I don’t remember exactly when I decided I wanted to be a novelist. But I do remember the joy I felt the very first time I finished writing the first draft of a “real” book.
That accomplishment filled me with hope for the future, as well as a kind of confidence I had not felt in a very long time. In that moment, I was sure I really could do anything I set my mind to. I was certain this was something I could do over and over and over again. And so I did.
That sense of fulfillment became something I began chasing. For years after that, I kept writing books — well, first drafts of books, which is still pretty awesome — both because I really couldn’t help it and because I wanted to feel purposeful. I wanted that surge of adrenaline. I wanted to continue believing that becoming a novelist was something I was realistically capable of.
But then the “high” wore off. The thrill dimmed. I kept writing books (or trying to) but I wasn’t feeling the same level of fulfillment as I had been before. In fact, I noticed I wasn’t even really enjoying my writing that much anymore. I started to doubt whether or not I should even keep going — if I even WANTED to keep going.
So for a while, I stopped taking my creative writing seriously. I’d write a little here and there, but mostly only a few months out of the year (because, you know, NaNoWriMo). I didn’t quit. I just … needed time to figure out if publishing a novel was something I still really wanted to do.
That was when I started exploring new creative outlets. Introducing myself to new possibilities. Accepting that just because I’d had a dream before didn’t mean I had to continue pursuing it the rest of my life.
I found new dreams, and started constructing new goals for myself. I never completely abandoned my hopes of someday becoming a novelist — it’s still a far-off goal of mine. But it took stepping back from the biggest dream I’d ever had to realize it wasn’t actually the ONLY dream I had. I had other interests, other ambitions. Some of them were practical. Many of them weren’t.
But it really put me at ease, knowing that I was allowed to shift my focus and change my mind. Sometimes we lock ourselves into plans we’ve since outgrown. We think, “I made a commitment so I can’t change it now.” In many cases this is true. But not when the only commitment you’ve made is the one you’ve made to yourself.
I’m not saying you should just abandon project after project, always searching for “The One.” But if you’re struggling to continue pursuing something you used to be excited about, here’s the cool thing: You don’t HAVE to keep doing it. And that doesn’t even mean you have to abandon it completely. You’re allowed to shift your priorities around, work on your creative writing every now and then and do something else with the rest of your time.
Do be careful about making a big decision like this, though. You should never “give up” on a dream because you’re frustrated or hurt or burned out. It’s possible to step away from things like writing temporarily in order to give yourself some room, and in doing this you very well may discover that you would be much happier if your main focus wasn’t on telling the same types of stories via the same medium as you always have. And that’s very much okay
We’re afraid to change our minds because it feels a lot like failing. You start with a goal and you start working toward that goal, but if you stop pursuing it then technically you’ll never reach it — isn’t that what failure is?
But we forget that not succeeding and failing aren’t really the same thing when it comes to writing. I’m of the belief that the only way to fail as a writer is to not try, and that if you set a goal and don’t achieve it, well, you really just haven’t succeeded yet. Failing implies that you never tried, and that just isn’t true if you spend months or even years working on a story before deciding it’s time to move on.
You tried. You just didn’t achieve the outcome you originally hoped for.
You had a dream. You just decided that dream was no longer the most important part of your life — at least for now.
I know what it feels like to worry you’re running out of time. It is an essential ingredient to the cocktail that is my anxiety. I get it. You don’t want to spend all that time chasing something only to suddenly decide you’d rather not pursue it any longer.
I think you’ll be better off in the long run if you acknowledge that your time in the present will be better spent doing something you are fully invested in.
It’s like the common troupe about the college kid who’s only studying to become a doctor because his parents said he had to. Usually, by the end of the story, he has gone rogue and decided being a drummer in a rock band is his true calling (or whatever).
Your dreams don’t always have to stay the same.
As long as you do commit to something and go after it with all you have, you’re going to be just fine.
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.