Of Dreams and Failures

What sort of dreams did you have when you were a kid? You know the ones I’m talking about. Did you wish you could be a race-car driver hurtling down a speedway track meant for nothing less than 150 mph? Or, maybe you dreamed of being an astronaut flying into space and circling around monstrous planets all while you float freely in the cabin of that futuristic spacecraft. Perhaps pitching that no-hitter in the World Series for your favorite baseball team was more of your goal. Those are the dreams that used to matter. Those are the dreams that we often give up on because of “reality,” right?  Sure, we substitute those dreams we had as kids with “adult” dreams, and I’m not saying those aren’t important, but they’re certainly not the same. Nearly all of my adult dreams have come to fruition over the past few years, and I thank God every day for the life I have. I own a home, drive my dream truck, have three remarkable boys, work in a profession I cherish and one that gives me purpose, and last but not least, I’m married to the love of my life. She’s the woman who helped me reach all those dreams, and without her, I don’t know where I’d be right now in my life. These things are all important to me, and I would never change the life I’m living; however, a few months back, an eight-year-old reminded me of the biggest dream I had when I was his age.

Last October, I was on our living room couch with my laptop tucked in between my legs and my head propped up by a pillow. As Teddy watched one of his Scooby-Doo cartoons and munched away on his popcorn, I hammered away at the keyboard in front of me at breakneck speed. There’s something about creative writing. When you get in a groove, a rhythm, you just sort of start to sway and get into it. Admittedly, I was clicking and clacking rather loudly, but I can’t be held accountable when the creative juices are flowing and that muse has finally come down to visit. At the other end of the couch, I could see Teddy periodically shifting his little eyes away from the television and looking at me as I typed. I had a feeling I was annoying him with my pounding of the keys, but seeing that I pay half the mortgage, I often choose to park myself wherever and whenever I feel the calling. With winter looming, I tried to let myself soak up the rays of sunlight barrelling in through the family room window. It’s a great place to write even if Scooby is begging for some snacks in the corner of the room on a flat-screen T.V. 

He hit the pause button on the Roku remote and slowly swallowed the last popped kernel he shoved into his mouth. “Dad, what are you doing?”

“Writing,” I replied. Most of the time I try to give my kids my undivided attention. There are a few times I really struggle to do that. If I’m starving and have reached hangry level, I try to ignore them. Typically, it’s best for everybody if you stay away from a hungry dad. Michelle now carries Cliff bars in her purse and has zeroed in on when I might need one. She doesn’t even ask anymore and instead pretty much just rips the wrapper open and shoves it in my mouth. Secondly, when nature’s calling, please step out of the way because Dad is in no mood to chit chat. Lastly, writing is something I truly can’t peel myself away from, and when the words are being plastered up against a blank, white document, please leave a message and come back later. So, yes, I was short with him. 

“What are you writing?” Teddy followed up.

“A blog post.” My fingers continued to whip frantically across the keyboard. His next question brought my fingers to an abrupt stop.

“Have you ever written a book?” my son asked. Believe it or not, I worried I would get this question someday. It’s one I knew I would be embarrassed to answer. 

“Yes, I have.” I closed the laptop and stared at him. I knew where the conversation was headed, but I didn’t want it to get there.

“Cool! Can I see it?” He perked up from a slouched position, and he was ready to bolt towards the bookshelves in our living room where countless stories are stacked. 

“No, buddy. It’s not printed out. It’s not published.” 

“What’s published?” Damn it. Knowing how much I write, I knew my kids would ask me about my writing in the future, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon. 

“It’s when you submit your novel to a literary agent, and if they like it, they then try to sell it to a publisher. If you make it that far, and the book gets published, that means you’re a real writer. A published author,” I replied.

“Oh, so you haven’t gotten published yet?” Yep, that one stung a bit. Okay, a lot

“No, buddy. I tried. I sent it out to a lot of agents. I had a few that were interested, but it never happened.”

“So, you just stopped?” He asked as if implying that I was crazy for doing so. 

“Well, yeah, Teddy. Nobody wanted it.” 

“But don’t you tell me all the time that I should never give up on things? Like baseball and basketball.” Oh no! I was getting lectured by an eight-year-old. I forgot my wife had been in the room with us on the other couch. She patiently listened and waited to contribute.

