Monday, January 11, 2010

Dream big 2010 - written by Linda Urban

Big dreams.

Dang. Can’t hear the words without thinking of Debbie Allen thunking her walking stick on the floor in the opening credits of the Fame television series, telling her dancers that fame costs and right here is where they are going to start paying. In sweat.

I don’t sweat a lot when I write. I work hard. I eat a lot of cookies. But I don’t perspire much. I’m not sure I want fame, either. I want readers – that’s for sure – and I’d like my work to be well thought of by critics and other writers. Fame, not so much. But even if I did want fame, that wouldn’t be the sort of big dream thing I think about when I sit down to write. If I did, I know I wouldn’t get to writing at all.

In fact, when I sit down to write, I try to put all the big dreams aside.

On my best writing days, I have little dreams. Small goals. Things I know that with hard work, I can accomplish within the time I have available.

I find big goals overwhelming. It does me little good to imagine myself writing a bestselling novel. It does me a lot of good to imagine myself writing a particular scene, or getting a few lines of honest dialogue on the page.

Last summer, I gave a workshop on revising in which I quoted an article by an academic writer, Brian Martin. Martin had analyzed a study about what made someone an expert in a particular endeavor or field, and had extracted the examples particularly focused on writing. Professional writers, he determined, have lots of different methods and styles, but what seemed to be crucial for most writers was this:

1. Self-regulation through daily, or regular, writing

2. Brief work sessions

3. Realistic deadlines

4. Maintaining a low emotional arousal (which I interpret as not letting yourself get wigged out)

You can figure out if this applies to you. I know it does to me. Each of these factors points me toward small, attainable goals, approached with dedication and focus. When I think about fame or its equivalent, I get wigged out. When I think about the huge fat novel ahead of me, it seems impossible – but focusing on realistic deadlines for small dreams? I can do that. And when I do, I get that necessary sense of accomplishment that propels me to the next small goal.

Perhaps if I had Debbie Allen thumping her stick behind me, I’d work differently. But all I have is me. So I don’t think much about fame or sweat. I take a step. Then another. Then another. And what do you know? I’m dancing.


Linda Urban is the author of the middle grade novel A Crooked Kind of Perfect and the picture book Mouse Was Mad. She lives in a red saltbox house in Vermont with her husband and two kids, all of whom love to be read to. You can find out more about Linda and her books here:


  1. Great post Lisa. I admire your baby steps that get you dancing! hoping hard for the same over here.

  2. How funny to be able to finish the Debbie Allen quote before I got to the end of your paragraph. I haven't thought about that show in years.

    I'm with you: readers over fame.

    I got a CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT came as a Scholastic book order freebie last year. It is lovely.

  3. Lovely post, Linda!

    And of course, when you make a misstep writing (versus dancing), nobody sees. You just hit the friendly delete button, and on you go.

  4. As an aspiring author, those words meant a lot to me. I think about the fact that just yesterday I wrote 1900 words and it took me almost eight hours to get it all out. Today, however, I was able to write 1000 words in just an hour and a half. I wasn't sure why, but I took a break, at lunch, a piece of peanut butter cake, and watched a movie. When I logged back online, I read this and I realized why today was more successful than yesterday.

    Yesterday, I had just completed, "the Vast Fields of Ordinary", which is a remarkable book. I sat down to work on my book and the thoughts of success, both financially and critically, flooded my mind and blocked the creative flow we writers relish so much. Today, when I woke up, I had just the story on my mind. There was no me, it was just my characters and their story.

    Thanks for helping me find the perspective and now I have something to reference when I am struggling for words and only focused on success.

  5. Jonathon, I'm so glad Linda's post helped. It's going to stick with me too. :)