From Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (Cannongate July 2018)

Rachel Knightley with Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna

‘What if someone steals my idea?’ is one of the two most common questions would-be writers ask when sending (or not sending) their writing off. The second question, which may sound like the polar opposite yet often follows directly, is ‘What if my idea isn’t good enough?’ There are practical answers, such as emailing documents to yourself so you can prove copyright by date. There are gentle reminders that there are only seven basic plots but infinite original voices – what you’re selling is not just your plot or idea but the originality of your voice in that plot or idea, a unique combination in all of time and space.

But while the practicalities are helpful, it’s much more helpful to address the questions at the emotional level: The perfect thing in your head will stay perfect as long as it stays in your head. It will stay that way until you have the courage to turn your perfect dream into an imperfect first draft. The more you risk on paper, the closer it gets toward becoming in the world the thing it is in your head. Inspiration and imagination are nothing without investment. Faith in yourself and your work will ebb and flow but investment in your work is something you control.

Investment in, and faith in, the creative process is an unspoken theme of Room to Dream, the new biography of David Lynch co-written with Kristine McKenna. Memoir, biography, autobiography and bildungsroman, it alternates McKenna’s research-based chapters with Lynch’s transcribed interviews, where he responds to the history McKenna presents with his own reflections and memories. The co-authors walk us through his prolific writing and directing credits, marriages, creative and personal collaborations, and his journey from oddball to adjective (the step from being officially “crazy” to “Lynchian” in the eyes of the world is a moment I defy any writer not to love). While it’s become rare for any David Lynch writer-director credit not to have the word “ground-breaking” attached, the world into which Eraserhead was born plonked him so far left field as to be almost written off. You don’t need to be an aficionado of film or memoir to take the implicit lesson, or encouragement: uncertainty is a fact of life and art (Indeed, any fan of Twin Peaks, co-created with Mark Frost, would testify it’s a major source of Lynch’s subject matter).

Room to Dream does not reveal, define or decode Lynch’s vision or self: fitting for an artist who uses imagery to ask big questions. What makes it clear is his faith in the mystery, and investment in the process, of creating. We do learn about his process as a filmmaker, but also how his wonder at the universe, what it is and what place we have in it, is explored visually and personally. Understanding there is no guarantee your work will succeed, that the world doesn’t owe you that, comes across as the reason not only for working hard with no expectation it should be any other way, but for his knowing collaborators’ names, from those writing his soundtracks to bringing his coffee. Room to Dream illustrates the passion and patience needed to sustain a project, and that the need to fight to make your voice heard is no reason to stop.

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Rachel Knightley is a freelance writer and teacher. Her short stories have previously won the ‘Promis' Prize for Children’s Fiction and first prize in Writers’ Forum’s fiction competition. Her next short story, 'Before I Walked Away', will be published in August 2018, in Uncertainties III by Swan River Press. She is completing her PhD novel in 2019. Rachel's Green Ink Writers’ Gym workshops are resident at Waterstones Piccadilly, Sonny’s Kitchen and the Barbican Library. A former full-time copywriter and editor, she now teaches and edits from her bases in London W5 and SW15. Say hello or find out more at and