Keeping the dream alive (Mistake #127)

Could the next amazing writer to land a book deal after years of slog, after years of rejection, after years of their obvious talent failing to be acknowledged or recognised, NOT take to Twitter and promptly tell every other aspiring writer to do this:


Share how excited you are, of course. Tempt everybody with the plot. Let us see your tears of joy, by all means, and show us how hard you worked for this. Sincerely: you deserve every indulgence and celebration. You’ve beaten ridiculous odds, and I’m full of admiration. That cover art is beautiful too. I hope the book sells insanely well, that you have a long and fruitful career.

But please, please do not tell other writers what they should do simply because this one astonishing thing happened to you.

I dreamed of winning Wimbledon. (Gave that up circa 1987.)

Not unrelated, marrying Chris Evert. (Circa 1989.)

Becoming a published novelist. (Yes, me too.) (Yes, I wrote one.) (Just checked my files — I wrote TWO!) (Both tripe.) (Abandoned in 2003.)

Travelling the World. (2006-ish.)

Dethroning David Beckham as #1 Men’s Fashion Icon. (2010 or 2011.)

Not unrelated, reversing this Great Middle Aged Spread and getting back into My Most Favourite Jeans Ever. (All hope not yet abandoned.)

It is OK to move on from a dream, be it fanciful or serious. It is OK to dream up new dreams. It’s OK to do neither.

It is almost always novelists who I spot championing the eternal dream. I don’t want to be too hard on them. It’s forgivable when they’re caught in the throes of new publishing excitement, but less so when that has died down, or when they’re established.

And I don’t wish to blame them for this following frustration of mine either, but why is publishing a work of non-fiction much less likely to be seen as a desirable aspiration to shout about? Why is there an assumption, when it comes to writing, that only long-form fiction is worthy of The Dream?

You can dream of an article being published, a poem being sold, a letter being the ‘Star’ on a letters page, a cheque for something you wrote, seeing your name in print in any form, a regular column in a local paper, making a humble income from your words, or whatever. These are all legitimate.

And no one has the right to tell you to either keep dreaming or to stop dreaming.

Nobody but you.

Whether to say goodbye to a dream (not keen on ‘give up’; it’s not necessarily a sacrifice), or to simply move on to new dreams without looking back or regret, or to decide to have none at all, is for you to figure out. You need no-one’s consent.

If you are happy working towards your goal, and things are going well, remember that nobody has any right to divert you — not least me. How you deal with nay-sayers and sceptics is up to you, but redoubling your resolve to prove them wrong appears to be a popular choice.

But if you are struggling and unhappy and your life outside of your writing is being affected, do not feel it a failure to re-evaluate this dream, whatever it is, and whether it is worth pursuing at any costs you may be incurring. I covered similar ground in Mistake #108, so won’t repeat myself.

Writers: we are given one period on this earth.

Chasing a dream is all very well, but must it necessarily be at the expense of actually living a real life?

Comments 10

  • Maybe the advice should be ‘Never give up on your dreams, but accept they won’t all come true and realise you don’t have to stick with the same dream forever’.

  • Dreams can be as big or as small as you want them to be. What I do think is important is that they are YOUR dreams. Social media encourages ‘Dream Competition’, and it can put pressure on people to make their dreams bigger than they’d really like (No, I don’t just want to write a novel – I dream of bestsellerdom!). But as you say, it’s also about recognising that the world changes, as do we. Perhaps some of the unwillingness to let go of a dream is us not wanting to acknowledge that we’ve changed. (Remember those jeans with fondness. Sometimes dreams work best because some aren’t meant to make it to reality. )

    • Yes, perhaps it’s the human love for nostalgia that we’re battling. As I get older I get more philosophical, so perhaps I’ve just reached a place where I’m fortunate to have more perspective. Superb point about social media competition — another reason why it’s important to step away from it for extended periods from time to time to silence the noise a little …

  • I think it’s about recognising when ‘dream’ becomes ‘obsession’.
    I took up writing late in life, so perhaps it’s easier for me to be realistic about it: I don’t have a lifetime to hone my craft. But I enjoy it.
    I spent my working life doing stuff I didn’t enjoy much, so I’m indulging myself now. Otherwise… what’s the point?

    • Superb attitude, Cathy. And very good point about obsession. I fear these ‘never give up on your dreams’ messages feed that obsession in those aspiring writers who are vulnerable to suffering from it.

  • I’ve stopped following some writers on SM because they like to brag and boast about their success.
    Of course I’m pleased for them but it can make me (and other writers) feel totally inadequate. I don’t brag and boast about my occasional success on SM, as it’s not in my nature and I know how it can affect others.
    I too, am fed- up the ‘Never give up’ mantra.
    My dream was to have a TV drama script professionally commissioned. Despite positive comments, I gave up because I wasn’t progressing on to the next level eg: I couldn’t get an agent because my work wasn’t up to standard. I didn’t feel confident enough in my ability to try again.
    I have outlines of plots, so I may have another go in the future if I feel motivated enough to give up 3 – 4 months (maybe more) of my time but I’m not in a rush to start!

    • I’m sorry about that, Sharon. If you follow too many, I can imagine the bragging can accumulate. I think a little is acceptable — and I have to be conscious that I do it myself — but too much can get tedious or, as you suggest, dispiriting. I do think the ‘may have another go in future’ is a good and grounded attitude to have — a sensible approach that doesn’t put pressure on oneself. Good luck, whatever you decide.

  • Have dreams but aim for those you can achieve for now is how I keep going. Every writer is different as are their circumstances which can make all the difference.

    • I like the idea of achievable dreams. The dream of writing a novel, even publishing a novel, is very much in the writer’s control. But writing a best-selling novel really isn’t. So much of what we measure success by is down to outside ‘forces’ …

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