Monday, January 4, 2016

Writing Dreams vs. Writing Goals

I know of at least three people in my social network who have debut novels coming out in 2016. As happy as I am for each of them, and as much as I’m vicariously taking in their excitement as their respective release dates approach, a tiny voice inside my head will occasionally whisper, “So when is that book deal going to happen for you?”

When I describe the steps involved in becoming a published author to people, I’ll compare the process to trying to jump through a series of hoops, when each subsequent hoop is roughly half the size as the one before it. As generous and supportive as the writing community is, we all know how easy it is to compare our progress through those hoops with people who are further along than we are. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into many times myself, and it’s not a fun place to be. There are enough frustrations involved with writing and publishing already. What good does it do any of us to create even more stress for ourselves by internally ranting about things we can’t control?

It’s important to remember that dreams and goals are not the same thing. Dreams are things we hope will happen someday; goals are the steps we take as we work toward making those dreams into something real. Hope is nice and it keeps you going, but it’s not enough by itself. Idle hope is a cruel joke people play on themselves. Hope with action behind it stands a chance. Any writing goals you set for yourself in this new year have the potential to bring you closer to realizing whatever dreams you may have.

Nobody’s journey to publication is ever the same. No matter where any of us are on that journey, there will always be more hoops to jump through. If you’ve decided to commit yourself to this writer life for the long haul, that ultimate finish line you’re hoping to cross someday probably doesn't exist. No matter what goals you achieve or what dreams you manage to realize along the way, there will always be more milestones further down the road waiting to be reached. And really, isn’t that one of the things that keeps us doing this?

As for me, I’m starting off my 2016 in a good place as far as writing dreams and goals are concerned. I have faith in my manuscript, and I have faith in my agent. I believe that the right editor will cross our paths and things will come together in ways that will seem downright surreal. Meanwhile, all I can do is accept there are certain things beyond my control and happily move forward with a new project. In the big picture, that’s all any of us can do.

So when that tiny voice starts in on me with that question of “When is that book deal going to happen for you?” I can smile and think, “Shut up, tiny voice. It will happen when it’s supposed to. Now let me get back to work.”


Mirka Breen said...

Goals, I realize, should always be matters that are entirely up to me. No goal should be contingent on someone else's will. That's like having a goal of winning the lottery. Boing!

Michael Crowl said...

Tom, I love reading your posts. I like to think that you are just a step or two ahead of me, having representation and going through that in-between phase before your book is published. I have a manuscript I have faith in as well. I love the story, I love the action, I love the adventure. But when is it ready? It's the toughest part of a writer's job, in my opinion. It's when I wonder if that faith is misplaced, whether I've found that one typo out of 84,000 words, or I have too many adverbs, or exclamation points. Self-doubt. What made me think I could do this? And then I get a boost from someone who's right there in the thick of it. Someone who's not yet published, but a couple rungs above me. I am a few days away from submitting, and the stress has been something else. I've told that tiny voice to just shut the heck up, so I can hear the other voice telling me to have faith.

Tom Mulroy said...

That's a great point, and, I think, essential in defining a goal. It has to be something where the success is something completely dependent on the person making the goal.

Tom Mulroy said...

Thanks, Michael! Good luck on your submissions.

Rachel said...

Great post, Tom. I think it's so important to separate dreams from goals, and often so hard to do so! I often get asked when I'm going to get an agent/book deal/blah blah, and I have to remind family and friends that no publishing path is the same. I think though that the general public has a hard time because all they hear are the BIG success stories (i.e. Rowling and King who were in poverty and then hit it crazy big), as opposed to the normal stories of getting an agent, putting a book on sub, the book not selling, putting another book on sub, book not selling, putting another book on sub, book selling (or some variation of this). :)

Tom Mulroy said...

Excellent points, Rachel. It can be a little frustrating when people start to think that just because a writer starts working with an agent means they're quietly mansion shopping with a blizzard of royalty checks.