Anne R. Allen
What’s the difference between a dream and a goal?
Short answer: reality.
A dream is a creature of the imagination, full of sparkles and rainbows. It’s our magic castle where we live our fantasy lives. We all need them. But we also need to recognize them for what they are.
A goal is something doable. Like getting a college degree, saving money to go to a writers' conference, or finishing that novel.
"I want to be a rich and famous writer" is a dream.
"I want to write a novel and get it published" is a goal.
Here are some common writers' dreams that can stand in the way of writing success.
1) The Travel-Adventure Dream
You know the one—most writers have it at some point. We're going to travel around the country in a camper/sports car/motorcycle—writing our own version of On the Road.
Or we're going to go live in Paris and become the next Hemingway.
I plead guilty to this one. When I was a kid, I always pictured myself traveling the world, having adventures and turning them into lovely novels.
Thing is, I got the traveling and adventures part right, but until I was nearly forty, I’d never actually produced one of those novels.
I didn't realize writers don't need adventures. We need imaginations.
2) The Award-Winner Dream
When you were twelve, you probably rehearsed your Oscar acceptance speech in front of your mirror and thanked your hairbrush for the great honor you knew you deserved. A lot of us have been there.
But that dream can hold us back. Whether it’s winning an Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer, or making it to the top of the NYT bestseller list—picturing that kind of rare occurrence as your sole image of success can freeze you at square one.
Real success comes in baby steps.
You need to consider yourself a success when you finish your first novel, send your first query, self-publish your first book, write your first blogpost, get your first royalty check, etc.
Otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the huge gap between where you are now to where you want to be and you'll be defeated before you start.
3) The Literary Kudos Dream
This was one of mine, too. In my dream I made a lovely income from my books (somebody had to pay those Paris cafe bills.)
But I didn’t have a clue how to write stuff that could make money.
I mostly read literary fiction, so I wrote Alice Munro-wannabe stories and poems.
Yes, I loved reading romantic suspense and mysteries, but I didn’t want to be a genre writer. Oh, no: I wanted to be reviewed in the New Yorker!
I didn’t take into account that pretty much everybody who's published in the New Yorker has tons of academic credentials and teaches at a prestigious university.
I didn't want to teach. I wanted to write. So now I write mysteries.
4) The Rich Writer-of-Leisure Dream
Richard Castle has a lot to answer for.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the TV show Castle.
But do you ever see that guy writing books?
Movies and books are full of characters rolling in money they've earned from writing fiction. But the truth is, even successful, bestselling authors don’t make as much as the average lawyer, professor, doctor, or accountant (and they don't get benefits.)
The vast majority of writers have day jobs. Either we teach or edit or work at something entirely separate from writing. And we don't have much spare time to go solve crimes for the NYPD.
5) The “I Never Interfere with my Genius” Dream
There’s a quote sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde: "I never rewrite. Who am I to interfere with genius?"
Some writers believe talent is all they need, so they never subject their tender feelings to the editor's red pencil.
But writing is like any other skill: you have to learn the rules and practice, practice, practice.
No matter how great your natural golf swing, you have to learn the rules of the game, or you won’t win any tournaments. Writing's the same.
But I often meet writers who refuse to edit or learn about POV, story arc, or pacing. Then they're devastated by rejections or dismal sales and scathing reviews.
Here's the thing: real genius is learning to rewrite well.
What are your writing goals? Can you clear your brain of the misty fantasies and figure out what you really want—and then map out a step-by-step path to reach it? Have you been snagged by any of these dreams the way I was?
How to be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide, written with Catherine Ryan Hyde. She blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog…with Ruth Harris,, which Writer's Digest named to their Best 101 Websites for Writers in 2013. She has an article coming out in the November issue of Writer's Digest on the renaissance of the short story.