Big Dreams and Realistic Expectations

When was the last time you had a terrific conversation about writing and your publishing journey with your fellow author friends? Talked about your dreams for the future and tried to identify any roadblocks that might be holding you back from pursuing them?

It’s often difficult for writers to “dream big” or set lofty goals because they’re constantly being told — and shown — that publishing is a difficult journey and writing is a career in which huge success is a long shot.

This is the advice I regularly give to writers: I encourage them to follow their dreams and to keep persistently pursuing them, while also advising they keep their expectations in check and be realistic about their possibilities.

It’s quite a contradiction, isn’t it?

balance beam


I strongly believe all of us should pursue our dreams, and not be afraid of dreaming BIG. Yet, as an agent, I’ve been on the downwind side of writers being disappointed that their dreams aren’t coming true in the way or the timing they’d hoped, and I’ve experienced their anger or resentment or despair — or their blame. So it makes sense that, from a business perspective, I’d also want to remind people to be realistic.

But I’m thinking now that maybe “realism” isn’t the answer, and maybe “manage your expectations” isn’t the right advice. Maybe what I’ve really meant to tell writers is this:

Dream BIG, and pursue your dreams persistently — and be diligent in guarding yourself against anger, resentment, despair and blame when things aren’t going your way.

Don’t let the difficulty of the path convince you that you shouldn’t have BIG dreams and BIG expectations. But also, don’t let the difficulty turn you into a bitter person.

Instead, let difficulty make you ever stronger; let it guide you in adjusting your dreams as needed; let it spur you toward the path that will result in your success, no matter how close or far it is from your original dream.

I’m finished saying “manage your expectations.” Now I think a better approach is this:

Keep your expectations high, but manage your response to adversity.


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] why do I have to choose between being a writer and being a mother?, Rachelle Gardener weighs in on big dreams and realistic expectations, and Kathryn Craft explores the story that may be holding us […]

  2. Michael Richard on January 23, 2019 at 6:58 PM

    Wise and encouraging advice Rachelle!

  3. Maco Stewart on January 23, 2019 at 9:19 AM

    Rachelle, great post, and thanks.

    What I’ve found the past two years while working on my third novel are (1) publishing a novel is a complicated, challenging process requiring excellent product and perseverance, and (2) that despite my big dreams of success, what I can control and love is the writing itself and the continual improvement of my writing. Writing better is within my sphere of control. Getting published/successful may not be. But to grow in my love of writing better? Nobody can stand in the way of that. For me, that is the engine of encouragement that will drive me through these last edits and pursuit of publication.

  4. Writing Links - Caroline Starr Rose on February 18, 2014 at 9:54 AM

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  6. Free on May 21, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    I have a question about this. I am too a writer, a screenwriter that’s looking to leave home and pursue my career. I am leaving to have time to organize my mind and thoughts, because I just can’t do it here at home with my family needing me every five seconds. Not that I don’t love them, but I am my mother’s only single and childless offspring and they look to me as if my career is… well… unimportant and as if I have nothing better to do on my days off than to assist them in their lives. Which I honestly don’t mind, but when it comes to writing I need my space and mind. Do you think I should leave home to pursue my career or tough it out here. I am also not working at the time, just lost my job last week…

    • V. Choudhary on September 22, 2013 at 11:10 PM

      …u must walk out ‘f door everyday for some time n reach a place of natural beauty n peaceful environment…….jst sit there without having anything in mind n observe the nature…..after some time you’ll have what you want………..remember…..whatever is your goal..u have to finish the path on u’r own…’z u’r dream..jst do it …ALL THE BEST.. 😀 🙂

  7. Brooks Benjamin on February 16, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    Awesome post–I’ve felt that nasty sting of rejection. But I know i have to keep pushing forward.

    I totally think that we need to dream big. Maybe that’s the only way TO dream, really. But even with magnificent, lofty goals and dreams to match, we still need to set those smaller, baby-stepping goals along the way.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  8. […] “Big Dreams vs. Realistic Expectations” by Rachelle Gardner […]

  9. […] Big Dreams VS. Realistic Expectations […]

  10. Jenn N on October 26, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    I came across your blog through a google searching, as you might guess, for advice on my dream. I spent lots of time reading your older posts and then clicked through to your homepage to read your recent stuff. Not only have a learned a lot but I’m feeling encouraged as well. Anyway your blog is a great find.

  11. Adjusting Your Dreams As Needed « Intersections on October 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    […] the full post from Rachelle Gardner here. Share this:TwitterEmailFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  12. Dealing with Hope | E. R. Sandoval on October 22, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    […] any modest success look like it’s just not good enough.  I think I’m keeping my actual expectations pretty reasonable.  I’ve seen the statistics, I know how long it can take and how few […]

  13. Industry News-October 21 » RWA-WF on October 21, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    […] Agent Rachelle Gardner resolves to stop telling writers to manage their expectations. She now favors dreaming big.  […]

  14. April Kempler on October 19, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    This is such great advice. Getting a handle on how we take adversity can be applied in all aspects of our life. Wonderful blog!

  15. […] Big Dreams vs Realistic Expectations  by Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) […]

  16. Mandi Lynn on October 18, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    I love this blog! I’m just a teen writer and I’ve been working on publishing my book for almost two years now so I’ve literally put blood, sweat and tears into my manuscript. There are a lot of days were I think I’ll never get published and should just give up on the manuscript, but there are also those magnificent days where I can’t help but think I’m getting closer and closer to being published every day 🙂

    The long task of getting published is so hard to see how badly you want it, and if you work hard you WILL get published. It’s all about determination. Things aren’t just handed to you.

