The Publishing Dream and Reality
Dreams shift, fortunately. When I was teaching a segment on The Great Gatsby, I asked my students to write about their dreams and goals, and at the end of it, one of my students asked me what my dreams were. I’d written sincerely about how I hoped to become a better teacher, one who could inspire students and still be left with a sane life outside of school. It seemed like a worthy goal, a grounded one, but it had none of the soaring hopefulness I’d had as a teenager, and I knew my students looked at me like I’d lost something. I wasn’t as dreamless as pathetic, doomed George Wilson, but I certainly wasn’t Gatsby, either. No matter how corrupt ol’ Jay was, you have to admit he could dream big.
Several people have asked me if publishing Birthmarked was a dream come true, as if they expect me to be dizzyingly ecstatic about realizing ambitions I had decades ago. Conversely, I’m aware that several other writers have felt an unexpected, immobilizing disappointment after their books have been published. They crash when they discover publishing hasn’t lived up to their expectations. They dreamed of a new phase of glory, fame, wealth, and respect, or at least a promise of future publications. In either case, the assumption is that publication is a nearly unattainable dream, achieved only through heartfelt hope and striving, with the potential for bliss or disillusioned devastation in its wake.
Publishing my YA debut was not a dream come true for me. I’ve said before that I didn’t expect to sell my novel, so I also wasn’t caught up in fancy dreams about publishing it. I wasn’t motivated by such dreams. Instead, I wrote it while still aiming for my attainable goal of becoming a better teacher. I’d already achieved the dreams that have brought me the most happiness, namely marrying my true love and raising my children. I already had meaningful work with my teaching job, so I wasn’t depending on writing to expand and fill my life with joyful work. I’ve certainly never been interested in fame or the bother that must entail.
What, then, do dreams have to do with my writing? Do I not have any aspirations? Do I not even let myself dream for fear of failing?
What I have is reality, with all of its beauty and grit, all of its joy, work, and disappointment. When I get great writing news, I rejoice, knowing the glow won’t last. When I get bad writing news, I let myself feel horrible about it, knowing it will pass. I wake every morning with a sense of pleasure and purpose thinking, “Oh, good. I get to write today.” I have projects to work on: revising Book 3, checking copyedits of a story, writing this blog, brainstorming my next project proposal and guest blogs due in a few weeks. I have bills to pay, and laundry to fold, and groceries to buy. It’s raining a steady deluge outside my open window, and the immediate present is supremely alive to me.
I do have dreams for my future. I want more meaningful work, whether it’s teaching or writing. I want more dinners with my family. I want my country to find peace and renewed prosperity. I want more rainy summer days. I want to grow very, very old.