Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for Dreams

I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season (for my international readers, it's American Thanksgiving tomorrow, the day we set aside to count our blessings).

I was just thinking about that this morning. It has been less than one year since my debut novel has been out...that's...that's just mind-boggling! It's so strange for me to be working on Book 3, when the first book's only been out a little more than 10 months. My life is completely different now from a year ago--my world's been turned upside down.

And that's something I'm grateful for--this mad, chaotic career, and the fact that I can make it a career.

And of course, I'm also grateful for my agent, who found for me the very best people I could work with--the entire team at Penguin/Razorbill. I want to send them heart-shaped cookies every day.

And none of it would mean anything without the people who picked up the book, who read it, who told their friend about it, who requested it at their library...there aren't enough heart-shaped cookies in the world to express that kind of gratitude.

But as I was thinking about this post, I realized something that came before all this, something I have always taken for granted.

I am thankful for the dream.

I have wanted to be a writer since elementary school. I remember when Mrs. Oliver taught me about dialog tags, and Mrs. Pearson read my unicorn story aloud to the class, and Mrs. Thompson gave me a purple pen to write my stories with. I read my first book aloud to Tina on the schoolbus. The dream grew in high school--I think I snagged my boyfriend-who-became-my-husband in part by writing a story where he was the knight in shining armor.

The dream of being a writer drove me like no other. I studied literature and scribbled stories and stayed up late at night and tried and tried and tried.

Stories became novels. Novels became submissions to agents. And submissions became rejections.

And that was a point where I started to hate the dream.

It sucks when what you want most in the world requires someone else to say yes. Because when the someone you need--an agent, a publisher, readers--say no a part of your soul, the part where you keep your dream, bleeds.

It took a long frexing time for my dream to come true. And somewhere between year five and ten, I seriously started to hate my dream. I had given up so much: time, money, thought, opportunities, peace of mind. And I had nothing to show for it but a broken dream. I almost gave up on it then.

But the dream was stronger than me. And I wrote what I thought might be my last book. And that was the book that made the dream come true.

There's a chance that, right now, you hate the dream, too. A few years ago, I would have erased that part of me from myself if I could have--I wanted to not care so much that it hurt. But I'm telling you now: be thankful for the dream.

Because some people don't have one.

When I was teaching, I saw many sad things. This is not a post about that. But I will say this: one of the very saddest things I saw when teaching was how many kids had no dream. My dream was such a huge part of my life from such an early age that it was nearly incomprehensible for me to understand what it was like for someone to not have one.

You could see the difference between a kid with a dream and one without one. The kid with a dream was focused. Maybe not focused on my class or the book I put in front of her face, but focused on something. It might be distant, it might be unreachable, but there was desire and drive behind those eyes.

And then there were some kids who had no dream. Ask them what they wanted, and they would say "to graduate." Or--and this happened, too--"to turn 16 so I can drop out." And sometimes: "nothing."

I--and all the other teachers--would try to entice them with new studies or interests. Try to suss out a dream. But a dream is not something one can just give to someone else. It has to fill you up and come from within. If your body is a ship, then the dream is the wind in the sails. No one can hold the wind, let alone make it. It's something that just is. Or...isn't.

Looking back, now, it's easy for me to say I'm thankful for my dream. But a few years ago, after ten years of trying and ten years of failing, after hundreds of rejections, I would have given anything to erase the dream. To just be normal and not care.

And how empty my life would be without it.

So let me tell you: if you have a dream--even one that might hurt now--be thankful for it. Steer your ship into that gale.

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