Speculative Fiction and Nightmare Rescripting

In one of my recurring nightmares years ago, I walked through the barracks at Air Force basic training while nondescript men leered at me. I ran but found no way out. I froze in terror and rage as they assaulted me.

The Science

According to researchers, approximately 2-8% of adults have nightmares. This data is from reported instances, so there’s a chance of a higher percentage. Nightmares often interrupt a person’s sleep and can cause tension in the body and mind.

People with disabilities have an increased likelihood of this, which only exacerbates their symptoms. Fibromyalgia, as an example, likely stems from somatic responses to unprocessed traumas. Without adequate sleep, the body holds onto the tension, compounding it. An increased need for sleep with corresponding pounding headaches or near-impenetrable brain fog can block creative energy, no matter how much the person may wish to write.

Imaginary Rehearsal Therapy

So much changed for me, however, when in 2016, I went through nightmare rescripting, also known as imagery rehearsal therapy, at a VA PTSD clinic. There, we patients learned to write down our nightmares, as much as we can recall, filling it in over time. Then, we rewrite it with a new ending, allowing us to own our dreams. It takes time. We had to repeat the dream repeatedly until we’d rescripted it in our minds, thereby rescripting it in our dreams.

I had had recurring nightmares my whole life, some of which stuck with me, compounding traumas and compartmentalizing them within my subconscious mind. I struggled to stay within my body and self-sabotaged. Without sleep, it’s hard to feel safe. Chronic nightmares led to fear of them, so I avoided sleep even as I craved it.

My New Ending

My therapist at the time asked me to create an alternate ending. I imagined all the bad guys’ heads exploding as blue fire projected toward them from my heart. That’s why my protagonist has the power to heal or kill with her blue fire, depending on what the antagonists choose to do.

I added to the scene for weeks, as the rescripting allowed me to see the dream more clearly. The more I did this, the more I studied it before bed, the better I felt during the day. Over time, I could walk through the dreams without anything touching me. An observer of sorts walking through the astral world. On those nights, I wake up with so many ideas I don’t get them out before they fly away. Still, I remember what I can and write the dream sequence, adding more fodder to my writing fire.


Speculative fiction writers draw inspiration from various sources: news stories, personal experiences, topics in the world, or even from their hobbies. There comes a time in a writer’s life when they feel exhausted and depleted of ideas.

Sleep is crucial for creative writers. Long hours and sleep deprivation make it harder to take care of ourselves. Give yourself the compassion to face your terrors while writing. It could enhance your story—and your life—more than you know.

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