I’ve Got a Dream

Some of you will disagree with everything I say here, and that’s okay. I hope this doesn’t get too depressing for anyone. It’s not meant to be. This is what happens when reality gently taps me on the shoulder and reminds me of what’s important. (I’ve re-written this post four times already, I’m done.)

Let’s start with this, because it’s amazing:

Damn, I love me some Flynn Rider.

Those guys have dreams. Perhaps not realistic dreams, but they’ve got ’em. Don’t we all? I know I do, and I know (because I’m a little psychic because I read your wonderful blogs) that many of you share my dream. Not for me– for yourselves.

We want to write. We want other people to read and love what we write, and we’d really like to get recognition and at least a wee bit of money for that. We want to see our books on a shelf and go, “Yes, that’s mine. I did that.” And then if you’re me, dissolve into a puddle of tears because this is what you’ve always wanted.

Doesn’t sound like so much to ask, does it? Some of you are laughing right now because you know that it IS a lot to ask, and it’s a hard dream to have. And it’s a dream that an unbelievable number of people share, all of them caring as much about their work and believing in it as hard as I do mine. I find this very humbling.

It’s a great dream, don’t get me wrong. When you love what you’re doing and there are examples in front of you every day of people just like you making it, getting their books published and turning into massive bestsellers, you think, why not me? When you get to the part where you’re collecting rejections, there are stories of those very same authors and books getting  just as many rejections. You think, “it’s part of the process.” Well, I assume you do. I don’t have much experience with this part yet, but I will, one way or another. We all do, if we put our stuff out there.

We maintain hope, but  at the same time, we understand that for most of us, it’s not going to happen. Whether because we’re deluding ourselves when we think our work is good enough (not you guys, your work is the cat’s pajamas. I’m saying me and those shady-looking writers over there), or because of a variety of factors beyond our control*, we’ll be lucky to see our beloved words in print.

Oh, we can skew the odds in our favor, for sure. We can read up on writing craft (and read everything else we can get our grubby mitts on and learn from), we can make our work the best it can be, we can market the heck out of it, we can go to conventions** and meet agents or editors who just might remember us if we make a super-good impression, we can spend hours and days crafting the perfect query letter. We can hire great editors and take their advice, we can find amazing cover artists and devise the perfect pricing strategy. It makes a difference. It doesn’t guarantee success.

Depressed yet? I’m not.

There’s a kind of freedom, for me at least, in knowing that the odds are long and the road hard, in understanding that some things are beyond my control, and that that’s absolutely, perfectly fine. It helps me understand the difference between goals and dreams. Writing the best books you can and doing the best you can for them, that’s a worthwhile goal. Having a bestseller that’s made into a blockbuster movie and then there’s the money and let’s say a super hot actor falls in love with the author behind it all (hey, why not, right?) is a dream. If it keeps you going, it’s a good dream. It’s not a reasonable goal, though, and we’re all going to be mighty disappointed if we make that kind of luck and success a goal we expect to achieve.

Optimism is necessary, and it’s fantastic. Realism is, too, but in a different way. I say we need both.

This brings me to another, tangentially related topic. You know those people who seem to pop up on every agent’s blog asking what the next big thing is going to be, as though they can write it to order and be guaranteed an agent/contract/publication/bestseller? That’s hilarious, isn’t it? Kind of adorable.

There’s a reason they say to write what you love, and to write because you love it, not because you think you could be the next Stephanie Meyer if only you could catch the wave of the next trend in publishing. Odds are you’ll put a lot of work into something you don’t actually care about, and have little to show for it. No matter what you do, books that aren’t as good as yours will probably rise higher. It sucks, but it happens (not mentioning any names). But if you love what you do, believe in your stories and feel passionately that this is what you’re meant to be doing, you’re not wasting your time. Whatever level of commercial or critical success you achieve (or don’t), you’ve done something worthwhile.

I like that idea.

So yes, I’ll polish up this book that I’m working on, wash its face and send it out into the world, telling it to play nice with the other kids (but not too nice) and not to trade its carrot sticks for cookies in the lunch room. And then I’ll get back to work on the next one, because that’s what I do.

