The phrase ‘dream of being a writer’ is a common one that dates back a long way. Remember Josephine March in Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century Little Women series? She ‘dreamt of being a writer’. But what exactly does that mean? What is the dream exactly?
Once upon a time – in Jo March’s time – the dream of being a writer was simple. It was about two things: having the freedom to carry out the process of writing, and to enjoy that; and writing something that others may read and enjoy.
The process was, I think, the most important element of the dream. From Little Women:
“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”
Writers know well that process. It’s exhausting, it’s grueling, it’s emotionally draining – but it is, to coin a phrase by writer Oriah Mountain Dreamer, ‘what we ache for’.
As for the sharing of the writing – the publication; that was part of the dream. But how far did the dream of being read and appreciated as a writer extend? Not much further than impressing peers and family, getting some recognition and perhaps, in the wildest of dreams, becoming sufficiently well-read to be respected by critics and paid sufficiently to write full time.
That was then. This is now, when publishing books is big money, and writers can, and do, dream big. Take The Hunger Games as an example. It’s available in paperback with various cover design versions. It’s been made into a blockbusting movie franchise that has broken several box-office records. You can buy all manner of merchandise, from jewellery to apparel. And this week news was announced that a Broadway producer is creating a massive stage show for the book that will be shown in a brand-new purpose-built theatre located next to Wembley Stadium in London. Did the Hunger Games author, Suzanne Collins, dream this big? Perhaps not – but without doubt all these developments are inspiring writers around the globe.
These days, then, the ‘dream of being a writer’ may mean dreaming of:
- Red-carpet premieres of the film of your book
- Bands commissioned to write music based on your book
- An army of fans following each aspect of the book, and perhaps even dabbling in fan fiction
- Glamorous, showbiz-style book tours
- Schmoozy lunches with publishers and media professionals at a posh hotel
… and much more besides. Has ‘the dream of writing’ transmuted into a dream of being famous? When a child today says he dreams of being a writer, is he dreaming mainly of the process of writing, of hours locked away in his own story world, or is he picturing wildly successful authors like JK Rowling – is he wanting, in fact, to be a celebrity author?
I think all of the classic writers of literature would admit to wanting recognition for their talent. Only those who write only for themselves and never publish a word are truly writing for the process alone. But was there a time when recognition mattered less? When the art of writing was the dream, not what came next?
I’ve dreamed of being a writer from a young age, because I love to write. I love to come up with ideas. I love to put them down on paper. I love the journey I go on when I write. I love solving the puzzle of finding the right word to describe something. I love building characters. I love working hard on a project and seeing it grow. I even love the way writing takes me over, so that I am pulled into another world; like life has become a dream.
Back when I began writing, in my childhood, I showed my first stories to my governess and my parents, who responded enthusiastically. Encouraged, I began writing stories for classmates, who circulated them. I loved that they loved my writing – I knew I wanted to write more, to transport readers into the world of my imagination. The process and the sharing fulfilled me. As Jo March says in Little Women: ‘I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.’
I did unlock the door. I write full time now, and I love every minute that I spend on my books. I live every day the dream of being a writer, my dream of being a writer. Everything else is but chance, not design – only the process and the hard work of building a readership are tangible, within grasp. The writing is all.