We’re all blessed with great imaginations. As writers, dreams are our stock in trade. We lead double lives: functioning in the everyday world while in our minds a completely different reality takes over. Our brains are peopled by hard men who have everything they could wish for (except the love of a good woman), by werewolves hungrily prowling our city streets, by Cinderellas wearing anything from Regency muslins and kid slippers to joggers and worn jeans. We look out the window but we don’t see the view, we’re plotting ways to torture our hero and heroine, discovering why our villain is so maladjusted or listening to a character tell us we’ve gone off track and they really wouldn’t act like that.
For ourselves, the dreams are always there. What is it that you secretly envisage? Holding your book in your hands? Giving up the day job and supporting yourself (and the family) with your prose? Idyllic days surrounded by reference books (and personalised stationery) in your custom-built office, whipping off a few chapters before having a well-earned coffee break with your friends? Reading your name on a best seller list?
Writers’ dreams come in many shapes and sizes but we all have them. They’re our secret delight, the incentive that keeps us warm and cosy and committed through the hard slog of finishing that book and sending it out into the harsh world. They keep us motivated, they revitalise us and give us a goal to work towards.
We’ve heard the advice so often: visualise it and it will happen. Think positively. Believe in yourself. Dream it and it will become reality.
It’s all true. Every bit of it.
But there’s another side to this too. Much as we love our dreams of success, and much as we need them to fuel our efforts, we have to step back from them, regularly and often. It can be a wrench, dragging ourselves away from those delightful visions of success, but believe me, it’s necessary.
You want to be an author. You’re learning your craft, you read about writing and follow market trends. You’ve written a whole manuscript or perhaps several. Success should follow. Unfortunately it’s easy to become complacent that it’s only a matter of time before you achieve success, then frustrated when it takes longer than it should. You hear about others getting contracts and wonder why it isn’t you.
There could be any number of reasons. Timing and luck, for a start. But it could be something that you have control over. You’re dreaming the dream, visualising the outcome you want. But have you done the reality check? Are you serious enough about this business?
Now don’t take offence – I know you REALLY want to succeed. But it’s amazing how we can fool ourselves into believing we’re doing all we can to reach our goal, because we’re writing and pursuing the dream.
A couple of years ago, at an RWA conference in Sydney, presenters posed a number of questions that made lightbulbs flash in my head. They made me think hard about my writing. Was I heading towards my dream or was I letting that dream blind me to things I didn’t want to see?
After a long hard look at my approach to writing, I made some changes and they’ve worked for me.
Here are some of those questions, plus more that I know have made a difference to other writers. The trick is not to be defensive and find excuses for what you don’t do, but to consider realistically what you can change to help achieve your dreams:
- Do you treat writing as your business? Do you take it as seriously as your day job?
- Do you write regularly? Do you write only when you feel like it? Do you try to write even if you’re out of your routine? Hey, do you even have a routine?
- Do you have a writing plan? What will you produce this year? How will that help you achieve your goal?
- Are your goals achievable given the time you can put into them?
- Do you meet to discuss your writing or instead, just talk about being a writer?
- How much time do you spend surfing the net or on loops, talking about writing rather than writing?
- What are your writing strengths and how are you capitalising on them?
- Why are you targeting your book to that line/editor? Because you’ve heard they may be acquiring, or because your strengths and writing style mean that’s where your work best fits?
- Why are you entering that competition? Is it easier than finishing the manuscript?
- Have you reread the comments on your competition entry even though you didn’t agree with the judges? Did you find any commonality in the comments? Did you attempt to address the issues they raised?
- When will you have researched enough? Can you start writing now, while you research?
- Have you submitted a manuscript?
- Did you leave it first for several months then go back to it with a fresh eye? Was it as tightly written as you could make it? Were you sure there were no rough edges or was it good enough that you hoped the editor would gloss over those bits that might need a little work?
- Does the opening grab the reader by the throat and not let go? Really? If not, why send it off? (It’s awful to receive a rejection, to reread the partial and realise how much better you could have made it!)
Hang on to your dreams. Cultivate them and use them to keep your enthusiasm alive. But remember, dreams by themselves aren’t enough. Don’t use them as a convenient shield to avoid making the changes that could help you achieve your goals. Take time occasionally to set them aside and look long and hard at what you’re doing and why. Take stock, adjust your goals and then keep going.
Good luck turning your dreams into reality!
First printed in Hearts Talk (magazine of the Romance Writers of Australia)