I don’t think a freelancer can survive long without a dream. I think the more impossible the dream the better. See those posts on success. If you don’t set that impossible dream high enough, you’ll achieve your dream, and stop striving.
When students apply for the Master Class that Dean and I teach (along with four other established professional writers), we ask those students what their goals are and what their secret, most impossible dream is. The only students we take for the Master Class are those with either a professional career that has stalled (for some reason) or those with a strong work ethic who are having trouble breaking into publishing (and have excellent, professional level skills).
We look at the goals and the secret dream more than any other part of the application. Because if the goals and the secret dream are non-existent, we have learned that the writers often don’t have the capability to survive the Master Class, let alone the business of writing itself.
What does an impossible dream add to a career? Purpose. Plain and simple. That dream is like the shining city on a hill, the one you can see in the distance, and you might never reach. But until your dying day, you’ll head for that hill.
I wasn't sure I was going to write about this today. I'm trying to do less navel-gazing and stay away from writing about writing and publishing (and oh boy, I was thinking about writing a rant-like letter to the publishing industry), but this maybe is more about life. Also, this particular chapter got into my head in a way few areas of the book did and I can honestly say, Gee, Kris, I'm not sure I appreciate you in my head like this.
Well, I think that if you'd asked me 5 years ago or 10 years ago, or 15 or even 20 or 25 years ago, that the impossible dream might have been fairly straightforward: the awesome #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Dream, the one where my career was like James Patterson's or Stephen King, the brand name author with the movie deals and the big money.
Kris has a lot of interesting things to say about this. One of the ones I found fairly interesting was how when she was younger in her career she wanted a career like Nora Roberts, but now she realizes she'd go nuts if she had to write just romance, even with all its variations - romantic suspense, etc. Kris writes mysteries and SF and romance and nonfiction and damn near everything else. Sure, she'd take the money (who wouldn't?), but that Nora's career wouldn't suit her.
I've come to the conclusion that being so famous that you can't walk around town or eat in a restaurant without someone recognizing you and coming to talk to you (and suing you for stealing their ideas and asking you to read their manuscripts and...) would be like living in hell for me. And one of the things she mentions is how people like King or Patterson ... well, publishers and all their respective employees live or die by the success of some of those books. I've often wondered what JK Rowling's publishers feel about the fact she no longer seems to be publishing. A new book in that world, maybe even if it didn't involve Harry, say going back to write about a young Dumbledore or Moody, Wormtail, etc., would assure the publishing company - and a lot of bookstores - had a really good year or two. Bonuses, raises, stock going up, you name it. Are these writers oblivious to that? I doubt it. I have a friend who runs his own company with 5 or 6 employees and I know that there can be a lot of pressure being responsible for others' livelihoods and lives.
I realized I didn't know what my wildest dreams were any more. That had changed. In fact, where I am today, I'm not even sure of the attainable goals, which ones I want to make, what direction exactly I want to go in. That wasn't true a year ago. Things have changed. Things have changed in the publishing industry, things have changed in my life, things have changed in my career, and apparently things have changed in my head.
Some of it may have to do with last year I set out a financial goal and I hit it. So this year I thought I'll leave it the same, because I have yet to make the same amount of money twice in a row, so maybe that should be the goal. And I've got some other goals, areas I want to explore, but it's not clear to me exactly where I want to go within my career. Odd. Also, some of the realities of publishing have kicked me around so much the last ten years or so - differently than the trying-to-get-published realities - that I'm struggling with the "suspension of disbelief" that having a wildass dream requires.
Which is fine, really. It's interesting. And reading Kris's chapter did make me realize I should probably spend some time thinking about what I want so I can work toward it.
p.s. This was a worthwhile exercise. By really thinking about it over the day, I think I figured out what it was. A variation on the first one, but taking into consideration new publishing paradigms.