Wednesday, January 25, 2017


A few years ago I read some advice from a well-known writer (I don't remember who), who said, "Daydreaming for a writer is a waste of time."

She was talking about the dreams all writers have of their book being bought and read and lionized.

In a way she's right. It is easy to delude yourself, to think you've got more talent than you have. I've always tried to be realistic about my abilities. I've told myself, "My books can't be any smarter, deeper, or more talented than I am."

But even though I understand what she's getting at, I couldn't disagree more.

In fact, I think that is some really fucked up advice.

Daydreaming is what fuels my efforts, even as cold reality is lurking. I imagine people reading my story and enjoying it; I imagine them passing it along to friends; I imagine them slotting it into a place of honor in their bookshelves.

None of that may happen, but the daydream of it can keep me going for the days, weeks, and months it takes to finish a book.

Daydreaming kicks into a higher gear when I send it off to an agent or publisher. Now I wait, and I hope, and I daydream. For weeks at least, and sometimes for months. During that time I wait, I keep my hopes up, even as I tell myself to be realistic.

It's unrealized potential, endless possibility.  Like Schrodinger's cat, my story is both alive and dead.

So I daydream. At the same time, I'm brutally realistic. I know, for instance, that when I send "Said the Joker, to the Thief" to Kindle Singles that I don't have a chance in hell. That I'm up against the Stephen King's and John Gresham's of the writing world. But just that tiny, tiny sliver of lottery odds is enough to daydream, even as I kick myself for daydreaming.

When I get back the (almost) inevitable rejection, I'm crushed for days, sometimes weeks. I ask myself if there is any point in continuing. And then it wears off; I accept the reality that was there all along even as I daydreamed.

So I write something new, and the daydreams start all over. I send it off and wait for weeks and months. In effect, I'm trading months of hopes for days of crushing rejection, and it seems like a fair trade.

I have faith in myself even as I know the odds. I don't let others tell me my chances, either those people who don't care (the vast majority) those who look down on me (though usually not blatantly to my face) and those well meaning people who have even more unrealistic expectations. ("When is the movie going to be made?")

There is a great scene in "La La Land."


The heroine has just put on a one-woman show, writing her own script and stage design, hiring the theater. No one shows up. She gamely goes through with it, and then sits dejectedly in her dressing room.

She overhears some stagehands mocking her efforts, "...and she isn't even any good."

But in that audience happens to be the one stranger who can help her.

I've had that mocking happen to me. It's harsh and it's hard to overcome, though a little success can help put that in it's place.

And a whole lot of daydreaming.


Duncan McGeary said...

I think when you're a writer, you have to be a starry-eyed optimist and a stone-cold realist, and you have to be both at the same time.

Dave Cline said...

In the stock markets there's something called a "dead cat bounce" -- my Schrodinger's cat is prone to exactly that; being dead, first of all, and then bouncing, only to fall even further after the little "bloop" of a hop.

I don't recall if it was you or who who showed me but, Isaac Asimov did an interview where he talked about his writing. Some top 10 things Asimov did to get him through the doldrums. One of them, which stood out for me, was that he stopped paying attention to publishing results. "Too much to do, too much to research, too much to write." So he'd write something, send it off and forget about it, focusing, instead, on what was next.

Crushing defeat. Yeah. Wallowing in that now as a matter of fact. I would think that every author needs at least one success to allow them to hope for the next winner. Or, maybe they/we just need those one or two readers who are looking forward to one's next effort (even if they might be your mother, ahem, or a neighbor who owes you a favor or three.)

Another crutch I recently found was that many famous novels took years and years to write. If I only write one a year, I would still be doing better then most (not that they'd be famous, but, well, part of my legacy.)

Duncan McGeary said...

If no one reads you, how do they know if you're any good, right?

Everything about this is a catch-22. Can't get an agent without being published, can't get published without an agent. And so on.

I'm kind of at a crossroads, but I think even if the worst happens, I'll keep writing.