So my two-year-old, we’ll call her Logan (because that’s her name, and I’m actually fine sharing that, although I don’t expect readers remember all my family member’s names, so I just say ages, even though I hate having to type the – between year-old, but some people really care about that stuff). Anyway, Logan has recently become obsessed with the movie TANGLED, to the point that she wakes up in the morning, drags her blankie downstairs, inserts thumb in month and says, “Punzel”. The inevitable drool only adds to her charm. Once I turn on the movie, she says “Now Cuddle” in this very sweet, commanding voice. And I’m jello. So we’ve watched this movie almost daily over the last couple of weeks. Meanwhile, my other kids are off in that tree house I hand-built for them, munching on organic snacks and discussing the emotional parallels in Tolstoy’s writing to his troubled upbringing. So my parenting skills all evens outs.
Tangled. This movie? I heart it incredibly hard. I would go so far to say it’s not only my favorite Disney movie, but is on my top 10 movie list. It’s serendipitous that my daughter is requesting this movie and not, say, Titanic, a movie I hate with white hot burny things, but that’s a whole other blog post (oh, look! Someone wrote my inner-most thoughts, except with more swear words). But I digress.
So there’s this scene where Rapunzel is sitting out on the boat with Flynn Rider, waiting for the lanterns to be released. And she’s waited her whole life to see these lanterns float into the air, the simplest and purest dream a young girl can have. And she realizes she’s about to get what she always wanted, and asks what happens now, after a dream comes true. To which Flynn, Mr. Swoony McSmolderson (seriously, it’s unnatural the feelings I have for this cartoon character), answers, “Well that’s the good part, I guess. You get go find a new dream.”
Lanterns fly. Characters sing. Lindsey weeps. Logan flops on ground and screams for Muppet Movie instead.
I’ve been thinking a lot of about this, about the After of a dream. Stories don’t discuss the After, After has less conflict, it’s all the pursuit and glory, or the Langston Hughes deferment of defeat. Oprah tells us to create dream boards, calligraphic quotes encourage the pursuit, but I don’t think there is a needlework out there that says, ‘Hey dreamer! You got what ya want. Now deal.”
(Sorry, Mr. Disney, but this is bull. Last night I dreamt I made the Stanford volleyball team and for some reason Zac Efron was the middle-blocker, which could only happen in a dream because he’s short. Oh, and I’m 30. Oh, and they don’t have a coed team. Anyway, love Tangled, thanks for publishing my books, but let’s work on your catch phrases, K?)
Being an author was a dream of mine, not my only dream, of course, because I don’t believe in dream monogamy. It’s a numbers thing–you’re more likely to have a dream come true if you have a lot of dreams. I also dreamed of finding love, learning in a field that excited me, birthing kids who suck their thumbs & cuddle. I dreamed of a big life, of magically bouncy hair, of international travel… you know, just go to Pinterest. I want All The Things. But being an author was The Dream, the secret dream, the wishing on stars and holding my breath in tunnels sort of thing. And that happened. And like Rapunzel, the day my agent called with the first offer for PRINCESS FOR HIRE, I felt this odd wave of sadness. This was IT. The moment I’d thought about forever, and I was sort of lonely in it, because I didn’t know what to want anymore. And, then you know, I freaked the freak out and ate an entire cake and celebrated by buying my daughters’ any princess shirt they wanted, even if they were the garish ones at Walmart.
I’ve seen a lot of authors struggle with the After too. You want and want and want that book to get published to the point of physical pain, and then it’s published and you realize that book is just that. A book. A book on the shelf of many, many books, spines and spines of dreams lined up expectantly in a row. And maybe the dream wasn’t what you thought. I mean, there are thousands of books published a year, and yet the stigma of authors is that they’re rich and famous. No one imagines tainted dreams, the dismal sales or canceled contracts or one-hit wonders or heinous publishers or cover woes or *insert everything any author has ever angsted over ever*. Or maybe you publish a book and that book does pretty swell, but what you really wanted was to get a movie deal or make six figures or sell in forty countries or get asked to be on every author panel at every conference, including the one with Zac Efron (I’m available!) The toxic wanting never stops, you think happiness will only happen when XYZ does, which is silly, because everyone knows the letters that bring true bliss are QRS.