  17. Kathleen Freeman on October 17, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    Fabulous, Rachelle! Thanks!

  18. John Fields on October 17, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    Mrs. Gardner,

    Yes! You’ve got it right. Well-said.

    There are many complementary issues such as calling, motivation, passion. In the end, I don’t think writing is a pursuit like the guy who loves to fish and decides to quit his job and sell everything–and opens a tackle shop to work 16 hours a day and go broke. Writing is so much more (though going or staying broke is likely).

    I see writing as an act of worship before an Audience of One. Others get to listen in. Adopting Eric Liddell’s famous response to why he ran, when i write i feel His presence. I dream of that with each sentence.

    I am a retired pastor with some history of article writing, and write a column for a local paper. I have been working in a social-service role for a few years and plan to retire altogether next year. My hope is to retire “to” the missionfield of writing. Thanks for your wonderful posts. You are schooling and encouraging me well! Perhaps by God’s grace, we’ll have a professional relationship not far down the road.

    John Fields

    Dayton, Tennessee

    P.S. I am literally the next door neighbor of your former client, Rachel Evans.

  19. Carol Benedict on October 17, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    As our actions are influenced by the goals we set, we may be limiting ourselves to less than we are capable of achieving when we set our goals too low. I aim to do the best I can in all things, keeping in mind that my best may not be sufficient for every situation. For those things that my heart truly desires, however, I am encouraged by the promise of Philippians 4:13 (NKJV): “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Nothing is impossible when we place our lives is God’s hands and walk in faith the path He has made for us.

  20. Flower Patch Farmgirl on October 17, 2012 at 12:10 AM

    “Keep your expectations high, but manage your response to adversity.” Sounds like a fitting prescription for writing AND for life.

  21. Chad Allen on October 16, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    Well said, Rachelle! And a nice tweak to the advice you give. I’m going to tuck this one away…

  22. Gerri Wetta Hilger on October 16, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    Dreaming big was always one of the main themes of my classroom while teaching w/ many daily journal topics connected to that idea. I displayed a big wooden cut-out that said DREAM in my room, and I left it for the new teacher when I retired. However, I recently told her I would love it back for my writing space. I realized perhaps I needed to remind myself more often of what I had been trying to teach my students.

  23. Tim Klock on October 16, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    I received one rejection letter so far for my first story. I bought a frame for it and put it on my wall, next to my computer. It serves as a reminder to work harder, keep hoping, and maybe some day the agency that rejected the story will say, “DANG! That bestseller is one that we rejected!” Maybe that won’t happen. Perhaps the story was too short (it was pretty short). Perhaps it just wasn’t the best fit for their agency. Whatever the case, I won’t let myself get overly upset until my 101st rejection letter. After that, I’ll have to consider using that story for a doorstop.

  24. Lynda Schmeichel on October 16, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    I think if you don’t allow yourself to dream big then you are limiting yourself. You are saying I will accept less than what I want. As long as you accept it may take a long time to get where you want to get, but just keep trying!

  25. […] Gardner (@RachelleGardner) leads off with Big Dreams vs. Realistic Expectations. She notes the contradictory advice writers get: on the one hand to dream big, on the other to keep […]

  26. Marla Taviano on October 15, 2012 at 11:12 PM

    One thing I’ve always admired about you is that you’re not afraid to adjust your take on something. I remember several times when you’ve said, “I used to think this; now I think this.” I think that is sooooo important (and so humble and wise).

    And I TOTALLY agree with you on the dreaming thing. Dream HUGE, but gracefully accept any and all detours (or stopped traffic) that comes your way. Do what you can to get around them, sure, but sometimes the HARD WAIT is the best thing that ever happened to us.

  27. Gary on October 15, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    I agree but writers like me sometimes have adult dreams and five year old skills.
    I have to match my work to the dream. If my dream is big I know there will be a lot of work and sacrafice to go big.
    The learning curve of the craft seems much greater now than when I started to dream.
    At some point I have had to choose to downsize the dream or work harder (word choices, structure, plots, ideas, and run on sentences).
    I’m somewhere on the learning curve of thinking I know what I’m talking about.

  28. Ruth Hartman Berge on October 15, 2012 at 7:37 PM

    It’s not always easy for me to do, but I try very hard to look for the value in any disappointment. That’s where the learning is and that’s where the absolute joy of figuring it out and possibly conquering it lies. Of course, my book is about determination and persistence in reaching goals ( and it’s a topic I speak about at schools quite a bit. If I can’t find my way to “climb those stairs,” I’ve got no business encouraging children to do so.

  29. Peter DeHaan on October 15, 2012 at 6:24 PM

    I do set lofty goals. I work hard to achieve them, while also giving them over to God. As long as I’m doing what he’s calling me to do, I’ll accept whatever the outcome may be.

  30. mike addington on October 15, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    No time or disposition for bitterness. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Just keep doing “the next thing,” and, if you aren’t enjoying the journey,think about starting a different trip. This may not be for you. Happy day fellow travelers. Good luck

  31. Julie Sunne on October 15, 2012 at 4:35 PM

    Great insight, Rachelle! For me, it’s about humility and bowing to God’s timing for my life. God has great dreams for me, you, and all of us, but to equal success, it must be in His perfect timing. God willing, I will be an author and speaker, but only by working hard and following His lead–and only after He believes it’s my time. Difficult, but worth the wait.

  32. Julie Sunne on October 15, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    Great insight, Rachelle! For me, it’s about humility and bowing to God’s timing for my life. God has great dreams for me, you, and all of us, but to equal success, it must be in His perfect timing. God willing, I will be an author and speaker, but only by working hard and following His lead–and only after He believes it’s my time.

