When a kid picks up the guitar at twelve they might be dreaming of being the next Buddy Guy or Jimmy Page or Bonnie Raitt or Rosie Flores. When one of us starts writing seriously, we might be dreaming of being the next Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner or Ursula Le Guin or Stephen King or Arthur C. Clarke or…well, pick your own poison. Those are what I tend to think of as “flash paper” dreams. Doesn’t take much to turn them into smoke and vapor. Usually a couple of years of working hard and getting nowhere will do it. The interesting thing about the whole process is not that most people quit at this point but rather that some people don’t. I mean, “You can’t have what you wanted, so forget it.” is a pretty powerful disincentive for staying the course. So why hang around when that fact become all too clear?
I think those who don’t quit are the ones who get new dreams. Not “settling for less,” but rather discovering something you didn’t know about in the first place. Something you didn’t even know you wanted, because you didn’t know it existed. In which case your original dream has done its job. It got you started, pointed in the direction you needed to go, even if that place you’re searching for wasn’t where you thought it was. J.R.R. Tolkien made me want to be a writer, but I figured out pretty much immediately that I wasn’t going to be the next J.R.R. Tolkien. For one thing, he was pretty much sui generis and there wasn’t going to BE a next J.R.R. Tolkien. Any more than there was going to be—more of my heroes–another Ray Bradbury or Ursula Le Guin or Fritz Leiber. They’re them and you’re you. Once I got clear on that, then it became okay to figure out who I was and what I really wanted.
I’m still working on that and don’t expect to ever sort it out because the bar keeps moving, and for what little it may be worth, I wish as much for you. You work, you live, and who you are and what you want to accomplish keeps moving, keeps evolving. That’s better than okay—it’s crucial. As time goes on you’ll know more. If you’re lucky, you’ll understand more. And what you think is important won’t stay the same, at least not entirely.
Getting started is what some dreams are for, but odds are they won’t be the ones that keep you going. And as for who you’re eventually going to be as a writer, that’s not really your problem. Anyone who cares to can sort that out after you’re gone. Maybe you’ll be someone else’s dream, for a while. Maybe not, but either way what matters is that you, when the choice was there, was able to grow and evolve along with those dreams and almost but never quite–a blessing on you–keep up.