For the first six or seven years of my life as a practicing writer, I had one goal: to publish a novel. You know, the kind of “publishing a novel” that requires hundreds of query letters, lots of waiting, agents, contracts, and being associated with a publishing house that isn’t associated with Amazon.
There is nothing “wrong” with wanting to publish a novel (AND NOTHING WRONG WITH SELF-PUBLISHING — it still counts!!!). I’m confident in saying most aspiring writers, whether they continue down the path or not, start out wanting to be able to say they wrote a book like their favorite author.
Why? Probably many reasons — including the fact that when you’re surrounded by so many published books, the thought of having your own seems cool. And kind of easy. After all, anyone can write a book, right?
As I got older and found myself in a position to choose my own career path for real, I’ll say my professional goals changed — at least, the priority of my goals shifted significantly.
I still wanted — and even still want — to publish a novel someday. But when I think about “what I want to do with my life,” the answer isn’t the same. As devastated as I would be if novel-publishing never happened, I wouldn’t feel any less fulfilled or as though I had somehow failed.
It’s not “growing up” per se that caused this mental shift. But there is the reality and maturity that comes along with becoming an adult and acquiring responsibilities like bills and errands and the like. As much as we would all probably love to spend all day every day sitting at our laptops “making up stories” for a living, 99 percent of us will never live a life quite like that.
This does not mean we cannot be writers, call writing our career, or make a living putting ideas into words.
For me, a shift like this came about due to the simple fact that I have many interests that don’t always fit well together. I have degrees in health — I like educating people. I make music in my spare time — it brings me joy. I love creative writing, but I am also a trained journalist and get way too excited over facts. And then there’s the whole Star Wars obsession, but that’s another story.
I am currently working on a lot of projects, all outside normal working hours. Working on the book(s) I hope to attempt to publish at some point in the near future takes up only a very small portion of my time in comparison.
And my biggest goal of all — which I will not discuss in detail here — has nothing to do with telling a fictional story whatsoever. And that’s totally OK with me.
Your big writing goals and your “big life goals” don’t have to line up perfectly. I have many friends also in their 20s who have dreams of writing screenplays and books and poetry who are also pursuing careers in science, education, medicine, and more.
Some of them write on the side while working, furthering their education, and caring for their families and maintaining healthy relationships. Their writing goals are very important to them, but they want to — and are in a position to — contribute something to the world in other ways, and choose to put more of their energy toward those goals.
There’s nothing wrong with that. If you write regularly but it’s not your day job or you don’t make money doing it, you are still a writer. You are still fully capable of making writing a priority in your life, even if it is not your highest priority.
There was one point I thought that if I stopped wanting to write a novel more than I wanted to do other things, that dream would fade away or I would stop actively pursuing it. Neither of those things have happened. I am still actively pursuing the same goal I have been for years. Other projects — and my day job — simply often require more attention on a daily basis.
The way I see it, as long as you are still setting small, regular writing goals that are realistic for you to achieve and keep you on a continuous path toward whatever writing “success” means for you, writing doesn’t have to be the most important goal in your life.
You can have more than one dream. Even as adults our interests shift. Some weeks I’m really into reading and don’t want to spend as much time creating my own stories. Some weeks I try to map out how my life would change if I went back to school and disregard most of my other projects almost completely.
It’s important to have goals, to have things to look forward to, to have more than one thing to work toward. Writing can be all of those things in one. It can be a small part of your life. It doesn’t matter — as long as what you’re doing makes you feel fulfilled and at the end of the day, you are grateful you get to do it along with everything else.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.