- Writer Unboxed - http://writerunboxed.com -

A Challenge to Writers: The Balance Between Dreaming and Working

Photo by Alex Mertzanis

How many times have you fantasized about what blurbs will someday grace your book covers?

Embarrassed?

Okay, I’ll go first: countless. From the day I decided I was going to write a book, I was dreaming about what already-published authors might say about it. Spoiler: they’re all rave-reviews, and they’re all from the best in the business. (Hey, it’s my fantasy, okay?)

Early on in my writing life, I was isolated and novice enough to be totally uninhibited in this practice. I didn’t tell anyone, but I did make long lists of authors to approach for blurbs someday and imagine what they’d say. This is before I even finished writing the first book, mind you. This was back when I thought “difficult” was an apt enough descriptor for the journey to getting published. It’s almost charming for me to think about newbie me making those lists, crafting those faux blurbs, and thinking – even a teensy little bit – that some of them may someday actually happen.

Writers, here’s my challenge to you today: do this.

I’m not kidding. Do it right now. January is the perfect time for dreaming. Newbie or seasoned vet, zero books out or fifty, open a blank document or grab a notepad and, literally, make up the blurbs you wish your favorite authors would say about your books – written yet or not. I promise that you will never have to show this to another soul, so be shameless. Be fearless. Be ambitious and ridiculous and absolutely naïve. Run with it. Have a blast. Take as short or long as you want. Five minutes or an hour.

Seriously. Go do it, and then come back. Don’t look ahead yet. This is one of those exercises that won’t work right if you cheat. I’ll wait.

.

.

.

.

Done? That was fun, wasn’t it? I don’t know about y’all, but Stephen King called my novel “terrifying,” Sharon Olds said my prose “sings with poetry,” Jack Ketchum proclaimed me “gutsy,” and Anne Rice called my book “a literary masterpiece.”

Okay, now put back on your Grown Up Author Specs and take a look at your list. Suddenly, this becomes more than just a silly exercise in dreaming big. It becomes two very important things: an authorial style map and a challenge. What a dream blurb list actually tells us is who we admire and why. I can’t get over how well Stephen King understands and creates fear, which is why I chose him to call my work terrifying. I genuinely marvel at Anne Rice’s artistic skill and breadth, which is why I chose her to call my work a literary masterpiece. Yes, those are silly – that’s the point – but looking beyond the improbability of such daydreams becoming a reality shows me what aspects of different writers I most aspire to master.

These are the things I need to aim for. Taken all together as a whole, these are the pieces that map out my ideal authorial style. These are the things that I want all of my work to exemplify.

Pretty neat trick, eh?

So now that you have your ideals written down in black and white instead of just floating around in the nebulous old noggin void – along with your examples of authors who embody them – what do you do with them?

This is where the real challenge hides: you work your ass off to actualize them.

If you were hoping for an easier answer, I’m sorry. This isn’t a shortcut; it’s a roadmap. This is where the concept of balance comes in. Some people will tell you to get your head out of the clouds and put your butt in the chair. Other people will tell you to dream big, because that’s how ambition is born. I say do both. Dream as big as you want, and then put your butt in the chair to make it happen.

Now, to be clear, when I say “actualize them,” I don’t mean the blurbs themselves. Not only are Jack Ketchum and Sharon Olds probably really freaking busy making their own spectacular art, but who knows what they may actually think of my writing even if they had the time and generosity to read it? No, that’s not a healthy goal.

But what is a healthy goal is the study of the authors you admire and the constant, intentional striving towards building the strengths you most value. I’ll never be Stephen King, nor would I want to be, but I can study fear. I don’t write the same way as Anne Rice, nor would I want to copy her, but I can strive to equal her literary ambition. Do you see? It’s not about the blurbs: it’s about the vision. The art. The words themselves.

Because at the end of the day, that’s how dreams become reality: really, really hard work – one word at a time.


I know I promised you wouldn’t have to share, but if you want to join in the fun, feel free to comment with your ambitions. :) Shy of that, let’s discuss dreaming big and working hard. Do you have the individual facets of your aspirations plainly mapped out? How do you keep those intentions in mind as you work? How, in short, do you balance dreaming and working?

13+

About Annie Neugebauer [1]

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet with work appearing in over fifty venues, including Apex, Black Static, and Fireside. She's an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. In addition to Writer Unboxed, she's also a columnist for LItReactor. She's represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. When Annie’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.