Dreaming is a kind of consciousness. While dreaming you’re engaged in situations and events, you see and hear and feel things going on around you, you converse with other people, attempt to make sense of what’s going on, take actions and react to others’ actions. Dream consciousness is a lot like waking consciousness, except it takes place in an alternate reality shaped inside your imagination rather than in the materially actual here-and-now reality. Dreaming is an altered state of consciousness while occupying an altered state of reality.
While you’re dreaming you typically don’t realize that you’re asleep. In lucid dreaming you do. When you’re having a lucid dream you might even be able to control the dreamworld to some extent, instead of just going along for the ride and trying to cope as best you can.
While awake you’re often trying to get something done, concentrating your attention on a limited set of stimuli, events, options, and actions. When you’re off duty your brain tends to shift into its “default mode network.” You might be remembering the past or imagining the future, self-reflecting or thinking about other people, evaluating right and wrong, exploring meaning and purpose. The things that come to mind in the default mode network might be related to the actually existing world you live in, but they aren’t actual in and of themselves. They’re speculations and imaginings and inferences about the actual world, not direct experiences of that world. But the default mode network doesn’t limit itself to thinking about the actual world; it can veer off into alternative worlds: possible, plausible, improbable, impossible. Under default mode you can drift into altered realities and altered states of consciousness that overlap with dreamstates and dreamworlds — it’s called daydreaming. You can drift along with whatever happens to come into your diffuse awareness — it’s called mind-wandering — or you might be able to channel your daydreaming into an extended exploration of some imagined realm, be it past or future, possible or impossible.
Lately I’ve been thinking that writing fiction is a form of extended lucid daydreaming. The fiction takes shape in a world populated by characters and other sorts of objects, animated by forces and agendas, linked together in meanings and purposes. I’m immersed imaginatively in that fictional world even while at the same time being physically immersed in the actual world. Fictional worlds bear some relation to the actually existing world, but they can veer off either slightly or radically into alternate realms — a lot like sleeping dreams. At times the fictional world I’m chronicling seems to be unfolding of its own accord, without any attempt on my part to steer or shape it. But I can also actively intervene, asserting at least a measure of control over its unfolding. It’s like a waking dream, a lucid daydream.
Writing fiction is a matter of chronicling what’s happening around me as I’m immersed inside an extended daydream. It’s like keeping a ship’s log of an imaginary voyage.