Goals, dreams, work, and luck

It’s that time again – that time when Chris, as-yet-unpublished author, waxes intellectual on the subject of achieving one’s dreams of publication.  Next week I’ll present an informative video on kidney transplant, something else I have no demonstrable experience with.

Let’s start with goals and dreams.  I’m often surprised how many people cannot tell the difference between their goals and their dreams.  I’ve had many friends, for instance, with a dream of being an actor.  Only one has really dedicated herself and done the work necessary to honestly call it a goal.

If you are an aspiring writer you are probably thinking about publishing someday.  Are you working toward it?  Are you putting words on the page, revising, editing?  Do you spend time reading?  Have you set deadlines for yourself, and do you stick to them?

I’m very guilty of treating publication, a goal of my own, as a dream.  Though I am still fairly  young, it has been my dream for more than 15 years to become a published novelist – and I spent perhaps 8 of those 15 years writing not a word of any novel, reading almost no novel-length fiction, and basically doing no work at all to achieve my goal.  I spent time fantasizing about it, though.  That, dear readers, constitutes a dream.

One might say that setting a goal is the first effort to make a dream into a reality.  So how do we accomplish this?  There are two mechanisms: work, and luck.

First, work.  Dirty word, that.  Most Americans – I daresay most people, though I know few Europeans and not a single Patagonian – spend the bulk of their time trying to avoid work.  Even when we do work, it’s usually to support our efforts to not work.  Work is hard, and it’s usually not fun.  This is where many aspiring writers get derailed.  They get caught up in the great myth that real writers enjoy every minute spent writing.  They think characters just dance across the page like fairies, whispering in the ear of the writer where they plan to go next.

Any professional writer I have ever heard express an opinion has stated that there are long periods of time in which they loathe the act of writing.  The only thing they loathe more is the romantic notion that real writers enjoy every minute spent writing.  They acknowledge what many aspiring writers deny: that writing is work.  Hard work.  Unforgiving, soul-crushing, hope-dashing, relationship-straining work.

The second aspect, overemphasized by many, is luck.  Can we control luck?  I say yes, by doing work.  Look at it this way: let’s say you’re trying to catch a train, but you don’t know the schedule.  Which do you think is the better approach: to wander past the station every so often and see if the train happens to be there, or to stay at the station for as long as it takes for a train to arrive?

I know, it’s another of Chris’s famous analogies.  The point is that “luck” is a question of being in the right position at the right time.  We can help ourselves by spending as much time in that position as possible, so we’ll be there when the right time happens.

Take a more concrete example for writers: let’s say you’ve been toying with a story concept for a long time, but never really put it on paper.  Let’s say it’s a story about, oh, a teenage girl who falls in love with an immortal vampire. Now, let’s say you’re seated at a dinner party beside an editor from a major publishing house who says she needs such a story in her hands as soon as possible.  I guess you can try to bang out that manuscript in a night or two, but chances are you’re SOL.

Your friend who’s seated on the other side of the editor, meanwhile, put the time into writing and polishing her YA manuscript about a teenage girl who falls in love with an immortal vampire, and ends up with a six book deal. Lucky, right?  Well sure, but she was only able to take advantage of the luck because she did the work – and put herself in the right position to take advantage of an opportunity.

This is not to say that anything is a guarantee, but that’s just life.  You’re never guaranteed that any of the work you do will pay off – but if you haven’t done the work, then you may miss your opportunity when luck comes calling.

So tell me, what do you do to put yourself in a position to succeed?  How do you work to make your dreams into reality?

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Chris
Chris is an author, artist, personal trainer, and long-time nonprofit fundraiser. His work has appeared in The Nib, GOOD, the Huffington Post, Salon, MTV, and numerous other publications. Chris lives in New York City.

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