On an Author’s Dreams: what they are, and how they shift

What are your dreams for your writing? Your short-term goals?

What are your dreams for your writing? Your short-term goals?

Yesterday I talked about how dreams can change. How sometimes we have to let dreams go, because we’ve changed. We’re someone else than we were and that dream doesn’t fit us anymore.

Today I want to continue the dream discussion and ask: what’s your dream as a writer? Has it changed through time?

As you know if you drop by here regularly, I’m not one to promote tons of rules. I’m not one to say there’s a right or wrong way to go about writing.

All I say is: You have to write for you. I’m big on that.

“Writing for you” can mean all kinds of things. Whatever it means for each of us, though, it’s tied deeply into our dreams for our writing.

I write because writing helps me figure out the tough stuff in life. I believe that my fiction is part of God’s plan for me, and a big part of the reason I would love to be able to support myself writing is to think that maybe my stories will help some other people deal with the tough stuff too.

The more sales, the more people reading. The more people reading, the greater the chances that maybe my story has been meaningful for someone.

There are so many dreams we can have in regards to our novels and stories. And they’re not mutually exclusive:

  • We dream of feeling accepted for our art, of the validation that we aren’t wasting our time and energy creating it.
  • We dream of landing that publishing contract with one of the big 5, of receiving that first advance and that first royalty check.
  • We dream of touching others with our work and inspiring other writers.
  • We dream of financial security, or even of making it BIG. The next J.K. Rowling. Spots on late night tv. All that jazz!

My dreams for my books have definitely been in flux through the years. When I started writing, I had a plan. The plan most writers start with (or at least, the plan we started with before the rise of e-readers and e-publishing).

STEP ONE: write an awesome novel.

STEP TWO: land an agent and a publishing contract.

Interspersed with that were fantasies of being interviewed by Oprah and making a movie.

A MOVIE, y’all. With my characters. What could be cooler than that for any writer????

I never would have dreamed back in college that I would take the self-publishing route. But you know what? My dream shifted a bit.

I wanted my work to be available to readers. The chance to maybe touch a reader–to make a difference in the life of a reader who connected with some character or other, some aspect of my story–took precedence over “find agent NOW.”

So I self-published. And I’ve learned tons and loved the adventure of publishing my own work.

THE FINANCIAL QUESTION

Would I love to be able to squeak by thanks to my writing, 100% of my income coming from sales? Would I love to be making $40,000 or $50,000 a year in royalties?

Of course! That would allow me to spend 8 hours a day writing. I would love that. My writing fulfills me. I feel it’s a calling more than an interest or a hobby.

For me, the dream of supporting myself writing isn’t about being rich. It’s the same dream everyone has: supporting herself with a career that she finds meaningful.

Now, I don’t have any illusions about how tough it is to “make it.” Maybe I’m cynical…. Maybe I’m not “believing in myself” enough…. But I don’t expect that’s ever going to happen. I don’t think any writer who is honest ever expects that.

And hey, as Chesterton notes in “Orthodoxy,” the people who really “believe in themselves” are in mental institutions. A healthy dose of humility goes a long way.

That begs the question:

HOW BELIEVABLE SHOULD OUR DREAMS BE???

Do dreams have to be attainable? Do dreams have to be earthbound?

Heck, no!!!!

Just don’t confuse dreams with goals.

Goals are ever-changing. They are steps on a ladder. In my opinion, a goal is meant to get you to one level so that you can then set your sights on the next.

Goals are more short-term.

  • Get this draft written.
  • Find beta readers.
  • Blog twice weekly all this year and aim for 200 daily hits on average by December.

Goals aren’t inspirational. They are meant to be grounded, to keep us on track and moving.

Dreams are MEANT to be wild. They are meant to be large, too large even to be grasped. They are meant to feed the spirit. They are long-term and emotional.

That’s WHY it’s so challenging when our dreams shift a bit. That’s WHY we doubt ourselves so much when we let go of or “downgrade” a dream, like I did when I let go of my dream to become a professor.

I was letting go of the emotional picture of what being a professor would mean for me.

Now, I think that a lot of writers who have self-published have let go of that dream of the Big 5 (formerly 6). Others consider self-publishing a step to landing that big contract.

Some of us never sought an agent. Others sought for years and had no luck. Still others are actively looking.

Either way: it’s fine. The world changes. Our options and possibilities change. We, as people, change and mature.

So, what are your dreams for your writing? Do you feel like you’ve been jaded? Have your dreams changed as you’ve changed and your life situation changed?

How do you feel about “reaching for the stars?” Do you think that motivates people or just sets them up for disappointment?

Please do share your thoughts! And if you enjoyed this post, I invite you follow my blog by email so you don’t miss future posts. You can sign up at the top right of the page.

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21 responses to “On an Author’s Dreams: what they are, and how they shift

  1. I have changed several times. My first “writing” adventure was as a composer, studying at a conservatory of music. At that point I had never read a book for pleasure, and writing was a chore. But it was my dream. Now if I had to write music, I’m not so sure it wouldn’t feel like work. Funny how we evolve. Thank you.

    • Wow, that is such a cool journey!!! I would LOVE to be able to compose music ๐Ÿ™‚ In my case, reading for school become a chore for me because I always–from first and second grade–read pretty much constantly for pleasure. It’s fun how people can start out differently and gravitate toward a similar place!