Publishing may sometimes seem like an exercise in futility (and I’ve deleted paragraphs outlining why this is so, you’re very welcome), but writing never is. Not if it’s what you love.

*(that agent just signed someone and doesn’t care to add another just now; your book isn’t on-trend and the publisher doesn’t want to take a chance; you decide to self-publish and through the whims of fate and Amazon your book never gets any exposure)

**If you can do this, I’ll try to only hate you a little for it.

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

23 responses to “I’ve Got a Dream

  • L. Marie

    First, who doesn’t love Flynn Rider?? Second, I know this wasn’t an easy post to write, so I thank you for your encouragement. This isn’t a message many people hear often. We like the instant success stories. (Though we think writers like J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Suzanne Collins were “instant” successes. They weren’t. They worked hard.)

    I’ve had books published and on the shelf. Some still are. I’ve had books go out of print also. Yet the dream still lives on. As you said, you write because you love to do it. There are some dark days when I think, “This dream stinks” (to borrow one of my favorite lines from TANGLED) when the writing isn’t going as well as I would like. But I keep going. And I meet bloggers like you who help me keep going. So, thank you for your encouragement!!!

    • katemsparkes

      Hooray, I’m glad this was positive for you. I know reality sucks when you’re flying high on the instant-bestseller dream, so I worried it would make people sad.

      I don’t think there’s anything sad about the slow build, though. I certainly don’t expect my first book to be a bestseller; if it picked up steam as the series went on, that’d be fantastic. Success isn’t a “just add water” proposition.

      Which reminds me: Did you ever hear about this tree, I can’t remember what it is, that you water and care for every day for years (literally), and have nothing to show for it? Then one day it grows an insane amount overnight. The work you put in IS accomplishing something, but you can’t see it right away.

      Maybe that’s not even true, but it’s a story I like. 🙂

  • Nagzilla

    Thank you for this post. It’s a nice reminder, and helpful to remember why I blog more these days than work on my novel. I like that instant gratification piece, and it help me keep going.

    And about “deluding ourselves when we think our work is good enough”- even if we aren’t good enough, there are plenty of crappy writers who have made millions, so if the end result is a best seller, it doesn’t matter if you write well enough. Unless it doesn’t please you, in which case it doesn’t matter if it’s a best seller or not.

    • katemsparkes

      It’s true that there are crappy books making millions, but I’d rather have a well-written one that sells less, but that I can be proud of. I read the stuff people say about EL James (and honestly, I’ve been pretty hard on her writing myself, nothing personal) and cringe. I know that no matter what I do there will be people who hate my stories, but I’ll put my best foot forward, anyway. I’d be ashamed of putting out something that was just “good enough.”

      And yes, my Perfectionists Anonymous meetings are going just swimmingly. 😀

  • mysticcooking

    I like your distinction between a goal and a dream, and I think trying to write the best book we possibly can is a wonderful goal. The more I write, the more that becomes my dream, too. I mean, sure, I’d be fine with the whole bestseller turned blockbuster movie fantasy, because, yes, I like money and it would be nice to have some. 😉 But really, I just want to have a book published that I’m proud of. That would be more than enough.

    Great post! And maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think as long as we keep writing, keep working, and keep sending our stuff out there, we’ll all make it eventually.

  • Kathy Dunlavey

    Love you, my dear!!! Don’t ever give up on the dream though!! You’ve got what it takes!!! That dose of reality is important, but the dream…that dream is where it’s at!!!!!

