These two words make up the go-to phrase of pretty much every future-focused inspirational speech out there. But what do they actually mean?
Dream big. Go after what you really want. Do whatever it takes. Be brave. But how?
There are a lot of writers out there who are afraid to admit that they want the “impossible.” They want their own New York Times column. They want to write and direct their own movie. They want to see their name on a bestselling book list.
Why are so many people afraid to admit what they really want?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because a lot of us are afraid that if we say it out loud, we’ll actually have to do it. And that’s even more terrifying.
Here’s where I might be able to help with that.
You have to turn your dreams into goals. Dreams aren’t things we can typically manipulate or change, but goals are the exact opposite. Dreams are the things you tell your friends about when you’re waiting in line at Starbucks. Goals are the things you work toward little by little, day by day, until you have something to show for it.
You can’t just say “I want to be a bestselling author someday” and leave it at that. You have to figure out what getting to that point is actually going to look like. How do you go from “no book” to “bestselling masterpiece”? Well, you write. Clearly. But how often? When? Where? What about? Why?
You have to not only be honest with yourself about what you want, but also about what you’re willing (and not willing) to do to earn it. If you’re willing to put in several hours the majority of all weekdays into writing, editing, and rewriting a draft until it’s ready for a professional review, then don’t be afraid of your dream. Run toward it. Slowly, at a steady pace, with plenty of breaks when appropriate.
You can’t rely on other people to keep your dreams alive. Yes, there will be moments you need a support system and will be lucky if you can find or already have one. Yes, it’s nice to hear someone you care about encourage you to keep going after what you want. But you aren’t always going to have that. And even when you do, it isn’t always going to be enough.
It’s easy to tell aspiring writers “don’t listen to the haters — believe in yourself!” But what does that actually mean? No, you don’t have to listen to people who want to hurt you by telling you that your dreams don’t matter. But criticism isn’t always that easy to detect. There are a lot of people in your life — people you love, even — who will tell you they support your writing. But they’ll never show you they mean it.
You have to act as your own cheerleader sometimes. Especially in your darkest moments when you’re seriously considering the possibility of quitting and settling for a “real” job. You don’t have to isolate yourself and refuse all feedback. But you do have to recognize that you need to be able to count on yourself to act as your own support system. That’s how many dreams become accomplishments — by people doing things by themselves (within reason) until they no longer have to.
It’s not the end of the world if things don’t turn out exactly the way you imagine. In fact, most of the time, they won’t. When I was a senior year in high school, I mapped out my entire “five-year plan” which just so happened to insist that I have a novel published before I turned 22. (Why so specific? It’s … complicated.)
Obviously that didn’t happen. But I did eventually land a full-time job as a writer and now make a living editing other people’s words. That wasn’t my plan — not even close. But I do have a stable full-time job in publishing, which means that if I ever do get around to publishing a book at any point, I won’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck while I wait for people to buy my words. That’s much better than whatever alternative my 17-year-old self had in mind.
Life is unpredictable. But just because things turn out differently than you planned doesn’t mean the turnout is “bad.” Different is not bad. It’s often so much better than you could have hoped for.
Dream big. Decide what you want and go after it. Be flexible — take things as they come and learn from your successes as well as your failures. Write a lot. Write things that scare you. Write things you think are terrible. Write things you think are amazing.
Dream. But do, too. And don’t forget to look back and remember that what you’ve accomplished used to be nothing more than a hope.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.