The One Line that Turned Me Into a Writer

“What power would HELL have if those here imprisoned were NOT able to DREAM of HEAVEN?”

That's the line that turned me into a writer. I had been writing stories and poetry in my spare time since the sixth grade. I had even written my own play.

But it wasn't until my senior year of high school that I read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, like I mentioned in a previous video.

That line comes from issue 4, when Dream has just won back his helmet in a duel with a demon in Hell. As Lucifer hands over the helmet, he asks Dream why they should let him leave. After all, he claims, dreams have no power in Hell.

And Dream answers with that unforgettable question. When I read that question, I became a different person. I knew it right then, too.

To vastly oversimplify it: I was no longer someone who wanted to write. I was someone who HAD to write.

Because with that one question, Neil Gaiman achieved the essential paradox that all great writing has in common:

  1. He expressed a fundamental, unalterable truth about life.

  2. He left the door open for a billion other questions.

Right now especially I’m struck by the irresolvable nature of that question. As I look back over everything I've written since that moment, I realize it's all been a response to that question.

I've been stretching it, testing it, putting pressure on it, and every time I walk away with more of that fundamental, unalterable truth.

Last night, when I was discussing this with my girlfriend, she asked me what I think Heaven will be like. (Because of course she would; she’s a brilliant and profound thinker.)

My gut-level reaction was that I couldn’t picture it. Then, as I stumbled towards an answer, I heard myself describing what it was NOT. In other words, I started talking about Hell again. At last, I got to something positive: a description of what I hope for, not what I hope to escape.

Dreams are not beliefs. They are slippery creatures with minds of their own. I think that’s exactly why we need dreams (and their close cousins, stories) to begin our escape from Hell.

We cannot, as so many ask us to do, jump straight into a belief in Heaven. If you’re in Hell right now, Heaven is unbelievable. There’s no way your mind will accept it.

So it has to start as a dream. A fantasy. A wish. When you dream, you swear to yourself it isn’t true then give yourself permission to imagine it anyway with stunning detail.

That's what cracks open your old belief system, making room for new, more powerful beliefs. Those beliefs, in turn, lead to more empowering behaviors and ultimately a better life. If not Heaven, something much closer.

I’ve teased out a fairly hopeful interpretation here, but that question still contains so much more. I can’t hope to cover it all in one blog post. I’ll be lucky if I can cover it in one lifetime.

Therefore, onward. I’ll see you in the Dreaming.