Writing Dreams and the Ability to Fail

Writing dreams start with the blank page.
Writing dreams start with the blank page.

Writing has been a dream of mine since I was little and curled up with my favorite books. Often we don’t know what form or shape our dreams will take as we grow and change. From the age of about 22, when I graduated from college, the dream of writing I pretty much squelched or stuffed into the overflowing suitcase of my life, figuring I did not have enough time or talent or focus to move forward with it. I would write letters to friends or send long e-mail missives, but that was usually the extent of my writing. Often ideas for books and essays and plays and even bad poems flew into my head and then flitted right out again.

As I am constantly reminded by a dear friend, even yesterday he nudged me with this reminder, “A try is failure before even starting.” In other words, doing and failing miserably is better than a half-hearted attempt where you do not really put yourself out on the line. For me, writing makes me vulnerable and I tend to write from a very personal viewpoint. Writing and seeking publication is a way to really commit, to know that I may be flying, even if I am flying into failure. It is making those dreams come true. It’s more about the bravery of the act, than it may be about the end result. I can write. I can submit things for publication. I cannot control what the editor decides, but I can bask in the relative bravery of my attempt. I can scoop myself up after life’s failures and try to make sense of it in words. I can look to a heartbreak and try to find the universal lesson that connects us all.

Finally, one day, I decided to blow out the fire of negative talk and see what dreams remained in the ashes. Now in my 30s, I was a bit more realistic about my dreams, especially after seeing people whom I thought were much more talented writers publish very little. In 2010, I started this blog, but did not really begin to make serious and regular entries until the summer of 2012. I realized that my dream of writing was really about writing, not so much about selling millions of books or having my name become a household one. The blog allowed or provided the space for an audience should they choose to find it and read. I shared with friends on Facebook and then made a couple of blog friends, one in California and one in Norway who regularly read and “like” my stuff. Then I slowly ventured into the world of publishing. Did what I have to say resonate with others? Could I shape my words to fit a publication?

I took a couple of writing classes in college and then a couple of classes at a nonprofit literary center in my early 20s. I picked up some writing books and read enough writing magazines to know that getting published, sometimes, is as much about the hustle as it is the flow of words. You have to send editors your work. You have to know how to sell your words in a pithy query letter. Perhaps, this is why I have yet to be published in any kind of a publication that requires said pithy query letter.

Instead, I looked for the invitations. Which publications (online and in print) were seeking words? Which editors didn’t care as much about the query letter as they did the questions I was asking in my writing? I looked to the familiar and unfamiliar and found a few possibilities.

The spring of 2012 was my first “act of bravery” in writing. The city library was publishing an anthology compiled of essays, short stories, and poetry from local residents. I saw the call for entries and began thinking. The deadline fell on a sunny Friday afternoon in mid-March. The morning of the deadline, I still had not submitted anything, but finished work early, around 1 in the afternoon. I brought my laptop and stationed myself in a study carrel and wrote about creativity. I could hear the library clock tick away as I wrote and then did a quick proofread. With barely five minutes to spare, I saved the hastily-written essay to a CD and nervously wandered downstairs to the front desk to submit my writing. Driving home that late afternoon reminded me of being on the finish line of a track race in high school, I was spent, gasping for air, and trying hard not to vomit. I gave myself a pat on the back for following up and finishing and I gave myself a kick in the butt for thinking I could write for publication in a last-minute effort.

Beginning in December 2012 through today, I have gotten braver. Writing dreams come true in fits and starts. Now, I regularly write for this blog. Occasionally, I will submit a piece of writing to a publication. I applied for and was accepted into a writing retreat (which I have delayed until money and a project are ripe for the time). I am in the midst of work on a book of short stories and writing and pulling this project together has been the scariest and most fun I have had. Whether or not it ever becomes a published book, who knows, but I am excited to work on and complete such a big project. Much like a runner runs a marathon to test boundaries, writing a book-length work is testing my commitment, my imagination, my ability.

A couple of weeks ago, an essay of mine was published in Elephant Journal. In two weeks, I will attend a local reading for the library anthology and read part of an essay. I will find three essays and a short story of mine published in that book. These are dreams and signs of my commitment. I am daring and dreaming and it feels wonderful. Sometimes it helps to take stock, sometimes it helps to look back and remember the beginning. Here are links to a few things of mine that have been published (online) in the last couple of years, because I want to share and remember those attempts at living and failure, when I stopped talking and started doing.
Elephant Journal, “This is How I’m Letting Go of my Crush” March 2015

Upper Room, “Loving Doubting Thomas” December 2014
(This one you will need to create a log-in to be able to read, as it is in the archives.)

Upper Room blog post, “God Is My Solace” December 2014

Community Works Journal, “The Power and Wonder of Names: Where Nature and Language Coincide”, September 2014

Community Works Journal, “A Love Letter to Environmental Educators, My Profession, and My Colleagues”, July 2013 http://www.communityworksinstitute.org/cwjonline/essays/a_essaystext/enviro_loveletter.html

What are your long-held dreams? What are your biggest attempts at failure, or success? When did you really put yourself out there? When did you go from dreaming to doing? What are the little acts that constitute bravery, for you? When did you fail? When were you last comfortable with failure?

Sometimes it helps to look forward and see the possibilities. Always, though, it helps to go beyond dreaming, beyond trying, to doing. Sometimes it’s the little acts of bravery that lead to bigger things and failures. It helps to fail and pick yourself up and start again. For me, writing is only part of it. It is helping me to put my heart out there. It is helping me to give and live with everything I have. It is going out there every day in life and saying, “I’m gonna,” as my dear and wise friend says, no matter the results.


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