  2. Oh my, I’d forgotten my dreams of writing for so long that I was surprised when it crept back. It looked vaguely familiar, like when you run into the kids’ principal at the grocery store. I think I know you, but I’m not sure what capacity. I’m enjoying reminiscing with this long lost friend. I appreciate your distinguishing between goals and dreams as well. I tend to get wrapped up in goals and not dream. Anyway, enough about me. I congratulate you for having the wisdom to listen when it’s time to modify your plan to attain your dream. That can be a serious struggle that takes courage.

  3. Thanks! I love your comparison about the kids’ secretary!!! Sometimes it really is like that. They can shift and change and shift back. That’s something I didn’t address at all: I’m glad you covered it. (And yea for coming back to writing!)

  4. Um, get out of my head.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I find my dreams changing yet again. If you’d asked me a year ago what my dream was, I’d have said “agent, contract with major publisher, money and fame EHRMAHGERD!” (Because that’s how I talked a year ago, if I recall correctly.)

    Since then I’ve realized that the big publishing experience is almost never all it’s cracked up to be, and for me, becoming an author-publisher (self-publisher, whatever) will likely be a lot more satisfying to me. I understand that no matter how I end up publishing (trad. or self), I’ll probably never have fame and fortune, and that’s actually fine. I want to do my work, make it the best it can be, and share it. Of course, making money at it is part of the dream; like you said, it would justify the time I spend doing this.

    Other times my dreams creep away, and I contemplate just keeping everything to myself forever, because I don’t want to deal with all of the hate that’s out there. Most times, though, I’m good with that second dream. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Nothing wrong with changing dreams ๐Ÿ™‚ (ERMAHGERSH!)

      I like a lot of us, before we research the publishing industry, don’t realize how tough it is even for traditionally published authors to make a living from their writing (like you mention they don’t.) It’s a CRAZY small percentage of writers who are able to do that. Part of being a writer, I think, is understanding how unlikely that is and planning responsibly for life from a financial point of view. Not that we can’t dream…. but again, dreams vs goals.

      • Exactly. If traditional publishing guaranteed success, I might think the trade-offs were worth it, but it seems like most authors have to do their own promotional work, anyway. To me, that would be the biggest thing I’d want someone else to do if I was sharing profits with them. However we publish, we’re all trying in the same way to be noticed amongst the flood of books that are being published every week, and there are no guarantees either way.

        This is why we have to write because we love it. I know a few people who say they want to be authors, but actually say that “writing because you love it is all well and good, but I want the money.” Not gonna happen (especially when you’re not writing at all while you wait for this dream to come true…)

  5. Terrific post!
    I didn’t have a dream of becoming a writer until fairly recently. I feel like in a way, writing came to me.
    But I *have* had several careers, because my dreams *did* change. It was an unsettling experience, one that caused me to question myself (though ultimately for the better). No one who knows me would EVER call me “flighty,” and it was a terrifying thing, to stand up and say “I no longer want to do X. I am going to do Y.”
    “Dreams are MEANT to be wild. They are meant to be large, too large even to be grasped.” – Beautiful line ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m glad you liked that line! ๐Ÿ™‚ and I’m glad you stopped by. I’m in the middle of changing my professional dreams too, leaving grad school. It’s terrifying but I know it’s the right call. Just have to see where I fit in elsewhere! Job hunting is SOOO draining. It’ll all end up being worth it, though, is what I tell myself ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. The important thing is for the author to have dreams and not nightmares. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I agree. The self-publishing route was never an idea until recently. I always thought you kept submitting manuscripts and someone would bite. When a guy I went to high school with used Amazon, I talked to him and that’s when I went after self-publishing. Haven’t looked back since and I’m always thinking about the next stage. Movie or TV show would be nice. It really depends on what comes my way. I’ve left my dream rather open-ended since the change to self-publishing was rather abrupt and sudden.

    The key thing for any author is to keep the core of the dream even if the path changes.

  8. Even though I still hope for that movie deal, and honors and awards, my head is more in reality than it was a couple of years ago. Most authors don’t get as lucky as JK Rowling or Anne Rice, so with that in mind, it is best to re-evaluate what is more easily attainable. I hope to have a large following of fans who walk away from my stories with a new perspective on various things. I hope to make my readers think, and that’s my goal as an author, as well as entertain them with new worlds. Another goal is to continue to grow and develop as an author while working at doing the best I can. Hopefully, that will pay off with that movie deal! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m like you: I want to make readers think. Without being nauseating and philosophical, without having characters as mouthpieces for my view of life, I do hope I make readers think. I think all good writing should do that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. So many great points! I don’t even know which one to talk about first!

    Actually, I do just want to say that I’d be curious to ask this question to someone like JK Rowling. Was something like this her dream for HP? Did she even imagine that this would happen? No one can deny her talent, but it didn’t just ‘come’ to her, so she had to do the work. I like to believe that as long as I put in the hours, the talent and experience will lend to greater dreams than I first imagined. For me, I’m blessed that it’s not about money, although that would be great. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It WOULD be cool to ask JKR about that!!! I know she’s said at some point–around when she was writing Order of the Phoenix–it started to get to her. I can definitely see how that happens.

      I can’t imagine what it’s like to go from being a normal person with a normal life to that kind of fame.

  10. My writing dreams include writing and self-publishing my 5 fantasy novels. I wrote drafts of all 5 novels when I was a teenager and now the rewriting process is slow but I feel my characters have grown up with me and are more mature. There are whole plots to be reassigned and deeper character development. But the real purpose is to write for myself for the way it makes me feel. The same with my books I would love for them to be famous and turned into a film but right now I want to focus on self-publishing so that others can easily read my work even if it’s free. Also excellent job on clarifying the difference between dreams and goals!

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