Writers dream deep with eyes open. We dream about stories, characters and themes - about villains, heroes, ladies and dragons. But mostly we dream about writing. We dream about having written, about the process of writing, about the feeling we get when we've written well. We dream about communicating what we deeply feel to friends and strangers. We dream about touching someone with our words; about changing lives; about affecting the world in a deep and meaningful way.
We dream about sharing secrets, about healing wounds, about providing insights and about solving problems. We dream about moving people with hearts of stone and about comforting people with hearts a-bleeding. We dream about righting wrongs and championing causes. We dream about scaring people and making them laugh. We dream about teaching and learning; we dream about telling people who we are, who they are, who we all are.
We dream about solving riddles and posing problems. We dream about dreaming and we dream about losing our dreams. We dream about the human condition and about the meaning of life.
These writing dreams keep us going when times get tough; during those times when we wonder why we are writing at all; when everyone else tells us we should be doing anything else but writing.
Sometimes - no often - it gets especially hard to write. Sometimes it feels like it's impossible to put into words the substance of our dreams - when the wolf's at the door financially and emotionally, when life's got us down and we are depleted and discouraged. But it's especially during those times we have to keep the dream alive and write anyway.
And that's because writing is the thing that makes us feel truly alive-that convinces us that we're doing something special and contributing to the intangible substance that has the power to elevate humanity. It's that act and that contribution that most often saves us from the illusion that life always gets the better of us - that we can be whipped, conquered, beaten down. It's when we think that the bad guys may be winning that we've got to gird our loins and dream even harder. It's during those times when we've got to take action and write anyway.
Oh sure there may be those who tell us we're wasting our time - that getting anything out there is impossible, that we're insignificant in the face of Nobel laureates, Oscar nominees and people who have been writing since infancy. But those people don't know that our dreams are exactly like the dreams of prize-winners and big-time "professionals."
Because those of us who write dream in a glowing commonality. We dream in the arena of knowing that words and images matter. We dream in the knowledge that this creative process is magic and certain; that when done well it works on the writer and the reader in equally powerful proportions. We know what those nay-sayers don't know - that in the very act of dreaming we confirm our determination to make a supreme effort to do the impossible and create a world.
It's in the act of attempting the impossible that we may even tell ourselves that we're wasting our time-that our dreams are implausible or too flawed to come true. During those times, we may be faced with terrifying personal demons - with specters of former failures that rise to haunt and beat us back. Especially during those insecure and anxious times, we have to block our ears to our own terror, we have to turn our backs on the undermining parts of ourselves and write anyway.
Our fears make us doubt our own talent. We may find other writers who write better than we do - who write the way we want to write; who write the way we suspect deep down we can never write. When that happens, we have to be humble enough to learn from those writers. We must also re-evaluate our ideas about the nature of talent. We need to realize that some people are born with talent fully developed and that some people (most people in fact) are born with talent that's like a seed that must be nurtured and coaxed to reach maturity. We've got to respect the level of our talent, rejoice in it and develop it by overcoming our fears of inadequacy and writing anyway.
There may be those who tell us we don't know enough; that our lack of education precludes our right to write. That's when we have to educate ourselves, to learn more and to live our unique lives in a thoughtful and reflective way so that we can become wise enough to earn our writing. We have to own what we know and write anyway.
There are those who may tell us we don't have the skills we need to engage others. That's when we have to work hard to gain those skills. We've got to decipher the mystery of our craft; we've got to master vocabulary; we've got to refine our tools of structure and nuance and we do that by constant practice and writing anyway.
All this learning is a lot of work and it's time consuming just like writing is. Where do we find the time to learn what we need to know, to carry on relationships, to run households and, if we aren't earning our living by writing (and most writers don't), work full-time jobs and still write? Getting time to write may be even harder than writing but if we are determined to do it, something interesting happens. Time becomes fluid and stretchable. Suddenly there are open moments where there were none before. And if we determine that writing is as integral to us as brushing our teeth, we will get up earlier, go to bed later, rearrange our priorities, juggle the events of our day, carve out space and no matter how busy we are, we'll write anyway.