    • katemsparkes

      I wouldn’t dream of giving it up. But I do think it’s important to know that anything less isn’t failure. 🙂

      • Kathy Dunlavey

        That’s because you are so smart!!;). I wish there were no instant blockbusters, so that we wouldn’t have that particular “dream”, or feel we have failed if we don’t reach such lofty heights. I am thinking that the “goal” of just finishing an actual book, be it published or not, may actually become my dream as well!!! And then, just maybe it will be published, and maybe it will be loved by millions of people and I will have written a blockbuster…NO WAIT!!! Oh o.k., I give up!!! 🙂

  • Jae

    Amen sista! I think this was a realistic battle cry. The whole point is to write a story you’re passionate about or don’t bother. People who try to stay ahead of trends rarely do. It’s the ones who were passionately being themselves that usually create the trends. Everyone was sure fantasy was dead and kids didn’t read anymore. Boom, Harry Potter. Before Twilight, could you honestly tell me you’d have thought that story would have caught on like it did? Apparently the author of “The Help” had a number of rejections before anyone would take a chance on her. Now with an Oscar-winning movie and millions of books sold who’s laughing? It’s all because these authors wrote a story they cared about and found the agents or publishers who caught the same vision as them.

    But the great thing is with the way things are shifting we’re all getting better shots at a much larger piece of pie. Books are more easily available and less costly to produce thanks to e-readers. Now we can really rely on word of mouth to grow a book’s fame, which is why I think honing our skills is more important now than ever. This goes for self or trad pub. There’s enough room for all of us, if we craft a story that’s worth reading—and all of this goes hand in hand with the passion behind it.

    Okay, so basically I second everything Kate has said. Write what you write because you’re passionate about it. Make honing your craft your number one priority and keep taking your story to the next level. I can’t remember who said it, but I’ve always like the encouragement in this phrase, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up . . . published.”

  • wendy lowden

    YOU are amazing!!! You should send THIS to a writer’s magazine to be published!

  • whiteravensoars

    Tangled is one of the best new Disney movies outside of Brave, which… welll… can’t be topped **grins** (I think I say that about almost all of them that come out.)
    I have to say… ironically… as much as I want to try to some day publish some of my works… I don’t really care if they do. I write for the joy it brings me, I write because of the stories that sing in my soul bursting to get out… I write because I need too!
    That said… I would LOVE to have a pile of rejection letters, why? because that means I have something that I actually felt was “finished” *smiles* but then… I am strange that way *grins*
    I love how you distinguished dreams from goals, they really are different! While one can always dream it is nice to have small goals that actually move you forward!

    • katemsparkes

      Wow, YOU should star in a Disney musical about a writer! 😀

      Stephen King seems to take great pride in talking about the rejection slips he collected and had nailed on his wall when he was younger, so you’ll be in good company if you get yours. Talk about someone who worked for his goals and realized a dream…

      • whiteravensoars

        *grins* that was once a dream of mine! hehehe
        And yeah, Stephen King is in his own way a big inspiration to me! Also a good friend of mine, a published author, she also really encouraged me. Shared some of her own story of getting published and how every rejection is really just one step closer to your goals.

  • thisaeshaw

    This is a beautiful, joyous post that, I think, encapsulates all my feelings about the world of self-publishing and, indeed, the world of publishing in general.

    One thing that really helps me retain this level of excitement about writing, and wanting to write, is, keeping at the forefront of my mind, how many people want to read, but don’t want to/simply don’t write. Twenty years ago, it felt as if there was so much panic about the decline of reading, decline of booksales, but we’re back in a place where bookshopping is an actual normal habit to have, and books are a part of daily conversation again. It’s a great time to write: when there are so many people around who want to read.

  • Emily Witt

    TAAAAANGLEEEEEEEED!!!!

    Ahem. Now I have that out of my system (I have a lot of love for that movie). Basically, I love this post. I write because I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t. When I’m on a roll, words just kind of pour out of me and I have to get them down or my brain will explode with the effort of trying to contain them all.

    Sometimes I let myself daydream about my name being on best-seller lists and the blockbuster movie and all of that, but at the end of the day, if the only people who end up buying my book are my friends and a few of the colleagues who always ask me how the writing’s going when they see me with my notebook in the tea room, I’ll actually be pretty happy to know I got that far, I think. It’s further than a lot of people get.

    • katemsparkes

      It really is! How many people say “Oh, yeah, I want to write a novel!” and never do? It’s too hard, or they realize it’s not going to be a best-seller and give up? Everyone talks about the impossible flood of new books coming out, but the fact is that most people can’t or won’t do this, even if they want to. It’s an amazing thing. 🙂

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