What happens to dreams that quietly fade into the background?
The hope is that they do not disappear forever — or that at the very least they return to the front of your mind and become your main focus, the main driving force behind your work, again.
There are many things that often arise that “get in the way” of a writer’s dreams. Responsibilities like jobs and family. Distractions like Netflix and Disney+. Uncertainties and insecurities like whether or not you will ever be able to write anything good enough that other people will want to read it.
What many people unfortunately do not realize — creative people included — is that even though you might turn your attention to something other than the dream you once held with such importance in your life, this does not mean you have officially given up on that dream or that your dreams “changed.”
To be clear: Sometimes people do decide they would rather go about achieving a specific goal in a different way than they had originally planned. But this still speaks to how strongly we tend to hold on to the things we truly want. Even though we might spend a lot of time focusing on something that is not our direct dream — like a day job instead of a side hustle — this does not mean our dreams are dead. Or that we have to forget about them forever.
For a very long time, my biggest dream was to publish a novel — and not the self publishing way (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with this method), but the traditional “find an agent and hope someone will buy my book” way. This was pretty much the only thing I wanted.
And then, as I so often say jokingly in this bizarre place called the internet, Life Happened. I couldn’t get a “real” job after graduating from college, so I quickly had to learn how to survive life as a freelance writer — which does not often allow for much time to write and edit books “on the side.” Then I got a “real” job, and realized I still had to focus on making money more than I could afford to focus on writing a book that may or may not sell.
So I shifted my priorities. I never stopped trying to write a novel that could be published someday. In fact, I have finished several and attempted many since then, and the hope of someday being able to get one of them published is still very much alive. It just isn’t my primary focus when I wake up in the morning. And that’s okay. It’s okay because it has to be, really.
I have never officially let go of my dream of publishing a novel because I don’t WANT to let go of my dream of publishing a novel. Just because it has not been my main focus for quite some time or because I have not made it a consistent goal I am constantly working toward does not mean the dream does not still exist.
At some point I simply decided that more important things were going to have to come before that dream — not that I wanted to give up on it entirely. Of course I wanted to get a novel published. But I also knew that was going to take a long time, maybe even years, and in the meantime I had to focus on my career — you know, the one I spent seven long years studying in order to pursue.
The biggest danger that comes with rearranging your priorities and giving your dreams a lower priority number, of course, is that you are somehow going to end up always having priorities that outweigh your dream. And this is why so many people either struggle to let go of their dreams even if all it really means is temporarily demoting it to a less significant desire (for now).
So if you are one of these people — either you have considered more than once on seriously giving up or holding onto it is getting in the way of other things in your life — here’s my advice for keeping your dream alive even if it can’t be your main focus every waking moment of your day: Do one small thing a few times a week, at minimum, that gets you a little bit closer to your goal.
If you dream of publishing a novel someday, for example, then right now you might only have time to write a few hundred words of the first draft of a book every day, or perhaps even a few thousand words per week. It doesn’t matter if it ends up taking a few years to write that book. As long as you keep making small bursts of progress on a conssitent basis. It does not have to be a daily thing. It just has to be consistent.
If you take your dream one day or one cluster of words at a time, it’s so much easier to handle. Plus, you feel a lot less guilty about “not being where you want to be yet” when you realize you have been gradually chipping away at this dream without quitting. You haven’t given up quite yet. You’re doing it!
As writers, even if we don’t realize it, we tend to focus far too much on having to be at a certain place in our careers at a certain time. I used to be obsessed with the idea that I was going to have a novel published by the time I turned 22. That “deadline” came and went five years ago. Guess what? I’m still writing. I have managed to do some pretty amazing things in my short career so far. I have not published a novel yet. That’s okay! I didn’t simply stop trying. I had to shift my focus because I had to survive. I had to survive so that I could one day create the time and space necessary to publish a gosh darn book!
It will happen someday, because I WANT it to happen. It will not happen this year and probably not next year either. At some point my priorities will shift again and I will have more time and energy and space to write and edit and try to persuade strangers to give me a chance at that whole author thing.
Because I am working on getting there one word at a time, I don’t mind that it might be years before my dream comes true. It turns out that there is no rush. I have time.
And hey — so do you.
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.