  33. Heather Day Gilbert on October 15, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    I’d say it’s the kiss of death when a writer loses his/her dreams. Thanks for this more realistic advice.

    As writers, we get LOADS of conflicting advice. “Write your passion” vs “Write to the market.” “Use your unique voice” vs “Your dialogue is different.” “Blog and build platform” vs “Focus on your novels.”

    In the end, we have to listen to that still, small voice that pushes us forward, regardless of whether we fit the mold or break it. Regardless of acceptance or rejection on any given project. We just have to keep dreaming. And writing.

  34. Martha Ramirez on October 15, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Great advice! I’m a big dreamer but also often remind myself God may have other plans for me. So I try my best to let go and let God. Even during those hardest, most discouraging moments in life. I truly believe everyone has their own path and mine will always be where I am intended as long as I keep having faith and keeping working at my goals.

    Even if that means going completely in a direction I didn’t expect.

  35. David Todd on October 15, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Thanks for this post, Rachelle. My dreams are huge; that’s the bad part. But they good part is my dreams inform the use of my time. Because the big dreams, leisure time and vegetating time have to go. Without those dreams, I’m sure I’d watch a lot more sports and mindless sitcoms.

  36. Paula on October 15, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    One of my favorite movies is The Terminal.

    I like it because one of the underlying subjects in that movie is the need to wait.

    The movie points out that what every human being on this planet has in common is that we’re all waiting for something.

    But, quite often, the difference between the person who is happy and the person who is unhappy comes down to HOW WE VIEW the time spent waiting for that one thing we really want.

    When we find beauty in the moment-to-moment adventure that comprises our “wait”, this perception makes our destination all the more sweeter.

    I’m a very impatient person & I’m doing my best to work on enjoying/learning from each of the moment-to-moment adventures that lead to realization of my goals.

    …So, as long as we’re alive, why not dream big? And, more importantly, why not keep the sort of perspective that allows us to enjoy our dreams?: )

  37. Sarah Thomas on October 15, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    LOVE this attitude. Always strive to exceed expectations–including your own.

  38. J.M. Bray on October 15, 2012 at 1:54 PM


    Your post prompted many thoughts to perk in my flu-clouded brain. As I mulled them over, I realized they needed to be a blog post of my own. The thumbnail is this: While I do have goals for my writing, I focus more on the journey that’s taking me to them.

    Thanks for the inspiration.


  39. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on October 15, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    When we lose heart, there are times when our dreams may seem silly to us, and there are almost always people ready to reinforce that feeling.

    And so, we may turn on ourselves, and our dreams, rejecting them, leaving them crumpled in the dirt. I’ve done it. Have you?

    But remember that the stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone, and so these dreams of ours, perhaps unfulfilled but not abandoned, may become the cornerstone for the hopes of someone else.

    My dreams aren’t about me – they’re a gift I hold in my hand. A gift to faith, a gift to hope, a gift to the future.

    I may not be able to reach my goals, but the example of my effort may be the ‘leg up’ for someone else’s climb.

    After all, what good’s a gift if you don’t give it?

  40. Patrick Craig on October 15, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    If I couldn’t dream big and believe that the Lord was behind my writing, I would just hunker down and do my day job and wait for the rapture. Dreaming is what keeps me writing.

  41. ed cyzewski on October 15, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    When I started working on publishing books and blogging back in 2005, I set what I thought were modest goals, and by 2009, I thought I was getting close to them before I hit a major detour for about three years. I’m finally getting closer to where I wanted to be, but it was harder and took longer than I’d expected. Of course I had to try things I didn’t expect I’d have to try, change my strategy in some key ways, and be a whole lot more patient than I would have guessed!

  42. Perseverance and Positive Attitude | M.H. Lee on October 15, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    […] my daily crawl of web sites, I ran across a good post by Rachelle Gardner on Big Dreams vs. Realistic Expectations.  I think it dovetails nicely with another post I had bookmarked a little bit ago by Jim C. Hines […]

  43. Ruth Taylor on October 15, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    This post comes at an interesting time for me. After attending the ACFW conference last month and coming home with 2 agents interested in my work, I had some older family members compliment me on pursuing my dreams of publication.

    I do have high hopes and dreams for my writing career. What I do to prepare myself for disappointment is NOT to set expectations as to what the outcome will be. The only expectations I have for myself are to work my tail off and do everything I can to be on the road to success. After that, I realize it’s in God’s hands and have confidence in His perfect timing.

  44. Kay Camenisch on October 15, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    Thanks. Great post!

    The tension is real. A big dream keeps you going while reality makes you want to give up. If the dream isn’t bigger than the disappointments and the setbacks, a writer will wash out.

    Managing the dream may not be the answer, and we definitely need to guard against anger and bitterness. However, I think we still need to hear along the journey how difficult it is to get published these days.

    If we don’t hear about the hurdles, the slim chance of being accepted, and the difficulty of making a living from writing, we will be torpedoed by each delay and disappointment.

    Furthermore, without knowing the challenge before us, how can we count the cost before we begin? How can pace ourselves for the journey?

    Writing is like running a marathon. If you downsize the dream, you won’t cross the finish line. However, you must understand the cost in order to pace yourself. Personally, I’m grateful for all the reports that help me understand that I’m not the only one that gets rejected, and discouraged, and has difficulty finding an agent, and, and, and.

    If I had initially known the challenges involved in being published, it might have kept me from starting, but in the long run, they’ve helped me pace myself and helped me persevere.

