When I helped my dad design my current home office — despite the fact that I had been a professional writer for a handful of years and knew better — I couldn’t help but imagine my “dream life” as a writer.
This imaginary life isn’t anything extravagant — not really. All I really picture is at least one wall filled floor to ceiling with books, a desk with a comfortable chair, and many consecutive hours of uninterrupted writing time, no exceptions.
Also, an endless supply of coffee that I didn’t have to continuously get up to make, and unlimited snacks, and a very well behaved puppy.
I’m very low-maintenance when it comes to my writing space preferences, you know.
As you can probably guess, my home office — though amazing in its shelf space and optimal spots for comfortable puppy nap times — does not make my writing life perfect. I still get tired and cranky. Sometimes I sit down and the words just won’t come, or I keep getting distracted.
Sometimes I have a really bad day, and I think to myself, “Why are you trying to make a career out of writing? Is there even a point?”
One day everything will go smoothly, I’ll get all the words written that need to be written, and I’ll feel good about that. And then the next something happens that completely throws me off course and I’m mad about it and can barely write anything at all because of that.
In writing, you never know what’s going to happen. The same is true about real life.
The greatest joy and terror of being alive is that every day is absolutely unpredictable. Oh, you might THINK your by-the-hour routines and rituals prove it isn’t, but that’s exactly why so many aspiring writers’ expectations are crushed relentlessly beneath the weight of reality.
Just because we want something to happen a certain way doesn’t mean it will. This also, however, does not mean that just because something doesn’t happen the way we want, good things will never happen to us at all.
Many years ago (or so it seems), I envisioned my late 20s looking very different than they actually are. I had Big Dreams. I wanted to have books published. I wanted to be teaching, to have credibility, to have long since proven I knew what I was talking about. Oh, and I wanted to have accomplished all that while also raising a family and making time for my plethora of hobbies.
I wasn’t afraid to dream. I’m not embarrassed about those ambitions.
But even though none of the things I’d hoped would happen by now have actually happened — I’m, in the broad sense of the term, traditionally unpublished, that doesn’t make me very trustworthy in the eyes of experts, and I still live with my parents (IT’S ECONOMICAL) — I wouldn’t consider myself a failure. I have two degrees. I haven’t given up on this whole blogging thing in the past 10 years and don’t plan on doing so anytime soon. I work for companies that treat me well and are teaching me new things every day.
Most importantly, I haven’t let any of my Big Dreams die. I’d still love to publish a book and earn my place among the writing masters and dive into the wonderful world of companionship and parenting (someday). But I have time for all that. I’m happy with the way things have turned out. I won’t say I wouldn’t change a thing. But I certainly wouldn’t change most of the good things I have earned so far.
You might imagine a life that seems realistic in your head but turns out not to be when you look at it logistically. That’s okay. I would never discourage you from dreaming about what you want. There are a lot of people who dream big, take the plunge, fall flat on their faces, and just give up. There are no such things as dreams that are “too big.” Maybe it’s our approach that’s all wrong.
Instead of downsizing or demolishing our dreams when they don’t come true exactly how and when we want them to, I think what we need to do instead is build better stairways to reach our sizable ambitions.
No, I haven’t traditionally published a book yet. But I am doing a lot of writing that could potentially prepare me for that possibility, which means I’m climbing toward my dream one small step at a time. I haven’t sat down and just said, “Forget it.” I’m saying “I’m getting there slowly” instead.
You can’t go through life letting unmet expectations weigh you down. If you’re too busy looking at all the things you haven’t accomplished, you’re going to miss out on the joy that accompanies your true accomplishments. Celebrate the little things. Be proud of how far you’ve come.
Even if you still have a long way to go, at least you’re going somewhere.
Life never turns out exactly the way we plan.
Maybe that’s a good thing after all.
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.