The amount of skepticism in the industry is, to me, unsettling. When you dream big dreams (of the I want to be a New York Times bestselling author variety), experienced writers practically jump up to tell you how unlikely it is. Well, of course it’s unlikely. That’s why it’s a big dream.
Why are we so afraid of disappointment? The message I get from writers’ message boards and writing groups is that it is better not to dream at all than to be disappointed in the end. Why? What’s so bad about disappointment? If anything, it’s character forming, it makes you work harder and while it may upset you and disillusion you for a while, it’s better than living a mediocre life with no dreams because you’ve already accepted that it won’t or can’t happen for you.
Some writers like to say that the reason they don’t dream of bestseller lists or Booker awards is because they know that there’s a very very minute chance of reaching that level of success. Why set yourself up for failure? I think it’s the other way around. We don’t reach that level of success because we’re so afraid of being disappointed, we’re so practical and aware of the odds and how they stand against us. Many Booker winners and New York Times bestselling authors reached that level of success because they believed they could.
In a writing group that I belong to, an author recently wrote that his goal was to sell a reasonable 20,000 books. He didn’t reach that goal, stopping about a thousand short before the book went out of print. We always fall short of our expectations– that’s human nature. That’s why I believe it’s essential that we aim high. Don’t aim for 20,000 and achieve 19,000. Aim for 50,000 and achieve 40,000. Those goals inspire you, they keep you motivated, they keep you going.
I don’t expect everyone to have the same personal characteristics that I do, which means that some people are happy selling 10,000 books and not thinking about prizes, which is fine. But the idea that we should all lower our collective expectations because of practicality doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t talk much about my expectations from my novel because I don’t want to have the pressure while I’m writing it, but once it’s done, perfected to satisfaction, I want that baby to go out in the world and achieve great things.
I’m going to dream. Maybe one day I’ll be disappointed that things didn’t work out exactly as I’d planned (as they almost never do), that I didn’t get to write for National Geographic, pen a bestselling novel or win a literary award, but I will have challenged myself to reach a level that I didn’t think I could. I would have enjoyed the process, had fun, and even for a little while, believed all things possible.
I’m sure the crash to reality hurts. But I think it’s worth it if you get to fly among the stars for a while.