    Each time I want to give up, the size and the Source of my dream pick me up, make me more determined, and keep me going.

  45. sally apokedak on October 15, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Such a good post. We need to start dreaming big again. We need to not be afraid to say that God is with us and we’ll step out to face a hundred foes and maybe God will be pleased to give them into our hands.

    I’d recommend RESCUING AMBITION to your clients.

  46. Meghan Carver on October 15, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    The Big Dream is what keeps me going through all the hard work. Yet, I feel success with each article or short story I sell, even with a blog post that receives favorable comments. Each of those is a little step forward. If I quit now, I’ll never know what could have been. Thanks, Rachelle, for the encouragement.

  47. Joe Pote on October 15, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Rachelle, this post reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis:

    “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

    The problem is not that our dreams are to big, but that they are too small, or too poorly defined.

  48. Rose Gardener on October 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    By day I dream small goals- finish the novel, get it published, sell a few hundred copies! All possible, if I work hard and believe in myself.
    At night I dream of readers liking my voice, book sales taking off and my publisher demanding I hurry up and finish my second and third novels. That makes me wake up in the morning eager to get back to work on the daily goal of writing something-anything- just to practise the craft. I think there’s a place for dreaming big, but if I allowed myself big dreams by day, day-dreams is all they’d ever be.

  49. Cherry Odelberg on October 15, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Thank you for a great post, Rachelle. There is a difference between dreaming big and being delusional and grandiose. May we all dream big, secure in the reality that we are going for all we are meant to be.

  50. Heather on October 15, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    I needed this today, and combined with The Sacred Echo reading from Saturday, I’ve realized what holds me back from dreaming big is the fear of disappointment. Will I be able to cope when disappointment comes my way? I’m working on dreaming big, but its been stifled for so long…

  51. Krista Phillips on October 15, 2012 at 10:35 AM


    I have a post already written for Wednesday on a similar topic…

    Limiting God. Because I think when we set our sites really low we limit what God can do.

    I’m a self-admitted dreamer. I believe in shooting for the stars and if you got somewhere in between, fabulous, but if you only shoot for the moon, chances are you won’t get much farther than that. (obviously there are exceptions…)

    I think the key is to not let big dreams bread discontent. Not to let the disappointments in life dash your dreams, but rather embolden you to broaden your scope.

  52. nan kilmer baker on October 15, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    Rachelle: Very timely subject. Just home from a writers conference where an agent basically told me to give up on the product of 10+ years of hard work. Bolstered by other positive response, I vow to use her blunt advice as inspiration to forge onward.
    Instead of being bitter, I am better–
    prepared to succeed. Life would be so hum drum without dreams.

    Thanks. And to all fellow writers, “NEVER GIVE UP!”

  53. Ann Bracken on October 15, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    Yes, I have dreams of being a success. It would be fun to be world-renowned ala JK Rowling. The masses would clamor for my books and I’d be rich.

    But then reality (aka my husband) whispers in my ear, asking me if that is something I’d really want. He knows how much I love peace and quiet.

    I think the best way to dream big and live with disappointment is to understand that everything happens for a purpose and that God is in charge. What He wills will happen, when He wills it, in the way He knows is best for us.

  54. Jeanne on October 15, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    If someone had told me 2 1/2 years ago that I would be writing a book, I would have laughed at them. Yet, God had planted that desire in my heart decades ago. Pursuing this dream has been huge, stretching and amazing. I dream about it being published. Haven’t dared to focus on dreams beyond that, yet, but I have them.

    I try to temper them with the reality that God’s got me–the story, the dream, the process–and His plan for it is perfect. I rest in that, knowing that His timing will be the best for my dreams to come true.

    And, yes, I agree that we should be encouraged to dream big dreams. They are what give us hope and spark us to become more than we are right now.

  55. Zan Marie on October 15, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    I’m thrilled you posted this. I’m working on the balance between dreams and reality. My mantra is to do a “Try Something Journey”–Trying is the least and most we can do; Something is better than nothing when it comes to writing; and my Journey is my journey, not to be compared to anyone else’s. ; )

  56. Gary Borgstede on October 15, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    Great post Rachelle! I believe that the setbacks on the journey toward our big dreams can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks…it all depends on how we choose to respond to them. Thank you and have a blessed day!

  57. Jeanne Guy on October 15, 2012 at 9:48 AM

    Thanks for a “home run” message. I heard recently “poison is medicine.” If I’m in a difficult or painful situation, I think back to a previous time of pain and remember I lived through it and learned I’m stronger than I thought. That which I thought was poison ended up being the medicine that makes me more courageous now in light of whatever new adversity I’m faced with. Adversity isn’t the end unless I let it be. Let’s play ball…

  58. Wendy Paine Miller on October 15, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Loved meeting with you at the retreat, Rachelle!

    Loved it.

    I can’t help but dream big. It’s in my blood. I’m wired to do so.

    And I 100% agree with the wisdom that stems from learning to manage response to adversity. That’s when the real stretching occurs.

    ~ Wendy

  59. Nan Bush on October 15, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    I sometimes wonder if the writers who become bitter when dreams don’t come true had believed too literally that simply *having* a big dream is equivalent to putting in an Amazon order, like “creating our own reality.” Then, if the dream doesn’t happen, they have lost faith in their entire belief system rather than seeing the loss simply as a disappointment.

    If fame and fortune do arrive, the big dreams often collapse when dreamers discover that being famous brings a ton of demands and hard, boring work rather than the luxuriating and leisure that were expected.

    Sometimes achieving smaller dreams makes for more enjoyable living!

  60. Roxanne Sherwood Gray on October 15, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    A quote near my computer by David Brainerd says, “God let me make a difference for You that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.”