Sensing an opportunity, Michelle chimed in now. “Huh, good point, Teddy.” She tilted her head and looked at me with a smirk on her face. “Yeah, Daddy. Don’t you always say that?” She’s always been supportive of my writing. She was not happy when I said I wanted to give up on being a published author. 

“Okay, can everybody chill out with attacking Dad?” I begged and then opened my computer to get back to my post. 

“Did anybody read it? Did they like it?” Teddy wasn’t going to let this go. When he knows he’s in the right, he will make you feel like you’re the kid and he’s the supreme leader of all the world. 

“Yes, people read it. Yes, they liked it.” I started typing again and tried pouncing away at the letters even louder than before. I wanted to drown them out. 

“Well, that’s just stupid. I don’t know why you stopped. Write another one.” Teddy continued.

“He was halfway through a second one, Teddy, and he just stopped!” The two of them together are a lethal team. It’s really not fair when they’re on the same side. 

“Geez, Dad! What’s wrong with you?”

And at that moment, I really did question what was wrong with me. I don’t like talking about my novel. Truth be told, not a lot of people know I’ve written one. They do now. I don’t talk about it because I’m embarrassed it never went anywhere. Let’s get back to that idea of childhood dreams. When I was a kid, I dreamed endlessly about being a writer. As I tore through R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and countless Marvel comics, all I could think about was being able to do what those authors did. I was constantly writing as a kid, and whenever I had the chance, I created short stories in the stacks of spiral notebooks my mom bought for me at the local Jewel.

At twenty-eight, I finished my first novel and thought I’d see that dream come to life. I queried agents for about two years, got close to landing one but ultimately failed, and I even had a contract with a small publishing company I sought out on my own. When that deal fell through because of my poor negotiating skills, “reality” set in and left me wondering whether or not I was really good enough. I ultimately decided I wasn’t, stopped querying, and then quit writing altogether. Michelle was right. I was halfway through a second book and was so jaded by all the rejection that I decided to quit in the middle of it. 

However, here I was now with my oldest son, and he was not happy with me; he was questioning why I gave into failure and seemed ashamed that I let my dream pass me by so easily. I closed out the tab to my blog that day, opened up the file I had saved on my hard drive, and well, I just started writing. I didn’t stop for the next few months. I became obsessed with that story again, and I finally finished it in early January. If you’re wondering where I’ve been, now you know. I decided to put the blog on hold so that I could focus all my spare time on writing that story and taking another step towards achieving a lifelong goal. After countless edits, rewrites, and beta readers, I finally felt that I was in a place to start querying agents again, so here I am in familiar territory. A few rejections have started to trickle in for my new novel, but I have a different mindset this time. I’ve learned a ton from that first attempt. And this time around, I  have a secret weapon- the mindset of an eight-year-old. I may never get published. I may never become a published author, but I am still a writer, and I enjoy doing it. Teddy taught me something that day. I’d rather be a failure who never gave up trying than a quitter who gave up on his dream.

The blog is back! I’m not entirely sure I’ll be posting once or twice a week like I was, but I’m going to do my best and post at least once a month. I’m currently putting a lot of time and energy into finding an agent, and like a glutton for punishment, I am five chapters into a third novel. If you’re a writer, you get it. When an idea finds you, it’s like an infection. It settles itself inside of you, inside your brain, and it festers there until you treat it. It grows and doubles in size and becomes the only thing you can think about. Eventually, if you don’t address it, it swells so big that there’s no room left. Your skull starts to crack open from within. It’ll drive you crazy if you don’t get it out. If you don’t put words to paper. Either way, I’ll never stop writing. I guess I’ll be published by the time I die or have fifteen novels just sitting in a folder on my computer. Who knows, maybe I’ll self publish in the future, but at this point, I’m going to let my dream continue to drive me. 

What about you? What was your dream as a kid? Have you reached that dream, or did you give up on it too? How do you find time to work on bettering yourself all while being a great parent? Because I can tell you, it’s not easy doing both, but we do the best we can, right?

4 thoughts on “Of Dreams and Failures

  1. Shame and guilt are two skills that kids excel at. At a travelling reptile show this weekend, my daughter and I delighted in interacting with a snake, iguana, and monitor lizard. Then they brought out a tarantula. My 10 year old girl was the first to volunteer to hold this thing. I tried to take a pass, as I was terrified. She proceeded to shame me until, out of my own darn pride, I held it.

    Like

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