Dreams Can Make You Rich. Dreaming Can’t.

There’s a difference between fantasy and getting something done.

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Courtesy of Dreamstime

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” Paul Valery

One night on Shark Tank, a man was asked why he decided to devote his life to making a better potting moss. “At the age of fifty,” he said, “I told myself, if you don’t do this now, you’re never going to do it.”

I’m sure tons of 50-year-olds put their televisions on mute, thinking “Wow, he’s right. If I don’t get cracking, I’m never going to do it. Okay, what idea do I have that could make me scads of money?”

Fifteen minutes later, they’re back watching Shark Tank again.

If they’d kept watching, they would have heard the other part of the man’s story. Like the fact that he started his first greenhouse when he was twelve years old. Or that he worked in a similar industry for most of his career. Or that his concept came about through years of research.

You can’t just pick dreams out of the air, although you get that impression watching Shark Tank.

It’s one thing for successful people like Richard Branson to talk about following dreams, it’s another to understand the difference between dreams and dreaming. One is a product of thought, the other is a product of fantasy.

A dream has to be a construct. It has to be built from a foundation of experience. You can’t just pick dreams out of the air, although you get that impression watching Shark Tank.

We all hear about kids developing apps that go on to make millions of dollars. As easy as it sounds, they’re few and far between. Of all the apps created, less than one percent are successful.

I’m not trying to discourage you. Just keep in mind, you don’t build a dream one night and expect it to pay off in the morning.

I knew what getting rejected felt like. I also knew what getting accepted felt like.

Twenty years ago, I was writing short stories in my spare time. I said to myself “I’ll just keep submitting short stories and hope my writing improves. It won’t pay me anything right now. But maybe, when I retire, I’ll have enough contacts with publications to at least supplement my income.”

So I wrote stories, submitted them, and finally got published. Not often, but I was learning. I knew what getting rejected felt like. I also knew what getting accepted felt like.

When I wrote my first novel (fifteen years later), I had the fundamentals in place. I’d written millions of words, and sent out hundreds of stories, manuscripts and query letters.

One day I got my manuscript accepted. It would be another five years and many rewrites before it was actually published. Even then, I still had to learn about book titles, cover design, markets, business plans, copyrights, contracts and, above all, promotion.

Holding that first author’s copy in my hand was a great experience. But it would take months just to get noticed. My ranking on amazon.com started at 4,837,399. After a lot of promotion, I managed to raise my ranking to 135,023 (don’t laugh, John Grisham’s latest novel is ranked at 17,209).

This all happened while I continued my freelance business. It never occurred to me to choose one over the other. I needed both, and that took many, many hours. In fact, it took many, many years.

So following your bliss isn’t so blissful. Dreams are hard fought and require a lot of patience. That’s the difference between dreamers and dream builders. A dream builder knows when to stop dreaming.

Circumstances often force us into pursuing our dreams. Sometimes it’s health, sometimes it’s simply being fired.

Did you know that Anthony Burgess, author of “Clockwork Orange,” didn’t write his classic until he was in his late fifties? Before that, he’d been a teacher in the Colonial Service. While in Brunei, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He started writing books to leave his widow an income. On his return to England, he discovered the tumor was nonexistent.

Circumstances often force us into pursuing our dreams. Sometimes it’s health, sometimes it’s simply being fired. We need money, so we look to our dreams.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it’s also the mother of fantasy. Don’t mistake one for the other. Dreaming won’t make you rich. That only comes when you turn a dream into a product through hard work.

Here’s something else I learned: I started out writing serious short stories. I wanted to be like Raymond Carver. Because of the brevity required, I couldn’t spend a long time with my characters. So they remained serious.

Novels are something else entirely. You live with your characters, you cohabit, you discover different personalities. I realized my characters were funny and flawed. I also realized they didn’t need me telling them what to do.

It turned out, I wasn’t a serious writer at all (imagine learning that after 35 years of writing for a living).

The more I let them be themselves, the more they taught me to see the quirky, sometimes ridiculous nature of life. Maybe I just needed to let myself go.

So I did, and they did, and by the end of the novel, I had a comedy on my hands. I then wrote two more novels in the trilogy, each funnier than the last.

It turned out, I wasn’t a serious writer at all (imagine learning this after 35 years of writing for a living). That’s the other great thing about dreams. Sometimes they redirect you. They show you what you should have been doing all along. In my case, it was humour, something I’ve pursued ever since.

It was a hard path, but dreams often are. The important ones, anyway.

Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). For more details, go to Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press.

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I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

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