    He’s called me to write for His glory, so I probably need a big dream to accomplish His purpose for my writing.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • marion on October 16, 2012 at 2:36 PM

      Thanks, Roxane.

  61. Jill Weatherholt on October 15, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Unfortunately, for some people, all they have are their dreams. I say keep dreaming, disappointment may come, but that’s part of life and will make us stronger in the long run.

  62. Connie Almony on October 15, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    It’s funny, I think I’ve always sort of gotten this message from your blog. I love reading it because it is so encouraging. You give us the realities, but seem to nudge us to keep going in spite of them. I’m always encouraged to work harder and be a better writer. It’s not just about getting published or selling well, it’s about being good enough for these things. Certainly, how one reacts to adversity is a big part of honing your ability to navigate the business.

  63. Denise on October 15, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Rachelle, this reminds me of Philippians 3:14
    “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

    God has embedded the desire of lofty goals in us, and our ultimate goal is eternity in heaven. Our loftiest writing goals could never compare with that. For me, any writing success I will ever have is frosting on the cake 😉

    • Joe Pote on October 15, 2012 at 11:01 AM

      Love this, Denise!

      • Denise on October 15, 2012 at 11:49 AM

        Thanks, Joe!

  64. Lisa on October 15, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    Thank you for this encouragement.

    While my first few months of writing, knocked a lot of reality into me. I also found it made me stand up stronger and ready to fight even harder! There are no limits on dreams.

  65. Richard Mabry on October 15, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    Rachelle, You’ve raised a question that bothered me during that retreat. I try to “stretch the envelope” but I thought it was a bit far-out for one writer to dream of being a part owner of the Seattle Seahawks.
    Because there are so many disappointments in life (not just in writing), all of us have a tough time dreaming of better things. But when I think about some of the gifts God has given me, gifts that are beyond what I could conceive, I have to realize that the Scripture promise is indeed true: we can’t see or even imagine some of the things God has in store for us. So I guess I’ll keep on dreaming.

  66. Jessica Nelson on October 15, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    I do think people should dream big and set lofty goals. I also think they should work hard and be flexible with where life might take them. It is hard to dream big sometimes when you’re realistic, but then again, sometimes I think realism is overrated. lol

  67. Melinda Viergever Inman on October 15, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    This is what we encourage our children to do – Dream big! Pursue your dreams! After devoting my youth to raising and educating my children, I’m now pursuing my own dream of being a writer. I dream big! But the path is daunting!

    After a heartbreaking rejection, it takes a while to recover. But I keep moving forward, even as I nurse my wounded heart. When I have a setback I spend time contemplating the dream – Why do I have it? What drives me? That time of self-reflection then puts my emotions back together again. One thing I can control is the pursuit of the dream, so I pump up my writing skills and revise and tweak my proposal and query.

    What I can’t control is the outcome. This is the difficulty, because sometimes I set arbitrary goals, such as selling a manuscript or being published by a certain date. However, the only thing I can control is my work. I can attempt to produce killer proposals and stellar writing, but even that is no guarantee in this market.

    It’s a HUGE lesson in trusting God with the outcome.

  68. Craig W. Turner on October 15, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    I believe wholeheartedly in dreaming big. It keeps you going in the direction you want to go. My dream is not to publish a book. It’s not to have a writing career. It’s to become a famous author. In fact, my dream is to be the first author (who’s only an author) to be invited to host Saturday Night Live.

    Yep. I don’t mess around with my dreams.

    But then there’s the reality, which is where the struggle comes in because there are decisions to be made. Where do you temper your dreams in order to find other, maybe smaller, successes? Am I going to become a famous author buy self-pubbing books? Not my definition of “famous,” most likely. But can I sell some Kindle books and build a following of readers? Yes, I can.

    I’ve been trying to evaluate the amount of time I’ve spent over the years preparing query letters for agents. I figured if I’d focused on my writing I could’ve probably written another two books by now using that time. That’s not a dig – agents have a job to do, and if my story or my genre don’t fit the current market sure I’m going to get turned down. But where do you make the switch in your strategy? At what point do you decide that you’d rather have people reading your stuff today than having your manuscript sitting on your hard drive waiting for a NY publisher to make your dreams come true?

    Personally, I will never abandon the dream of a publisher saying to me, “Craig, I’m going to put your novel on the bookshelves.” I’m going to continue looking for an agent, but with each form rejection note I get, that voice in the back of my mind that I could be selling my book tomorrow if I wanted to gets a little bit louder.

    Is anyone else entrenched in this decision? I’d be curious people’s thoughts.

    • David Todd on October 15, 2012 at 2:57 PM


      Wow! Your thoughts accord with my own—except for the SNL part.

      Your assessment of the time factor is spot on, IMnsHO. The time to learn to research markets, query, pitch, wisely chose and attend conferences, write proposals, wait on answers, etc. is probably not any less than the time commitment to learn to do all the things a self-publisher needs to learn to do. I processed through that in late 2010 to early 2011, and made my choice to self-publish in Jan 2011. It’s not an irrevocable choice, however, for like you I still allow the dream of a publishing contract to flicker down deep. It’s little more than an ember now, but it’s still there.

      The factor that decided it for me was the realization that the time and talent required to edit and then market the self-published book was about the same as required to polish a book for submittal and to market it after acceptance. Same time commitment, same skills. Why not self-publish? So my decision making went.

