Recently, I heard someone say that the most disappointed writers are not the ones who were never published but the ones who were published and their books didn't sell well. There's some truth to that, but not in the obvious way.
The day my agent called me to say that my manuscript sold to Knopf and they wanted a two-book deal was one of the best days of my life. I suddenly understood the phrase walking on air, I was that excited. I had been working on the book for five years--twenty percent of my life. I had been frustrated, disappointed, hurt, and embarrassed along the way. I had to be stubborn, to believe in my work (in my dream) when everyone else in the business didn't. That wasn't easy. If I had never had that phone call, eventually I would have given up. It was too much to keep trying and failing, rejection after rejection. The same summer my agent sold my book, I had applied to graduate school. I was going to be a school counselor and help others find their passion in life. If I had quit writing, I wouldn't have lived a sad and disappointed life, because I would have set one dream aside and created a new dream, a new goal, and nurtured a new passion. Most people are not one dream people. We're bigger than that.
But since the book did sell, I've stayed a writer, and I've continued along the journey. None of my books have become New York Times best sellers or won the Printz. Am I disappointed? Um, yeah, kind of. (Though it bears pointing out that it still might happen. Here's looking at you SPOILS.) That's the point. When you love books and you write one yourself, your whole goal is just to see it on a bookshelf, at least that was my goal. And so it seems like it all comes down to that pub date because that's the moment your dream comes true. But most dreams come true gradually over time. Like falling in love--it doesn't happen at first sight, or loving your job--it doesn't happen until you're really good at it, which won't happen on the first day/month/year of your work. But when your dream comes true in a single moment, life doesn't end (thank God) which means the happily ever after doesn't follow because there are only more dreams to follow.
If I'm frustrated or disappointed more with my writing than I would have been if I had given up on writing, it's not fair to say that it's a sadder life to be a mid-list writer than a manuscript-in-the-drawer-that-I-gave-up-on writer. It's simply a condition of living and having more dreams that grow bigger and better with time.
Which is all to say that dream are complicated little suckers, but I can't imagine living life without them.
What are your dreams? Have they changed over time? Have any come true?