a scene or passage in which your character (you or a made up one) finds him or herself actually in that situation. Treat it as absolutely real, and even if the situation is surreal, let your character work hard to muddle through in as realistic a fashion as possible. See what happens. The truth is, most fiction works like this, as an exaggeration of real life. Don’t hold back. Let it be as out of control as these dreams tend to be, and see what you get.
Jennifer Buxton teaches fiction at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. She is a loudly proud alumna of YWW (‘84-‘85), where she once served as Writer-in-Residence with Elizabeth Hadaway, and later as writing teacher in fiction. She has an MFA from the University of Virginia, has published in Epoch, Puerto del Sol, and Blue Penny Quarterly, and is finishing a book of stories called Speaking Español.