Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tough Dreams

There's this horrible thing that happens to writers. People either lose interest when they learn you're not Suzanne Collins/John Green, or they tell you, "I've always wanted to write a book too!"

Which makes me want to laugh and cry. Wanting isn't doing, as anyone knows who's attempted to write (let alone finish) a novel. Most people don't realize how dang hard writing is. I've put in hours and hours of work. I feel demeaned by the idea that my efforts are equivalent to someone else's latent dreaming.

The writer's conference I attended had some amazing authors. You've never heard their names, but you will. These as-yet-unknowns will become tomorrow's bestselling authors. How do I know that? Because where others dreamed, they did.

The thing about pursuing your dreams is that you have to put in hard work to get it done. I've met some writers whose dream isn't to get published; it's just to write. I know that because they didn't want anyone to read their work. They didn't want feedback. They didn't want to change the sucky scene that's just a bog to get through or the long words that make them sound smart and simultaneously lose the reader's interest.

That's great if you simply want to write. But you'll never get published that way.

Dreams are awesome because they're tied to our heartstrings and make us feel good when we work on them. That's why I highly encourage people, especially debt-ridden graduates like me, to pursue their dreams. Who cares about buying a house? You're twenty-six! Pursue the profession you like, and by the time you're ready to settle down, you might be good enough that you can afford the house while still working in your chosen field.

But know this, dreamer: dreams are also tough. They're tough because you don't live in a vacuum. There are people whose approval matters. There are people who control your access to resources, and you have to get past them somehow. Life has no cheat codes for this. You have to work.

Thing is, does work have to be laborious? If you're in a field you like, work can be fun. It's still tiring and effortful. But it's like the good-sore of running miles on the trail. You don't notice your muscles; you're paying attention to the joy of the run.

Work also makes you better. I've learned not to be hurt by criticism on my writing because it makes me a better writer. I may not always like it, but it's true. A comparison of my writing now and ten years ago will show significant difference. It hurt at first to have my babies kicked and bruised; but then they grew up and became beautiful.

When you learn to be okay with the hard work of life and to take the criticism that improves you, you've removed the last obstacles to pursuing your dreams. I didn't say to achieving your dreams; sometimes that's luck of the draw. Some great authors never get published because the timing was wrong or the editor had food poisoning or the agent didn't realize there was a market for it waiting in the wings.

You can't help the achieving part. But you can help the pursuing part. The biggest barrier to pursuing your dreams is your own fear. Once you stop procrastinating, you'll start producing work. Once you take a few punches and get back on your feet, it won't take you as long to restart next time.

I attempted to write a novel many times. I wrote a 20,000-word novella. I mapped out a novel that I never wrote. I wrote a tragedy-fanfiction that got within 2 chapters of the end before I lost interest. (I went back last December and finished it on a whim.) I started a romantic comedy that hit 35,000 words before I got hit by a train called writer's block. This was the high-speed rail of writer's block, towing fifty tons of demotivation.

C'est la vie littéraire. You go in fits and starts. And then, one November, you decide to do NaNoWriMo and you write a 150,000-word novel all the way to the end. The writing is actually decent this time, because you've spent so many years learning hands-on what not to do.

Because you know how much work it takes to get anything right, you knuckle down to rip that manuscript to shreds, including getting as much help as possible in doing so. There's no room for ego when you want to get good at something. You read the first page to anyone who will listen and assail your spouse with problems like, "This character isn't working..." and make them talk it out with you.

It's work. The good things in life you have to work for. But no one said the work would be boring.

Word count: 809.