Are Your Dreams Standing in the Way of Writing Success? 5 Dreams That Can Interfere With Your Goals

What’s the difference between a dream and a goal?

Short answer: reality.

A dream is a creature of the imagination, full of sparkles and rainbows and magic. It’s our castle in the air where we live our fantasy lives. We all need them. But we also need to recognize them for what they are.

A goal is something doable. Like getting a college degree, saving enough money to go to a writers conference, or finishing that novel.

"I want to be a rich and famous writer" is a dream.

"I want to write a novel and get it published" is a goal.

We need to learn the difference if we're going to succeed at anything.

Here are some common writers' dreams that can stand in the way of writing success.

1) The Travel-Adventure Dream

You know the one—most writers have it at some point. We're going to travel around the country in a camper/sports car/motorcycle—writing our own version of On the Road, Travels with Charlie, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Or we're going to go live in Paris and become the next Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Gertrude Stein.

I plead guilty to this one. When I was a kid, I always pictured myself traveling the world, having romantic adventures and turning them into lovely novels.

Thing is, I got the traveling and adventures part right, but until I was nearly forty, I’d never actually produced one of those novels.

Novelists don't need adventures. They need the talent to sit "alone in a room" as critic Michael Ventura famously said in his classic essay, The Talent of the Room.

And as A. J. Hartley pointed out at Writers Digest's Thrillerfest this week. "Shakespeare didn't ever go to Italy."

I'll never regret any of my own visits to Italy, but they weren't essential to my writing career.

My dream of romantic adventure was standing in the way of my goal of becoming a novelist.

2) The Award-Winner Dream

Who hasn’t had the Academy Award fantasy?

When you were twelve, you probably rehearsed your Oscar acceptance speech in front of your mirror and told your hairbrush that you thanked the Academy, your favorite teacher, and your parents—carefully leaving out your bratty little sister who insisted on watching her stupid cartoons instead of the whole red-carpet lead-in to the Oscar broadcast.

Yeah, a lot of us have been there.

But sometimes we can get snagged on that dream and it holds us back. Whether it’s winning an Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer, or making it to the top of the NYT bestseller list—picturing that kind of rare occurrence as your sole image of success can hold you back from the real thing.

Success comes in increments: baby steps. You need to consider yourself successful when you finish your first novel, send your first query, self-publish your first book, write your first blogpost, get your first royalty check, etc. Otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the huge leap from where you are now to where you want to be.

I have an old friend who has always wanted to be a playwright. Twenty years ago, she won a scholarship to a prestigious playwriting workshop. Since then, she hasn’t written a word. But she's always talking about the grand, epic, historical play she plans to write some day. The kind that would cost millions to stage.

So when she told me recently she had a new idea for a fun little musical—one that might be possible to put on without first winning the lottery—I suggested we brainstorm and write an outline. While she talked, I jotted down her ideas for scenes, set design, music, etc., hoping I could help her get back on track to her goal.

After a couple of hours, I presented her with the outline and tried to fill her with encouragement. I told her I knew some people at a community theater who might be willing to do it as a readers’ theater, and maybe even stage it. I hoped that would inspire her to sit down at the keyboard and start writing.

Instead, she flew into a rage.

No community theater for her! She wanted Broadway!! Unless this play was going to be a contender for a Tony Award, she wouldn’t bother to write it. It was her life-long dream to stand on that stage and accept her Tony award from the American Theater Wing. She had it all visualized: what she’d wear, what she’d say, who she’d thank.

How could I be so cruel as to take her dream away!

I put on a fake smile worthy of Camilla the Manners Doctor and ushered her out the door. I knew at that moment that my friend was never going to write a play.

Her overblown Tony-award dreams blocked her from her goal of becoming a playwright.

3) The Literary Kudos Dream

This was one of mine, too.  In my dream I was always able to support myself with writing (somebody had to pay those cafe bills in Paris.)

But I didn’t have a clue how to write stuff that might actually make money.

I mostly read literary fiction, and my early work consisted of self-involved, convoluted Alice Munro-wannabe stories and esoteric poems full of classical references.

Yes, I loved reading romantic suspense and mysteries, but I didn’t want to be a pulp fiction writer. Oh, no: I wanted to be reviewed in the New Yorker!

Right. I didn’t take into account that pretty much everybody who is published in the New Yorker has a boat-load of academic credentials and teaches at a prestigious university.

I let my dream of literary acclaim stand in the way of writing the kind of fiction that might give me a professional career.

4) The Rich Writer-of-Leisure Dream

Richard Castle has a lot to answer for.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the TV show Castle (and I’d watch Nathan Fillion read an IRS tax form.)

But do you ever see that guy writing books?

Movies and books are full of characters who are rolling in money they've earned from writing fiction. Some of you may be old enough to remember that author who owned the Hawaiian mansion in Magnum P.I. Yeah. Like that guy. Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote never had any money worries either.

