Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Days of Dreams: The Mystery of Success

Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.

--John Updike

Dreams. I've always believed that dreams come true. John Updike did, too--the above quote came from his memoirs.

In my own case, I can honestly say that every serious dream I've had in my life has come true, in one way or another. Maybe it's because my dreams were realistic in the first place, although some of them I'd never expected to become reality. Or maybe it's because I'd worked hard to make things happen, although some things were indeed beyond my control. Or maybe it's just serendipity, plain ole good luck. But whatever the cause of a dream fulfilled, dreams do come true. I think we all know this, but sometimes it helps to remind ourselves.

I'm often struck by the idea of the before and the after of a dream come true. We don't know what's just around the corner--we can't know the future. The second before something great happens to us, however strong our suspicions that what we long for might come about, we can't ever know we're on the threshold. We can't know that our wish is about to drift down from its star and take concrete shape in our world.

What if we'd given up on our dream in that second before? Stopped striving, stopped working so hard? Stopped caring?

Published authors say that the name of the game is persistence. That once we have a manuscript, we'll never sell it if we don't submit. That if we never get past the first, or second, or hundredth rejection, but allow those no's to stop us from submitting, we'll certainly never make a sale. Published authors say we must persist, that we have to keep submitting, which means we have to keep taking risks.

With every submission, there is risk of rejection. This risk is universal, experienced by every writer who submits work with the goal of publication. I've had best-selling authors tell me that even they get rejected!

Before, we don't know.

But then, an infinitesimal instant takes us from before to after--and the yearned-for milestone occurs. In a writer's case, that yearned-for event more often than not is publication of our work.

After, we respond, we feel--joy, satisfaction, a variety pack of emotion, because our reality has changed. Our dream, or a step toward that dream, has actually come true. What a mystery this seems, the mystery of success.

The other day, when I made my first sale (of a short story entitled "Chateau"), I happened to be be traveling from Tokyo to San Jose, California, winding up a family vacation in Japan. That morning, and all that day, for that matter--in other words, during the entire before--I had much on my mind: forcing my jammed suitcase closed and hoping its weight didn't result in excess baggage charges, getting to the airport on time, trying to sleep during the long, red-eye flight, and upon arrival home, dealing with unpacking and laundry while severely jet-lagged, striving to renew my normal schedule ASAP. With all this going on, I certainly wasn't thinking of what might be happening with a recent submission to a magazine publisher.

Then, it happened: I found in my in-box an e-mail saying that my story had been chosen for publication, with a contract to sign and return to the publisher. Before time snapped its finger, I had no idea that in less than a second my dream would come true.

Now, I'm in the after. I walk on the other side of the door that leads from unpubbed writer to published author (pending the appearance of the issue, of course.) I've sold my writing.

Though a modest success, this milestone feels like a great success to me, a big step on the way to my fulfilling my writerly dreams. Which just reinforces my faith in the mystery that every day is a day of dreams come true.

I'd love to see your comments on this mystery of dream come true, or of modest steps toward your dreams of success. For example, I'd love to hear about the time you received "the call" when an editor wanted to buy your book, or the time an agent offered representation, or the day you placed in a writing contest, or the time you finally got to type THE END in a hard-wrought manuscript. And your non-writing successes, too, dreams unrelated to writing that have come true. For example, the day you got that promotion you worked so hard for, the time your tyke learned to tie his or her own shoe after your patient teaching, the moment that special someone first declared his or her love. What was happening just before that milestone? How did you respond in the after?

Dreams big and little, the mystery of before and after. Thinking of this inspires me, makes me hang on, helps me keep the faith--which means I keep trying, keep going for the gold. Maybe someday there will be that second just before I find out an editor wants to buy and publish my novel.

Does thinking of this mystery help you, too? If so, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your musings.



P.S. Here's a link to another writer who sold to the magazine the same time I did.

For further inspiration, go there and read what she has to say.

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