The search for jobs or projects that pay money continued last week, but nothing came of that particular search. Well, nothing financially, but I did get kind of an interesting question in one of the interviews:
“So what’s your dream?”
It doesn’t sound like too far “out there” of a question, and the job I was applying for was in a creative place that would care about that kind of thing. The thing is that, especially in the context of job interviews, the question is always framed as something more along the lines of “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What are your goals?”: things that are concrete, measurable, and can feasibly reflect someone’s ambition and dedication. The idea of dreaming doesn’t even cross my mind when I prepare for job interviews because those are two separate parts of my mind, and jobs, in my experience, value results more than dreams. Nights and weekends are for dreams.
So, as much of a dreamer as I am, I didn’t actually have a satisfying answer to “So what’s your dream?” prepared. I fumbled through my normal self-deprecating but lighthearted line of being “one of those clichés that wants to write the next Great American Novel” and talked for what I’m sure was too long after that. My particular brand of humor works fairly well when I’m with friends, but it’s kind of hit-or-miss when it comes to strangers. This time around, it was a miss.
But the question did get me thinking about whatever my dreams might be a little more specifically. Again, in job interviews, the idea of my writing only comes up in that I do it and I would like to do it more, but not a whole lot beyond that. Even when I see other writers talk about dreams, it tends to be along the lines of “I want to make stories” and, to a lesser extent, “I want to make money writing.” Both are worthy goals, certainly, but I don’t think either of those sound bites reflects what I want out of my journey as a creator. At least, not completely.
So let me bare my soul for you guys once again and talk about five of the things that I mean when I say that writing—or, more accurately, being an author—is my dream.
- Making some money doing it (but not necessarily getting rich).
I’ve noticed a lot of writers online emphatically point out that “I’m writing for the right reasons,” where the “right reasons” are defined as the love of craft rather than the money. I absolutely understand where they’re coming from: I’m under no illusions that I’m going to live on, let alone get rich from, any writing-related income. That’s why I’m looking for a day job.
The thing is that if it really was just about the craft, I would be posting chapters of my novels on the blog and letting people read them for free. One, I’m not going to do that because I haven’t run anything through a professional editor, and two and more importantly, the income will, in my mind, add a sense of legitimacy to what I do. I’ve pondered my own need for validation before, and it’s a theme that’s going to come up a lot in this post as well. I can write all I want, but I don’t know that I’ll feel like an author unless I’m compensated for my work. As much as I love what I do, I don’t think, for me, that surviving on love alone is realistic.
This isn’t the case with everyone. Some people write and offer their work for free, and I think that’s awesome if that’s what feels right for you. The thing is that, for now at least, I’m not one of them. Above all else, though, no author should feel defensive about their reason for writing: as long as you have quality work, love what you created, care about your audience, and aren’t just trying to cash in on a trend, whatever motivation you have is probably the right one for you.
- A traditional publishing deal and agent representation, if possible.
Remember how I mentioned my need for validation? That’s almost entirely what this is based on. That, and while such a thing is unlikely with the amount of competition that’s out there, I would die happy if I saw my name on a bookstore shelf, which isn’t something that happens with the vast majority of self-published authors.
The thing about this is that it’s monstrously difficult to get a traditional book deal, and even then that’s only the beginning of a career as a traditional author. I’m lucky to be a writer in a time when there are so many options for getting published available to me, and I’ve done a lot of research on all of them. And, again, you do whatever’s right for you, but for now, I see myself as an author that wants and even needs a more traditional arrangement. I’m not married to the idea, though, and if the time comes that I decide to give up on this pursuit I will consider self-publishing instead. That time, however, is not now: I’ve only submitted one manuscript so far, and the one I’m working on right now is shaping up to be significantly better and might have a better shot. I’ll keep you posted.
- Fans with a healthy level of interest in what I’m doing.
Fame isn’t something I want. I’m too introverted to deal with that. If I become a “famous” writer, I’d rather be the kind of famous where I have a few thousand devoted and positive fans that I could comfortably interact with. I wouldn’t know what to do with hundreds of thousands, let alone millions, of people. I don’t even remember what those numbers look like half the time. I’m sure I’d find something worthwhile to do with my platform in the unlikely event that I become a worldwide phenomenon, but as it stands now, that idea doesn’t appeal to me.
Once you get millions of fans, then you start getting the unhealthily-obsessed personalities. I’m fine if you share photos of my cat or know where I’ve eaten lunch recently, and in the event that I do tours or events I’d love to have people there. As soon as people start stalking me in the real world or tattoo my face over their face, I’m done.
But respectful and positive engagement with genuine fans? Sign me up. I’d welcome casual Twitter chats with people, fun posts on my Facebook page, or mail from fans. Having events following publication would be wonderful. Fan art would be enthusiastically embraced (unless it’s fanfiction—I’ll support your creativity, but will not read any fanfiction of my own work). Heck, I’d even think that someone getting a tattoo of or inspired by something I wrote was pretty awesome: someone on my personal Facebook profile got some Neil Gaiman ink a while back, and the idea of words I wrote resonating so strongly with someone that they put them on their body permanently was sort of mind-blowing.
Just not my face. Please don’t get a tattoo of my face. There are better faces out there, and that’s just weird.
- Cool moments with strangers.
This is sort of related to the previous item on the list (and the next item ties in as well, but more on that in a few paragraphs). Like I said, I don’t want to be famous enough that I get pounced on when I try to get groceries. I don’t think the bulk of authors have this problem to the same degree that actors and other celebrities do, but being immediately recognized by strangers on the street without any other context would be intensely uncomfortable for me.
That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy meeting people who liked what I did and maybe even wanted to meet me. I would love to have a book signing, speaking engagement, or similar event. Even chance run-ins would be great: if I see you reading a book of mine in public, I would absolutely feel the temptation to ask if you were enjoying it so far and tell you that it was neat to see you reading it. I probably wouldn’t because I’m shy and I know people don’t like to be interrupted when they read, even if it’s the author of the book doing the interrupting. I just want to bond with nice people over books and geek out about stuff I write. With any luck, those people will feel the same way.
- Saving or inspiring someone.
Art is a powerful thing. It brings beauty and clarity to a world that, especially lately, needs it desperately. It gets people talking and engaged with more art and with each other. It empowers people with voices and platforms that they might not otherwise have. Above all else, though, is that art can heal and inspire.
I haven’t had much personal experience with this, but I’ve heard many, many stories about people who credit a song, a book, a movie, or a show with pulling them from the darkest depths of depression. There are stories about people who try to be as brave and strong as their favorite character, especially one that they see reflects them in the sense of race, ethnicity, disability, or some other trait. It doesn’t even have to be something profound or abstract: I quietly thank Christopher Moore for his wit every time I pick up one of his books in gratitude for keeping me laughing in the face of medical tests and hospitals.
Art can also inspire more art. Fanfiction and fan art, like I mentioned before, are pieces created purely for the joy of creating and because the artists enjoyed a particular story. Any adaptation is an exercise in inspiration: when it comes to film and television, we’re talking about a massive team of people who are coming together to share a story that they all like with a new audience. A story or creator might also inspire a future author: K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series was, without a doubt, the catalyst for my personal writing ambitions.
Everything I’ve mentioned before was nice. But this will probably feel like the biggest reward. If someone tells me that my words pulled them out of a dark place or that they want to tell stories because they love what I do, then I’ll be sure that I’ve done my job. After all, while money, fans, and seeing my name in print are all part of my ideal future as a writer, you can’t be an author without speaking to your audience, and it’ll be nice to know that they heard me and liked what I had to say.
I leave you with this: so what’s your dream?