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Why Your Writing “Dream” Isn’t Realistic, and What to Do Instead

You've always had writing dreams, but chances are good you're not actually thinking about them the right way. Here's a better way to understand dreams.

I know so many people who have writing dreams, and I’m betting you’re one of them.

You want it so bad you can taste it. You’re determined to make it. You’re almost there. But … something just isn’t quite working.

What’s going wrong? Why do your dreams and your reality never quite match up?

You, my friend, are confusing writing dreams with something else. And if you want to be a successful writer, you’re going to have to change your mindset.

Writing Dreams and the Trouble with Definitions

I’m not great at keyword research. It seems hard and technical and, I don’t know, esoteric.

(For anyone who is similarly hopeless, keyword research essentially involves finding words that relate to your subject that people are already searching for online. When you therefore use them in your blog posts, you’re more likely to draw traffic.

The more specific the keyword, the better. Like, instead of “cats,” you might use the keyword “schizophrenia in hairless cats,” which I totally bet is a thing. Those f***ers are weird.)

In a fit of determination one day a few years ago, I decided to end this helplessness. I was writing a blog post about “goals” and decided a definition would be a good place to start.

It seemed simple enough, but when I put “goal” into the keyword finder, I was totally mystified by the results: football, Santiago, net, score. As it turns out, I’d performed my search at the height of the World Cup, and so predictably was fed a whole bunch of soccer terminology.

But see, that’s what I like about definitions:

Sometimes you think you know exactly where you stand with a word, but then you realize you never really saw to the heart of it.

This is particularly true when it comes to dreams.

What Exactly Are Writing Dreams?

Close your eyes for a moment. Think about your dreams of becoming a writer. What does it look like to you? Where do those writing dreams take you? If you had everything and more– you never will, because people change, but if you did – what would it look like?

Now open your eyes and listen up.

I think we often daydream about what could be, without actually taking the time to make it happen. Or we dream negatively, fantasizing briefly before immediately shutting ourselves down. Or we dream of the wrong things, limiting ourselves without even knowing it.

To dream in the right ways, on the other hand, means to visualize what we want out of life while assuming the best. Assuming we can do it.

And here’s where we get to definitions.

Dream.

Fantasy. 

Byproduct.

These words are all quite different, but are often conflated under the umbrella heading of “dream.” So let’s break it down. Stick with me.

Dictionary.com defines “dream” the following ways:

  1. a succession of images, thoughts or emotions passing through the mind during sleep.
  2. the sleeping state in which this occurs.
  3. an object seen in a dream.
  4. an involuntary vision occurring to a person when awake.
  5. a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake; daydream; reverie.
  6. an aspiration; goal; aim: A trip to Europe is his dream.
  7. a wild or vain fancy.
  8. something of an unreal beauty, charm, or excellence.

And that’s just the nouns. Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that while sleep-related definitions top the list ­– and “dream” as a synonym for “goal” doesn’t appear until no. 6 ­– they do not account for most uses of the word in popular culture.

“Dream” in Pop Culture

The American Dream, for instance. Or Oprah’s Dream Board. Or pretty much every blog out there about creativity, passion, right living, career and more.

“Dream” means “goal,” but goal in its purest, most highly realized form.

Then there’s no. 7, “a wild or vain fancy.” In other words, a fantasy. People often mistake fantasies for dreams, but the two are not the same. However lovely your vision may be of hooking up with Ryan Gosling on the rings of Saturn while friendly Martians serve you piña coladas, it is not a dream. (But, um, it’s still really nice. Also, can I join you?)

The point? In almost all cases, “fantasies” cannot come true.

Lastly, I would like to distinguish between dreams and byproducts. Folks, myself included, often mistake these as well. “Write a book,” “Start a handmade soap business” and “Hike K2” are all dreams. With enough elbow grease, you can probably make them happen. Will it suck? Yes. Could you do it? Well, barring a horrifying congenital soap allergy or what-have-you … yes.

On the other hand, “Get famous,” “Make millions” and “Lord it over Samantha because that jerk has had it coming for years” are all byproducts. They may happen, but not on their own, not without first accomplishing an actual goal. And they’re often fairly soulless.

The problem with “byproducts” is they are so directionless as to seriously hinder your ability to get there at all.

Plus, they’re basically the antithesis of getting the hell over it. They keep you locked in place for years, making life decisions based on what will impress others, show them up or pad your ego. Unfortunately, though, very few success stories are built on a foundation of stickin’ it to someone. It’s just not the way to go, my creative friend.

The Truth About Your Writing Dreams

So, to recap:

Dreams are pure, attainable visions.

Fantasies are fun, beautiful, fantastic, even salacious, but ultimately unrealizable illusions.

Byproducts are results that follow real action.

I’ve realized over time that I can only control a dream, something I can plan for, build on, work at, develop, share and nurture. I cannot do that with a fantasy, nor can I assure a byproduct except through hard work on a dream.

Even when I do set my heart on something that can be accomplished, I often stumble when it comes to actually executing it … because I get in my own way. I get caught in my head. I think about all the things that could go wrong instead of the things that could go right.

So take a moment to put your vision through the ringer. Where does it land? Is it a true dream? Is it even worth marshaling the resources you’ll need to fight fear and succeed? At the end of the day, have you properly defined your writing dreams and given them a real chance?

I hope the answer is yes, but if not, it’s best to find out now.

So you can get back to that Ryan Gosling thing.

Like what you read here? It’s from my book Get the Hell Over It: How to Let Go of Fear and Realize Your Creative Dream (Weenie-Proofing the Artistic Brain). Feel free to check it out, or head over to the Free Library for other great resources to help you get your head “write” today. (Get it?) Just click that big shiny picture below. Onward!

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