      Dave Todd
      My Amazon Author page

  69. Kathryn Elliott on October 15, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    I liken my dreams to a piñata – little bits of hope burst free the harder I whack. With each swing, another Tootsie Roll-sized reward – an article here, a blog post there – small dreams, but just as sweet. Yes, I want to publish, and yes, I want my work to be widely received, but if that never happens I will have a respectable pile of small-scale goodies to look back on and know I gave it my best shot.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on October 15, 2012 at 9:13 AM

      Great analogy!! A fun way to look at things, very well said.

      • Kathryn Elliott on October 15, 2012 at 9:19 AM

        Thanks Jennifer. (It could be inspired by the 15 “bite size” Twix I’m currently inhaling for breakfast.)

        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on October 15, 2012 at 10:49 AM

          Hey, chocolate was once a bean. You’re really just eating 15 vegetables.

    • Cherry Odelberg on October 15, 2012 at 10:58 AM

      Very true – and well said!

  70. Sheryl on October 15, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    So right on! Great advice. I have always been taught that good and bad are destined to happen. The “what” isn’t as important as the “how” I am going to respond to the situation. Am I going to stay mired down or turn it around as an opportunity for good.

  71. Jennifer Major @Jjumping on October 15, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    Five years ago I felt God calling me to go back to South America, specifically to Bolivia. I thought, “Yeahhhh, sure.” Then a few minutes later I was at the prayer altar of my church wondering what the heck I was doing. A few months after that, I vlogged from the remote Quechua village of Taytani, at 15,000 feet.
    When God says “do this…” He WILL get you there. It will never be a straight path, nor will it be made of yellow bricks, but He will get you there.
    Last Christmas, I pondered the often asked question from my husband, “When are you going to write a book?” and thought of the many stories came to my brain and I let them wander around and die.

    I love the old quote “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”. I never want to stand before God and be asked “what about the dreams you had?”
    So, I sat down one night,and began.

    Yes, I know it’s an uphill climb. But the friends I’ve made along the way make it much easier, especially once we hit the high altitude and the air thins and the real work begins. One foot, and then the next. Do it again. And again. Annnnnnnd again.

    Yes, dream big. Yes, keep it realistic. Work HARD. But remember , your whole life isn’t the dream, the dream is only part of what makes you tick.

    But if you don’t go for it, regret will eat you alive.

    • Jeanne on October 15, 2012 at 10:15 AM

      So true. A few years ago, I determined to do my best to live life with no regrets. Not following up on that dream written on my heart would be one of the big regrets. Loved your words, Jennifer.

    • Ann Bracken on October 15, 2012 at 10:22 AM

      I love this Jennifer! I always tell my children the biggest regrets I have in life are the things I DIDN’T do when I had the chance.

    • Cherry Odelberg on October 15, 2012 at 10:57 AM

      It will never be a straight path – isn’t that true?

    • Joe Pote on October 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      Well stated, Jennifer!

      I’m looking forward to hearing about your trip, when you return from Bolivia!

  72. Jeremiah Zeiset on October 15, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    Excellent post. I’d add that an author should ‘simply decide to write a great book.’ We see a ton of manuscripts in which an author decided to ‘write a book,’ but did little or no research. We can instantly see how much time, effort, and research went into a book. Hard work, in writing as in anything else, is the main reason people succeed.

    Great things don’t just happen to people, but any person can make great things happen.

    Jeremiah Zeiset
    LIFE SENTENCE Publishing

  73. Anna on October 15, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    This is good advice for all of life!

    • Anne Love on October 15, 2012 at 9:22 AM

      Bitterness is a waste of energy.

  74. Susan on October 15, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    My “big dream” is to get a single book published. That doesn’t seem to big to me, but so far it had eluded me!

  75. fiona on October 15, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    Great post! I think it is a fine balance between realistic expectations and aiming high. You need to set goals and targets. I think it is important not to get disappointed when things don’t go as planned and to hang onto what you dream of – whether is it big or small in your view. It’s good to feel a sense of achievement with small successes as well as the bigger ones, Fiona

  76. Malin on October 15, 2012 at 5:57 AM

    Not long ago I came across the quote:

    “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

    It struck a chord, because I’m terrified of my dreams. I (try to) hold the fear back by convincing myself they won’t come true and by lowering my expectations. But maybe it’s alright to be afraid. Maybe it’s even a good thing.

  77. Ernie Zelinski on October 15, 2012 at 5:19 AM

    I like to express part of my opinion with quotations by people more accomplished than me. Here are some of them:

    “Book writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Anyone who decides to write a book must expect to invest a lot of time and effort without any guarantee of success. Books do not write themselves and they do not sell themselves. Authors write and promote their books.”
    — Dan Poynter

    “The vast majority of self-published books sell less than ten copies a year online and through traditional retail channels, and that probably disappoints a lot of self-publishers. But it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s hard enough for traditionally published books to register meaningful sales, and they have huge built-in advantages.”
    — Jeff Herman, Literary Agent

    “No amount of money or marketing can overcome a book that doesn’t deliver. So your first challenge is to write a book that your networks assure you is as good as you want it to be. The content of your books will determine how you sell them to publishers and promote them to book buyers. Content precedes commerce.”
    — Rick Frishman, Host of Author 101 University

    “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”
    — Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver

    “Are you publishing this book to make a living? Good luck with that. Less than 3% of newly published authors make enough in royalties and advances to be happy to live on.”
    — Seth Godin

    And I am going add a quotation by Joe Konrath. For the record, I am not a big fan of Konrath, mainly because of his constant criticism of traditional publishers (My opinion is that Konrath hasn’t applied critical thinking skills in his analysis of traditional publishers.) Nevertheless, I do admire and acknowledge the success that Konrath has achieved. What’s more, I particularly agree with Konrath’s statement:

    “Write a damn good book. This should be your main priority. It’s also one of the hardest things to do, and the hardest things to judge for yourself if you’ve done it. The problem is, most writers believe their books are good. Even at our most insecure, we believe complete strangers will enjoy our scribblings enough to pay for the privilege.”
    — Joe Konrath

    Point is, particularly on the Kindle platform, there is a log of crap and mediocre product being posted and super-saturating the market. And much of this is a result of the so-called book experts selling book-writing and book-promotional products to these wanabee best-selling writers without telling the truth about their chances for success.