There are times when we don't feel like writing-when we're emotionally drained, tired, spent. There are times when we feel empty and wordless; when we feel discouraged and angry and when we're caught in the snare of "what's the use?" During those times, when we feel especially dry, we've got to prime the pump and write anyway. Even if we're turning out drivel, nonsense and nothing at all, we've got to keep our dream alive, sit down and force ourselves to write anyway. In that act of writing, we reaffirm our commitment to ourselves. When we write anyway, we are keeping our promises and even if we think what we're writing is ultimately garbage, we're working on realizing our dreams.
That's true even when we're stuck. Sometimes we hit a wall in what we're writing and we can't see our way around it. That's when we are tempted to chuck the project, go onto something new. But stuck times are only indicators that we need to work harder to solve problems. That's when we've got to be relentless and even more determined. We've got to approach our story from a different direction, experiment more and move beyond the box of our own thinking. Being stuck means that we need to think more creatively. We have to hold on and keep writing in order to find our way around the problem because sometimes the solution can only come if we write through it. Often, in the great jumble of writing that pushes us against a writing wall, a ladder will emerge to get us over. If the ladder doesn't emerge, in all that writing we might find the seeds of a new story because even when we fail we're making progress.
That's especially true when our work has been rejected. When the manuscript in which we've taken so much delight and pride has been sent back to us unread and unedited or when it's been sent back to us rewritten and edited to death. That's when we have to take a deep breath, move back from our work, re-read ourselves with an objective eye, and rethink our words and write anyway.
We've got to resist the temptation to run away, to forget the whole thing; let "them" win and have "their " own way and the thousands of other things we tell ourselves when we've been criticized. During those times especially, we've got to be like swans - the only beings that can actually separate milk from water while they are drinking. Like swans who drink only the milk and leave the water, we've got to learn to take the good from criticism, use it to our advantage and write away.
And when the feedback is good - when people sing our praises, tell us we're excellent, brilliant, wonderful and inspired. When we're lauded, applauded, rewarded and extolled, we've also got to stand back and recognize how much of this milk is water. We've got to remember during those times that nothing is ever perfect, that even the greatest writers still have lots to learn. Lots of good writers have been ruined just as much by effulgent praise as they have by cruel criticism. We've got to remember to take praise just as lightly as we take condemnation. We've got to be realistic about our own skills and abilities. We've got to go back to our work, no matter how successful we've become and write anyway.
We've got to be willing to work hard and never become complacent. We can't ever let down our guard. Sometimes this can be very painful - especially when we have to abandon our work. That can happen a lot. It happens when we discover that someone else has already written exactly what we're been planning to write; that someone "famous" is writing what we're currently writing; that the same story we've just worked on for years, has just been published by someone else. During those times, we've got to be strong enough to walk away from what we thought was our own original idea - sometimes after years of work. We've got to be strong enough to weather that heartbreak, move on, start a new project and write anyway.
During those times we've got to recognize that even though our stories may not be unique, the way we tell them can be. We've got to believe in our own uniqueness and find a way of expressing it uniquely and because that's not easy to do, we've got to recognize that we may fail sometimes. We have to therefore change the way we look at failure. Like Edison, we've got to consider that it might be a positive stepping- stone to great success and we've got to keep going in spite of it, pick ourselves up and write anyway.
When we do dare to express our own uniqueness, there may be those who disagree with us - sometimes violently so. There may be those who disparage us for our points of view and for our opinions. We may make people angry or sad. We may alienate friends and make enemies. But if we are sure of what we want to say and we hold to our own integrity and truth, then we have to keep on saying it and write anyway.
All of this takes great courage, stamina and will power. But courage, stamina and will power are all part of writing - tools just as integral as words or ideas. Courage, stamina and will power give us the ability to realize our dreams even when we think we no longer dream them. These qualities are the subtle engines of our dream power put into motion by the impetus of our subconscious mind. We've got to recognize that they are integral parts of the writing life and we've got to use them every moment of every day and especially while we are dreaming and writing anyway. It's only by daring to dream, our relentless pursuit of those dreams, our determination to realize our dreams - it's only by never giving up and writing anyway that we become the kind of writers (and people) we want to be.