But the truth is, even successful, bestselling authors don’t make as much as the average lawyer, professor,  doctor, or accountant (and they don't get benefits.) The J.K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings are very rare indeed.

The reality is the vast majority of writers have day jobs. Either we teach or edit or work at something entirely separate from writing. And we don't have much spare time.

If you want to be in the self-supporting minority, you have to work long, hard hours. To make the kind of money Richard Castle supposedly has, you'd have to churn out titles at the rate of about one a month. Even so, it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to afford Castle’s loft (or all those ex-wives), and you certainly wouldn't have the time to run around solving crimes for the NYPD.

Real writers write. A lot.

Don't let your dream of living like a fictional author keep you from becoming an author in real life. 

5) The “I Never Interfere with my Genius” Dream

There’s a quote sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde, and sometimes to Byron:  "I never rewrite. Who am I to interfere with genius?" (I can't find it with a Google search, so I must not have it quite right. Anybody out there know the exact quote?)

Some writers believe their talent is all they need, so they never subject their tender artistic feelings to the tough work of learning the craft of writing.

But writing is like any other skill: you have to learn the rules and practice, practice, practice.

No matter how great your natural golf swing, you have to learn the rules of the game of golf, or you won’t win any tournaments. It’s the same with writing. "Talent" only gets you so far.

But I’ve known writers who spend years churning out unreadable novels—never rewriting—refusing to learn about point of view, or story arc, or pacing. Their work is constantly rejected by agents and editors, which they attribute to various conspiracies or scams, never to their lack of knowledge.

If these authors self-publish, they get dismal sales and scathing reviews that fill them with despair.

I’ve read lots of blogposts by authors who lament the unfairness of the industry/buying public, but when I look at their books, the reasons for their failures jump from the first page: bad grammar, typos, impenetrable prose, clichéd phrases and characters.

First drafts are, by nature, s****y, as Anne Lamott taught us. That’s why we rewrite.

Real genius is learning to rewrite well.

As Richard North Patterson said,

"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing."

If you fall in love with the dream of your own "genius" you'll fail in your goal of becoming a professional author.


What are your writing goals? Can you clear your brain of the misty fantasies and figure out what you really want—and then map out a step-by-step path to reach it?

Your goals can change as you mature as a writer, but they need to be clear. Do you want to be self-supporting? Do you want literary acclaim? Those aren’t always mutually exclusive, but you're more like to reach one if you let go of the other for a while.

Concentrate on what's doable, then set a goal. You can have another one after that, and another one after that—and one day, it may result in that big dream actually coming true.

What about you, scriveners? Have you had some of these dreams? Have you let them keep you from your goals the way I did? What other dreams can keep a writer from success? 

Book Deal of the Week

If you haven't read any of the Camilla books, this is the one to start with


 A debutante loses everything and is accused of murder. But she proves her innocence with the help of a cast of wacky characters, including a plucky octogenarian,  a wise young trash collector, and the hottest newsman since Clark Gable in "It Happened One Night."
"The Best Revenge is part bildungsroman and part picaresque "Perils of Pauline" (Calamities of Camilla?) that while laugh-out-loud funny, carries a message about how we view ourselves and how others' views of us may conflict, yet make us grow."...Richard Alan Corson.


1) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest.  They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Entries close October 1, 2013

2) A site for KOBO READERS: This Canadian site is the KindleNationDaily for Kobo. Really nice folks, affordable rates, and their ads are FREE if your book is free for Kobo. Reach some of those voracious Canadian readers. Kobo is the most popular ereader in Canada.  Submit your book here. 

3) A Room of Her Own contest for women writers. Entry Fee: $15. Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Los Angeles Review. Submit a poem of no more than 36 lines, a short short story of up to 500 words, a story of up to 1,500 words, or an essay of up to 1,500 words. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline: July 31, 2013

4) Advertise to British readers with EbookBargainsUK. Listings will be half-price through July and August and anyone listing then will get a credit for a free listing for September onwards (excluding the Holiday period December 20 – January 10). ALSO: They will be launching Ebook Bargains Australia, Ebook Bargains New Zealand, Ebook Bargains Canada and Ebook Bargains India soon, offering authors a chance to target their ebooks at readers through local stores in those countries. Inclusion in these international email newsletters will not cost you anything extra! The one small listing fee will get your ebooks in all five newsletters, reaching five of the biggest English-speaking markets outside the USA. If you're in any of those countries, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

5) Murder And Mirth - A Contest: Submissions are being accepted for The  Killer Wore Cranberry: Room For Thirds anthology. All stories must be between 1,500 - 5,000 words. Send in .doc, .rtf or .odt format only. Stories MUST be about murder and mayhem happening at Thanksgiving, feature a typical Thanksgiving dish as a vital part of the story (turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc.) and - most importantly - they must be funny. Says editor Jay Hartman, "This anthology is all about making people laugh while enjoying a great mystery at the same time." Previously published works are fine as long as author has  electronic rights. Submit to (and questions): jhartman@untreedreads.comDeadline is September 1st.

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