    What good will promotion do for mediocre or lousy books being put out there?

    As this marketing legend stated:

    “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.”
    — David Ogilvy

    Perhaps some people may think that I am being negative. On the contrary, I haven’t had 750,000 copies of my books sold worldwide by being overly negative. If you still think that I negative, pay attention to this insightful “New York Times” article about “The Power of Negative Thinking.”

    I like how the writer of this article states: “What if all this positively is part of the problem? What if we’re trying too hard to think positive and might do better to reconsider our relationship to ‘negative’ emotions and situations?”

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  78. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on October 15, 2012 at 5:10 AM

    If you’re realistic about your dreams, then you likely won’t recognize them when they come true.

    No, I haven’t been trippin’ on Richard Bach’s ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’…this is the result of hard experience that drove me from a cynic who thought that “dreams are for when you’re asleep, sucker!”

    I was ready to stand in the easy shade of contempt, when someone told me that watching me make my dreams come true made her believe hers could, as well.

    I thought, what? My house is stacked with barking dogs, and airplane parts that sometimes defy identification, let alone repair…

    it’s been forever since I’ve been to a nice restaurant (which is just as well since I haven’t had time to get a haircut since February)…

    and may ‘spare’ time’s been devoted to the new book I finished writing Friday, and I’m not sure if it’s any good or not because right now I can’t remember most of it.

    I sure don’t feel like an inspiration.


    Magic is most effective when it comes disguised as ordinary life.

    And dreams are most effective when they’re being lived, not when they’re an arrival.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on October 15, 2012 at 8:31 AM

      You know, you’re fairly smart. I said “fairly”, don’t get too excited. “Really” is reserved for whoever can tell me the opposite of “nocturnal”.

      I must have read these words 8 times.

      “Magic is most effective when it comes disguised as ordinary life. And dreams are most effective when they’re being lived, not when they’re an arrival.”

      Amen, brother. Amen.

      • Anne Love on October 15, 2012 at 9:20 AM

        Enjoy the journey may seem cliche, but it’s the truth.

        I often ask myself, “If I never get published, what will I have gained and will that satisfy the journey?” Yes, YES, a thousand times yes!

        Mostly because of all the wonderful relationships I’ve gained, and the fact that this medical head can actually understand my daughter’s dreams for publication,and, and—so much more.

      • Ann Bracken on October 15, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        Psst, Jennifer – diurnal

        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on October 15, 2012 at 10:22 AM

          Thanks Ann! Sadly, being married to a tree nerd has blessed me with amazing amount of knowledge that is not exactly useful outside a forest. Knowing what ‘diurnal’ meant is one of those fun things.

          But, hey, kudos to you for knowing the correct answer!!
          Bonus points and for the car…How about “circadian rhythm”??

          • Ann Bracken on October 15, 2012 at 10:59 AM

            Internal biological patterns that regulate sleeping, eating and working in a 24-hour period. Come on, Jennifer, I’m a research scientist, which means I’m as big of a nerd as your husband. You have to try harder than that! 😉

            Don’t feel bad, my husband has the same problem. Sometimes he just looks at me and shakes his head.

          • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on October 15, 2012 at 11:03 AM

            Ann, I’m enjoying this! I know you role in the same pen-protected world as my husband, so I get a kick out of seeing a girl break the stereotype and nerd out!

            Okay…hmmm…how do some redheads go to altitudes of 15,000 feet or more and make enormous amounts of money?

      • Joe Levit on October 16, 2012 at 5:41 PM

        That would be diurnal 😉

    • Jeanne on October 15, 2012 at 10:12 AM

      Andrew, well written. This line especially resonated with me:

      “And dreams are most effective when they’re being lived, not when they’re an arrival.”

      So true.

    • Ann Bracken on October 15, 2012 at 10:18 AM

      I’m going to ditto everyone’s love of the magic paragraph. I always tell people that miracles are things that happen when no one is looking.

    • Cherry Odelberg on October 15, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      I’m going to be different and say this is my favorite line, “If you’re realistic about your dreams, then you likely won’t recognize them when they come true.”

      Nice piece of word useage, A. It is inspiring.

    • Joe Pote on October 15, 2012 at 10:57 AM

      Very well stated, Andrew!

      Goals are based on planned future events and achievements.

      Dreams (as best appreciated) are the appreciation and enjoyment of life while pursuing goals…or not…

      I am a writer because I write. I don’t need a big pay-off to make that dream a reality. All I have to do is act on the dream and enjoy it.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on October 15, 2012 at 11:05 AM

      Oh my word! Andrew, I just I’m running a comment thread on your comment that has very little to do with your post.


  79. SolariC on October 15, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    I find that the method that works for me is to dream as big as I want about my actual novels (‘I will write a Nobel-prize worthy story!!!’ – yes that is my ambition). On the other hand, I train myself to have no dreams at all about getting published.

    I will, of course, try to get published, but there’s no way to tell whether it will actually happen, so there’s no sense dreaming and getting disappointed. But I’m the one who controls my dreams and the fulfillment of them when it comes to writing the story, so there I let my hopes grow to epic proportions. I find it pays off in better stories, coupled with peace when an agent query doesn’t get accepted.

