The Difference Between a Dream and a Writing Goal

The plan makes all the difference.

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Everyone wants something. Everyone dreams of achieving something grand — there isn’t a person on this planet who doesn’t close their eyes in quiet moments and think, “One day I really wish I could be …” Something.

Just because everyone wants to achieve something, however, does not mean everyone will. I’m not trying to be negative here — I do believe that anyone can accomplish anything they want to, if they do what it takes to make it happen. But a lot of people don’t. They get distracted, or they get discouraged. They spend years dreaming of something amazing happening to them, and spend many years wondering, “Why hasn’t it happened yet?”

The answer isn’t a simple one, and it’s different for everyone depending on individual circumstances. But generally, the difference between people who achieve what they want to achieve and those who don’t is often a matter of being caught in the inactive stage of creativity.

Otherwise known as: Dreaming.

Dreams are this weird thing that happens to humans for some reason. We just do it, and we LOVE to use it as a plot device in our stories even though we really need to stop doing that (staahhhhp).

I’m talking about the nightly adventures you take without actually going anywhere, of course. Dreaming can also refer to imagination itself — wondering what would happen if, what might happen when, how would my life turn out if …

You might even phrase it like: “I dream of being a writer someday.”

Unfortunately, for many aspiring creatives, dreaming ends up becoming a barrier. They become so focused on what they want to happen that they forget that in order to move creativity out of the inactive, imaginative stage and into the active, logical stage, something actually needs to happen.

In this case, that would be writing. In order to put ideas into words (see what I did there?), you have to write. In order to turn a dream into something real, you need to write.

Often what helps many people make this transition is this thing called a goal — something specific (e.g., writing) you commit to doing, and hopefully actually follow through with in order to achieve success.

A dream is something you lie awake at night and imagine having already happened. A goal is something you wake up in the morning and put in actual work to achieve.

Dreaming about writing requires only thinking.

Actively writing requires DOING.

THAT is the difference between a dream and a goal. Dreaming takes zero effort. Pursuing something tangible, however, takes years, sometimes even decades of hard work. Dedication. A constant willingness to face rejection and the possibility of failure, all for the slight chance it all might one day lead to success.

I wouldn’t go as far to say dreamers can’t be achievers, however. All writing goals start with dreams, and even writers who have achieved some level of success still lie awake at night thinking about where they want to go next, what they want to achieve, who they ultimately want to be.

But the difference between a dreamer and an achiever is that dreamers ask, “What if?” Achievers ask, “What next?”

Having goals, of course, doesn’t guarantee you will put in the effort to achieve them. Writing is a choice. Not writing is a choice. A dream and a goal aren’t quite enough to make the product of success. Work is the ingredient most people forget to grab before they begin making the recipe.

This doesn’t mean you can’t dream of being a bestselling author, that you can’t imagine all the wonderful things that might come along with that. It simply means that creating a goal only starts with a dream, a dream is not the only requirement. Work, even still, is the bridge connecting whatever your goal might be and the end result you want.

In order to become a bestselling author, you must set a goal to first write a book. And you cannot achieve this goal of writing a book unless you work day in and day out toward that accomplishment, chipping away at the small pieces that make up that larger goal until you have finally gotten where you want to be — or, one step closer, at least.

A writing goal should always follow a writing dream, and active writing should always pursue a goal.

One of these elements cannot exist without the other. It’s another reason why so many people who say they want to write end up failing. They set goals, but the dream isn’t there. They don’t have a true underlying purpose in the goals they are setting, they’re just establishing them so that they exist and that foundation almost always crumbles.

Imagine someone who wants to write a story about someone who has survived years of abuse. They don’t really have a reason why they chose this topic, it just seems relevant and like a story they “should” tell. But once they start, they realize they don’t really feel connected to it. Their goal is to write a story about abuse, but something is missing. They try to do the work, but once it becomes challenging, they find it hard to come up with a reason why it’s worth continuing, so they stop.

They had a goal, and were willing to do the work — at first. But they were missing a dream, a true purpose.

Now imagine instead someone who wants the voices of people who have suffered this tragedy to be heard, and feels they can do that by telling a version of their stories in the form of a book. Maybe this is fueled by personal experience, or a loved one, or simply a true story that deeply moved them. Their dream is to speak for those who can’t or don’t want to. That is their purpose. A book is simply the tangible goal that aligns with that purpose, and therefore, putting in the work to achieve that goal is a lot easier to justify, now isn’t it?

It’s all connected. You don’t have to always have a massive agenda in place in order to write something, but that foundation of “this is something I want to say” should always be there. That wouldn’t be enough on its own, of course. You need it all, the purpose, the plan, the execution. That, ideally, is the formula that will create success. If you’re lucky. If it is the will of the universe. In one way or another, I’d like to believe it will happen for anyone who has earned it, in the right place, at the right time.

Don’t lie awake at night imagining what you wish you could do. At least, don’t let yourself get stuck there.

Always wake up in the morning. Always rise with that dream in mind, and sit down, and decide what you’re going to do, and then do it.

Maybe, just maybe, all your work will be worth those sleepless nights.


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.


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2 thoughts on “The Difference Between a Dream and a Writing Goal

  1. Good one, Meg. You never fail to dish out the hard truths. I have been working on my book, hitting goals, but this made me stop to think about what my dream is, and what I really want from all this.

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