by Moira Allen
I’ve written before about the myths that surround the idea of “being a writer.” All too often, we imagine that a “writer” is so many things that we are not — and because we don’t measure up to our own idealized view of “what a writer is,” we assume we aren’t REALLY writers. This problem tends to plague us no matter how much we’ve actually written; even experienced writers tend to measure themselves against myths rather than realities!
One myth that plagues writers is the myth of the “One Dream.” Real writers, we often assume, are driven by this “one dream” — the dream of BEING a writer. That dream is more important, more powerful, more motivating than any other force or desire in a writer’s life. It’s the dream that keeps you writing, no matter what. It’s the desire that outweighs all other desires, the burning hunger, the aching need, the… well, you get my drift.
It’s a bit like Frodo’s “One Ring” — the ring that rules, and binds, them all.
The flip side of this myth, of course, is the notion that if you AREN’T driven by this single, all-encompassing dream, you aren’t really a 100% motivated writer. Oh, sure, you may WRITE, but you’re not consumed by the passion for writing — you’re not giving it your all. If you’ve bought into the one-dream myth, you may assume that if writing isn’t the most important thing in your life (as measured by your devotion to it), you don’t “have what it takes,” and you’re doomed to failure. (Or, at least, to the mid-lists.)
There may certainly be writers out there who have one dream, and one dream only. But in talking to writers from all walks of life and from all around the world, I’ve begun to see how dangerous this myth is. Because MOST of us are, let’s face it, basically “ordinary” people. We aren’t starving artists laboring by candle-light in a garret on the Left Bank, swilling absinthe to fuel the muse. We’re spouses. We’re parents. We’re employees.
We’re homemakers. We’re students. We’re teachers. We run businesses, volunteer, work out. We have cats, dogs, budgies, hobbies. We have many hats. And we have many dreams.
For example, one dear friend has, after years of striving, found herself achieving her dream of a successful illustrating career.
Suddenly, she says, she has more offers than she can handle. This is the fulfillment of a dream — but ironically, she says, it means her dream of becoming a novelist must go on hold. “People are surprised to hear that I’m also a writer!” she tells me.
As another example, our intrepid newsletter editor put her writing dreams on hold for a couple of years so that she could focus on home-schooling her daughter. For her, the dream of ensuring that her daughter had the best possible education — which, in turn, involves the dream of giving her daughter the best possible chances for the future — took precedence over the dream of writing that novel.
For many, the dream of making a better life for oneself or one’s family — or, in these troubled times, just ensuring that one keeps a roof overhead and food on the table — outweighs the dream of “being a writer.” If we have families and loved ones, our dreams typically focus on their well-being and happiness as well as our own goals and desires. Often, those dreams are time-sensitive: We can’t put a child’s future “on hold” while writing a novel, so more often than not, it’s the novel that goes on hold while we give our children the love, skills, and support they’ll need to be able to pursue their OWN dreams down the road.
Besides having dreams, we also have what Patricia Fry describes in her new newsletter as “passions.” (Find out more about Patricia’s new newsletter, “Publishing/Marketing News and Views,” at
Passions are a bit different from dreams, as they tend to involve the here-and-now, rather than long-term goals. But they are no less important. Fry mentions her passion for cats, walking, and writing. My husband has a passion for archaeology; I have a passion for photography. He plays computer games; I collect Victorian magazines. We’re both just a wee bit obsessive about our cat. Most writers have a passion for reading (when my sister asked how I “found so much time for reading,” I thought, if I had to explain it, she’d never understand!). Passions are a part of what defines us. Like dreams, they help us define what “matters” in life, and where we’re willing to invest our time, energy and resources.
But there are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a year.
Having multiple dreams and multiple passions means making multiple trade-offs. Inevitably, that means that some dreams (and perhaps some passions) get postponed, put on hold, shifted to the back burner. Some dreams (like raising a child) are time-sensitive; when their window is gone, it’s gone. Other dreams may be unattainable until more time has passed — until one has learned a skill, overcome an obstacle, or just reached a different place in life.
And here’s where it gets sticky for writers. Too often, when our career isn’t where we want it to be, or where we think it ought to be, we assume the fault is “lack of motivation.” If I really, REALLY wanted to be a writer, more than anything else in the world, I’d be writing more. I’d be farther along in my novel. I’d be published by now. I’d… well, I’d be somewhere I’m not. And once we assume that we WOULD be “somewhere else” in our writing career if writing were truly that important to us, it’s easy to assume that, because we’re NOT “there” yet (wherever “there” is), that must mean writing ISN’T that important. And if it isn’t — if it’s not our all-consuming dream, desire and passion — then perhaps that means we’re not cut out to be “real” writers.
If this sounds at all like you, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and look seriously at your dreams — ALL of them.
Perhaps you haven’t even thought of what you’re doing as pursuing a dream — educating your child, for example. You just know that it’s important, perhaps more important than anything else. Or, perhaps, you’ll find that you’re pursuing dreams that no longer have as much meaning, that have become a habit, and that could be put aside for something else. But you’re certainly going to find out that you have, not just one, but many dreams — and many that are truly important and worthwhile.
The myth of the single-minded writer who lives to pursue one dream and one only may indeed apply to some. Most of us, however, are not so much single-minded as “multi-faceted.” And I can’t help but believe that, though it can be frustrating at times, it’s also a useful quality. A writer who has many dreams, many passions, and many things going on in life is one who will, ultimately, have a great deal to say!
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com (http://www.writing-world.com) and the author of more than 350 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.