  80. Hilary on October 15, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    I’ve been a lurker for years, and emerged to say thank you for saying this, and also for being the kind of agent who is constantly looking to what is best for your clients, even if it means changing your own opinions. I think the idea of managing your own responses to events outside of your control is the best advice in all areas of life, and especially in terms of professionalism. But making yourself and your desires smaller in an attempt to control those events better never benefits anybody. Great post.

  81. Vero on October 15, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    I’m definitely one for aiming high and working hard, yet at the same time not identifying myself with any success or failure, but with my passion and dedication. 🙂

    Thanks for an inspiring post, Rachelle!

  82. Gregg Vanourek on October 15, 2012 at 3:36 AM

    The key is to discover your true dream and then guard against self-defeating responses to adversity. But too many people adopt someone else’s dream, I believe: the dream they think they should have. The premise that everybody should dream big may play into that. Most people have multiple dreams, and our writing dreams fit into a larger context of us as rich and deep human beings with relationships, gifts, and responsibilities. So, some may have big writing dreams while others have dreams about writing that are more about self-expression or fulfillment or service instead of big writing success by external standards. Those are powerful too and we should honor them.
    Your point about changing from “managing expectations” to improving our responses to adversity is a good one, but I think we should also pay attention to the dreams themselves. What does that say about us? Why do we have that dream? Is it truly ours?
    Thanks for this great blog. I look forward to reading it every day!

    • Kathryn Elliott on October 15, 2012 at 8:29 AM

      Well said, Gregg. Complete agreement.

  83. Katelina Romano on October 15, 2012 at 3:07 AM

    Dreams. I am a realistic dreamer, but still-a dreamer 😉

    I think that everything in life starts out with a simple thought-mixed with a whole lot of emotion;later to manifest into your version of reality. Dreams have always kept me going.

    Life is filled with so many peaks and valleys; emotional hurricanes, tears, blood and sweat–that to be able to hold on to your dreams becomes this sort of altered reality that lights the much needed match to your bum. It almost propels you into gear. What a bleak world this would be with no dreams. I bet many successful artists, entertainers, etc., started with a dream. As a little girl, many of those fun-filled fairy tales would spark my imagination and because one so young is also extremely trusting, it’s easy to believe those fairy tales to be real-(or maybe I was just a gullible child, who knows). Back then, I believed in happily ever afters and prince charmings. It was fun to believe in those things. It surrounded my heart with hope of a magical place where my heart would be happy- if I found it.

    So many people stop dreaming after a certain point in their lives. Then one day, after they are married with children, they awake to realize that something is missing. In my heart, I believe that having a dream goes hand in hand with always setting goals for yourself. Goals that bring you closer to a happy you. Dreams IMO turn out to be that spark of hope, that inner drive that compels you forward toward a place that will make your heart dance with delight. My dreams give me a bulls eye to aim for…they present me with infinite possibilities, painting a vivid picture in my head of how & what I can do to design my life- (how I want it)–happy & fulfilled. To give up on reaching for your stars or to stop looking over that horizon for that next chapter in your life is to come to the conclusion to oneself that your story is either nearly over or this is it–stagnant. I’ve never been much of a ‘this is it’ girl. I’ve always been a ‘what’s next’ or ‘what else can I get myself into gal’? And that keeps me going. Maybe with age and wisdom your dreams change, but I don’t think anyone should ever stop dreaming. It’s a youthful mindset of possibilities giving you an adventurous outlook on life.

    I will never stop dreaming and as a result I may not have reached all the dreams I set out to get, but I have had many beautiful experiences in my life as a result. Great post.

  84. O'Brian Gunn on October 15, 2012 at 2:47 AM

    This is a concept that I’ve been marinating on lately. It’s made me develop my own definition of success rather than rely on someone else’s definition and not base my success on another author’s success.

    While I’d love to become a bestselling author (who wouldn’t), I realize that it’s something that’s going to take a lot of time, diligence and sacrifice. At 27, I’ve come a long way and have an even longer way to go.

    I really appreciate this blog post. So nice that you posted it while I was thinking on this very subject.

    Take care and best of luck to us all.

  85. ED Martin on October 15, 2012 at 2:40 AM

    This is great to hear, especially in light of a Forbes article published several months ago detailing why you shouldn’t be a writer (

    I think you’ve hit upon that middle ground very well. If you’re a writer in it for the long haul, then by all means set the big goals but realize they won’t be met overnight.

  86. Dee Bright on October 15, 2012 at 2:35 AM

    Dream as if you’ll live forever and live as if there’s no tomorrow.

    :o) Just me, waxing philosophical.

  87. Sherri on October 15, 2012 at 2:23 AM

    Thank you!!

  88. Neurotic Workaholic on October 15, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    I think that one way of avoiding despair is considering the reasons why the dream is so important to you in the first place. If you want to be a writer because you love writing and enjoy learning from your characters and the process as a whole, then you should keep writing. But if you want to be a writer just so you can become rich and famous, then it is much easier to give up on the dream when that money and fame doesn’t come as easily (or at all) as you thought it would.

    • carol brill on October 15, 2012 at 7:59 AM

      Hi Neurotic and Rachelle, so well said. When I started writing novels, I needed the “big dream” to keep me writing while juggling a demanding 55-60 hr/wk day job, and earning an MFA. Honestly not sure the simple joy of writing would have made all the sacrifice seem worth it in the early years. Now I get it!
      I blogged about a similiar topic recently at: