Putting your dreams in the present tense

I’ve been lucky to be a freelance writer of nonfiction for many years.  A fantastic tribe of readers — people like you — have supported my efforts by buying my books, attending my talks, sharing your thoughts and otherwise making my work a joy.  Even those of you who send me notes from your prison cells add a little something to my life that just wouldn’t be there if I were still unloading trucks for a living. 



But you will have noticed that I have not been as productive over the past few years as I was the previous ten.  I did make a foray into becoming a literary agent, but mostly that time has been spent on projects that have not come to fruition (yet, anyway).


What projects?  Glad you asked.  I had a dream.  Not the world-peace-and-prosperity dream, though I think that’s a good one.  This was a slightly smaller dream: I wanted to be a novelist.  For almost all of my writing career, that’s always how I thought of it, in the past tense: I wanted to be a novelist. 


One day, after an intense period of navel-gazing, I thought, what if I moved that sentence into the present tense: I want to be a novelist.  And then what if I did something about it?


So I did something about it.  And my first novel, Then Will Come Night and Darkness was published by a small literary publisher not too long after that.  So that was good, right?  I was now a published novelist.  But of course that was not enough.  The idea mutated.  (My ideas are like very scary science fiction creatures in this regard.)  The idea became, I want to write lots of novels. I  want to be a successful novelist. I want to be a professional novelist.  This is what I want my work to be.


Well, this idea was so scary I had to clean out the bedroom closet AND the kitchen cupboards.  But once the idea had gotten into my brain it refused to get out again.  I told it all the reasons it had to leave: I had work I enjoyed, bills to pay, a daughter to raise, and no clue whether I have what it takes to be a successful novelist.  Even so, the idea wouldn’t leave.  It kept whispering, If you don’t do this now, when will you?  If you’re not willing to take the risk, then you don’t have what it takes, do you?  You’re making up excuses, you loser.  That’s spelled capital L-O-S-E-R!  (The little voice in my brain can be very mean to me.)


So for the past several years, I have been scribbling on mountains of paper, writing novels and learning the craft.  To make room for the dream, I’m doing less nonfiction work and fewer speaking engagements and workshops.  My daughter and I are making do with less of everything and finding out that we never needed more of everything in the first place.


So far I have had two novels accepted by Avalon (one published in 2008, one out later this year) under my pen name Jenny Jacobs.  I have also had enough rejections to render me catatonic if I thought about it very long.  Every six months or so, I do some soul-searching: Wouldn’t you like to, you know, have some retirement savings?  Or, I don’t know, own a car that was made after the turn of the century? And then I hold that up to the dream, and the dream is bigger than a new car or retirement savings.  I’m not saying it should be, or that my choice is smart.  I’m just saying what is true.


I still don’t know if I have what it takes, but I’m pretty sure I’ll find out before I’m dead.  In the meantime . . . what dream did you have that you should move into the present tense?


  1. Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to be a stewardess so bad she could taste it. She wanted those wings bad.

    She walked up and down steps hundreds of times with a book on her head to walk straight and tall; did squats so she could bend down properly to pick items off the floor like a lady; slept with a safety pin on her teeth so she wouldn’t have Bucky Beaver teeth because she had sucked her thumb for years.

    As life is wont to do, her life path took another direction: college dropout, job, marriage, child, management position (women’s lib was in full swing back then), divorce, back to college, chaos….She had a very successful career yet something just wasn’t right. She meandered in and out of jobs trying things. Nothing suited.

    One day, she reached the end of the line. She was rejected as a seasonal muffin wrapper at one of the major big box chains. The humiliation of it all.

    Desperate times require desperate measures.

    She answered an ad in the newspaper and on her 58th birthday interviewed for a position as a flight attendant with a major airline. On her 59th birthday she was well into her job as an honest to goodness “stewardess.” Well, it certainly ain’t a glamour job these days but hey,she has been places she never even dreamed of going all because she followed her childhood heart. The inner kid knows. We should pay attention!

    Glad to see you are heading where your heart leads. Good luck.

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  4. I love this story! It must have been SWA!

    You had me very interested in your article "5 Myths", so I looked up your site. Then, while I was reading further on your site where you talk about the story getting in your head and not leaving, got me again! The baseball thing clinched it!

    I, along with so many others, have written a novel that would not leave me alone. It woke me during the night and pushed my rear-end out to the computer where I would sit for the next 12-18 hours. I feel like I might die and this book will be buried with me! (No, I'm not ill… just heartsick.)

    It seems that my folksy-chatty, third person omiscient POV is not currently 'in fashion'. Ouch!
    I suppose if Driving Miss Daisy were submitted today (in novel fashion) it would be sent to the slush pile with a hearty, "Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

    I've seriously thought about taking up drinking, but I have too much work to do. Besides, alcohol always wakes me up at 3 a.m.!

    I'm rambling.

    Thanks for this site!

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