These, my friends, are dreams gone wonky. Can we instead revise all that needlework and say Dream (Within Your Personal Control) Big!? Because as important as having dreams are, it’s just as important to realize that like those billions of floating lanterns, dreams aren’t always something we make happen. Sometimes, we get lucky and they happen to us. Dreams are something we hope for, but goals are the things we really achieve. Goals are what we should celebrate, because we have say in those. And by setting small, obtainable, realistic goals, we might get a few of those dreams.
Whew, sorry got a little motivational speaker there. Let’s look at a potential author dream logically. Say I really want to hit The New York’s Time’s Bestseller list. I have many friends who have had this happen, and it looks pretty cool having New York Time’s Bestseller Author in front of their names. But the chances of the achievement happening to me are beyond my control. So beyond my control. Like that lantern is halfway to Madagascar right now. Why? Well, first of all, authors like me who aren’t already huge sellers usually have to something cataclysmic happen for their already-published books to suddenly sell huge numbers. Like a major award, or becoming George Clooney’s new girlfriend, or falling in a well and some charity raises money to save your life by promoting your book (double win!). But even if we’re talking release week of my next book, and that book for some reason is a breakout novel, there is still so much more that has to happen. There has to be buzz about the book, national buzz that usually involves publisher money, word of mouth and luck. There must be enough books in print to meet the kind of demand that ranks NYT numbers. Publishers only do large print runs for lead titles, or books they expect to be big, and that expectation might come because they bought the book for a lot of money in the first place. And those books need to sell in the right stores that report to the NYT. It certainly helps if I happen to be writing in the genre that is popular in the moment. And I also have to sell more then all other books that week, so my book is competing with the new James Patterson YA or Star Wars Lego book, and I can’t control what everyone else is writing and when they are publishing it. And… do you see that little raisin? Yeah, it’s my stupid dream. Why waste longing on something that I have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL OVER. I can’t make that dream come true. Even if I write the greatest book of all time and everyone recognizes that and consumers pour into the stores to purchase my book, THEY are the ones buying the book, THEY are the ones making it happen. Not me.
If your dream is to write a book, then go! Write that book with all the writingest… writest you have, kiddo! And next level, publishing that book? Yes, arm yourself with the sword or revision and the shield of publishing knowledge and the… the sling shot of, er, craft. Honestly, publishing a book itself is a ballsy dream to go after, but there are individual goals you can set to increase your chances, like finishing the book, making it great, sending it to the right agents, ect. When someone tells me their dream is to publish a book, I don’t doomsday them. Go for it, and as you bump along the road to publication, keep a level head about the differences between dreams and goals.
For all those Rapunzels out there who have already reached that published dream, please, keep dreaming. Realistically. Authors are imaginative folks, we can’t help but dream. Find a new dream that is just as great as publishing that first book, and make sure it’s not something that other people create, that is part of the publishing machine. Liberate yourself. Set goals to achieve things that are within your control. Have I said that yet? Yeah? The awards and the big advances and the Hunger Games-like hysteria? Those aren’t the dreams you hold close to your heart, those are the ones you let go, knowing it might happen, it might not, those dreams are just going to distantly float along. Oh, and hope that lantern doesn’t fall back down and burn some girl’s hair (it’s happened. My friend told me.)
I have days where I feel like crap just because I’m sitting around bemoaning everyone else’s awesome. I still have moments of envy, of asking “Why them and not me”? But more and more, I’m letting that go, feeling happy that those dreams are happening for others and meanwhile keeping my head down, focusing on what I have done and what I still am trying to do. This is part of living the dream, of continually growing and striving and achieving. I’ve been thinking for a few months about what I want my next writing dream to be, and I think it’s to write a book that is new and different for me, something that brings me joy, a project that isn’t about my career or brand, just something fun (which is not to say all my other books aren’t fun, but deadlines certainly do make work feel more like, you know, work).
Then if the other things happen–publication, the money, the accolades, the fame, Zac Efron on speed dial–then it’s all a nice bonus, but not what my heart was set on all along.
So I encourage you, creative types, to keep dreaming. Find a dream that makes you happy, makes you grow. Share it in comments if you like, I would love to hear it. Go on now. Fly your lanterns!! (But seriously, those lanterns have to be bad for the environment, right? Do they all fall back to earth someday and get recycled into coffee cups? Anyone know?)
PS–And now that I’ve used the word dream fifty seven times in this post, please don’t go all Evan Rachel Wood and tattoo this Edgar Allen Poe Quote on your back. It just kind of hurts my head.