Have you have ever allowed your imagination to wander off to all the glorious, glamorous potential outcomes of your writing? Like seeing your books hit the bestseller lists, catapulting you to fortune and fame?
So has an author I work with, Tony Vanderwarker . For three years, Tony was mentored one-on-one by none other than John Grisham. In the memoir he’s penned about the experience, Writing With The Master: How a Bestselling Author Fixed My Book And Changed My Life (Skyhorse, February 2014), he talks with refreshing candor about his fantasies of wild success. “My imagination goes haywire ,” he writes. “I dream I’m on the set of the Today Show chatting about what it’s like to write a novel with John Grisham. Maybe John will join me? How big an advance will I get? Will there be a Porsche Turbo in the offing? Who’s going to star in the movie version of my book? Harrison Ford, maybe? Will I be asked to write the script?”
But that’s just the beginning. Throughout the narrative Tony describes visions of his book selling for six figures at auction and muses about enjoying the perks of wealth including—why not?—a private jet.
Reading these sections, I literally squealed with joy. Not only could I relate to Tony’s meanderings 100%, having imagined—no: believed—early on in my own writing adventures that the novels I’d produce would bring in a sustainable income and that I’d live happily ever after as a well-fed, published author; I also found it a relief to finally see them expressed in print.
We writers go to such great lengths to stay grounded in reality that we’ve trained ourselves to push those big dreams out of our minds altogether. We repeat ad nauseum that we write for the pure love of it. That we write because we simply must. Sure, we tell ourselves, publication would be nice, but neither the painfully slim chances nor rejection will stop us. As for money, we shrug: we’ll take it if it comes our way but in the meantime, readers’ praise is as good as gold.
As for talking about any grandiose dreams we may still harbor—whoa. Taboo. Who would risk making peers roll their eyes and snigger behind our backs by actually saying, “I’ve got a bestseller going here, I can feel it. And it’ll pay those college bills!” Or by admitting to the mere hope that such a thing could happen?
One blogger Tony spoke with about a guest post actually asked him to remove the language about the Porsche, the advance and Harrison Ford. “That’s not what it’s all about, is it?” The blogger wrote in a comment, which included a little smiley face as if to gently remind him to stick to the party line.
Yet—dreaming is a natural part of creativity. The creative mind pays no heed to the borders between fictitious storylines and real-life events. When I’m on a great writing roll, for example, I’m usually on a great dreaming roll too, projecting into an idyllic future where I have no day job, take dance classes in the mornings instead of at night and…sigh…finally own a cottage in the south of France. When publicizing authors—a highly creative endeavor—I fantasize about their success too!
A few years back, deflated from rejection and the struggles of self-publishing, I decided to stop dreaming. For a while, I didn’t write at all. And when I did venture back to the keyboard, it was to try my hand at a short story. This choice felt safe: not only could I fit a little short story into my life and schedule more easily than a huge, messy novel, but with no market for short stories, there’s no fodder for big dreams. At best, short fiction gets archived in obscure literary magazines and earns Pushcart nominations. The word “sales” never enters the equation.
Then a strange thing happened. As I warmed up and the words started flowing more freely, ideas for related stories came to mind. Soon I had sketched out a complete short story collection. “Something I can publish,” I thought one day. And suddenly my imagination was galloping off to New York Times reviews, teaching positions, invitations to give talks around the country—around the world!—paid, of course, and….and….
Even as I tried to stop myself, I realized: the buzz of dreaming big was nourishing my fiction. I was back on a writing roll, and it felt good.
Sure, dreaming big is risky. Friends will roll their eyes, and for every high there’s a disappointing low. But what’s creativity if not dreaming? Playing it safe and asking our imaginations to stick to socially-accepted norms means cutting off a source of fathomless inspiration. With all the talk out there about taking risks as writers, isn’t it time we gave ourselves permission to take this risk, too, off the page?
Do you dream big?
What outcomes of your writing do you imagine but not dare admit?