Be flexible in your dreams

We all have dreams, and sometimes these dreams – or ambitions – are the driving force to success.    We’ve all heard the inspirational quotes – “Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you”  and like a new religion – steadfast dedication, never falling off the path, never taking your eye off the ball – are the mantra’s thrown at emerging writers all the time.

I have heard over and over again that to be a writer you have to be ruthless in your pursuit of your goals.

And I’m certainly not going to argue with that.  But what I have learned, from myself and from others, is that it’s really important to make sure your goals aren’t ruthless to your dreams.   The two are very different. Thinking outside the box can often get you to places you wanted to be, but via an unexpected route.

I always wanted to be a writer, as soon as I became a reader. My dream was always that: to write.  And as I nurtured my talent, and developed my knowledge and skills, my goal became steadfast too: to publish a novel.

I did get published, and I am a writer. I accomplished my dream, but my goals changed. Here’s why.

I wrote a novel and ended up publishing a memoir.  I’m writing a second creative non-fiction book now, as well as a new novel. And it happened because I allowed my dream to be flexible.

I have always been a writer – from diaries to freelance articles in newspapers and magazines, to my day job as a fundraising copywriter for the non-profit sector. I have always read voraciously and it was perhaps inevitable that my writing ambition ended with the ‘top prize’ of a book.   I assumed that it would be a novel.  And it was the writing of a novel that got me published. But it wasn’t a novel that got published (yet).  My dream was to become a writer, so I thought my goal was to write a novel. It still is, but there are many goals that can make a dream come true.

When I submitted my original novel, it got me in front of agents and publishers and garnered enough interest to warrant decent feedback on my writing.  This is crucial… the feedback from agents and publisher alike, was that the writing was great but the story needed work. I took this as a golden gift…. to hear from the experts what is working and what is not, were a huge step towards my goal.  But although my goal of getting my novel published didn’t happen then (see?  The goal is still alive!), my dream still came true, because it was flexible enough to take the opportunities that came my way.

Because a publisher loved my writing, they then looked at me as a writer, and saw something bigger than the manuscript I had submitted. They saw a potential in me that I hadn’t seen in myself. The book they asked me to write, Daughter, Mother, Me: a memoir of love, loss and dirty dishes was based on a blog I had written about my sandwich years caring for elderly parents and very young children and became a best-seller.  I am now writing a second creative non-fiction, but am also, with the experience I have gained from that initial feedback and actually getting a book published, the credentials I have earned as a published author, the contacts I have made, and the fact I have a publisher and an agent supporting me, I am also writing another novel.  My dream came true because I allowed it to be flexible.

Recently I spoke on a writer panel at the Cork World Book Festival on my experiences getting published.  Sitting alongside me on that panel were two other writers, and when we told our stories it seems that allowing our dreams to be flexible enabled us all to be published.   As we spoke to a room full of emerging and dream-driven writers, we told them that we can all dream of writing a book but often the story of how that book (or even what that book is) is needs to flexible.

On the train home, I chatted to Inkwell and founder Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin and I realised her journey to publication has been so flexible it has done back flips and somersaults. The four of us had all been flexible with our dreams, and in doing so had fulfilled those dreams, even if our goals changed along the way.  Four different authors, one dream, four different roads to success.

I submitted a novel, which attracted the attention of a publisher who liked my writing, saw my blog and offered me a deal based on a creative non-fiction book.  Hazel Gaynor also began with a hugely successful blog ‘Hot Cross Mum’, but it was a novel she set her sights on.  When she faced the predictable rejection scenarios, she decided to self-publish because – in her words – “I had to get rid of that book. If I didn’t, I could never start the next one”.  She had never dreamed of self-publishing but was flexible enough in her goals to open herself to experiences she hadn’t desired. It was so successful she got a publishing deal and she is now an award winning, New York Times bestselling novelist.

ER Murray also dreamed of being a writer.  She wrote, got rejected, wrote some more, and sent her book to Vanessa at Inkwell. Vanessa loved it and referred her to one of the agents she scouts for. Because ER Murray’s dreams were flexible enough, her first book was nominated for the Dublin 2016 Citywide Reading for Children campaign run by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Dublin City Council’s Libraries Services and she is now working on the second of her children’s trilogy, as well as launching a book for older children – a YA novel, called Caramel Hearts next week, AND has begun an adult novel.  It doesn’t get more flexible than that!

And Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin wrote a book about a wedding dress with bones in it (her fifth, in fact, as she says, ‘it took me three books to find my voice‘). When she started it, it was titled The Dressmaker, the protagonist was an artist and it was definitely literary fiction, but then a detective called Cat Connolly appeared on the scene and it changed totally.  Although she was an avid crime reader, it took a while for her to realise that this was a thriller, a police procedural. She recently secured a 3 book deal as Ireland’s newest and most exciting crime writer, Sam Blake – Little Bones is out now and has already hit the No1 slot in the Easons chart.  Her dream was flexible enough to change the goals, and success is hers.

Often we are told we are only limited by our dreams. Just be careful you don’t let your dreams limit your ambitions.  So keep dreaming. Dream of writing, and being a writer and being published.  Hold on tight to that dream, but let the dream write it’s own rules.

(Published on

Daughter Mother Me by Alana Kirk

Surrounding yourself with the write stuff

The blooms are bursting in the garden, and the books are bursting from the shelves as a flurry of book launches fill the diary.   And like a child let loose in a sweet shop, spending time with other writers is like a sugar rush.  I always come away raring to get back to my laptop, my energy levels restored, my ambitions re-awakened.   Writing is such a solitary business, so it feels good to get the glad rags on and venture into the actual world of words.

Last week I was at the launch of the inspirational writer Catherine Ryan Howard for her debut thriller Distress Signals.  We have got to know each other through the Twitterland writing community and it was great to see her – and the long awaited – book in the flesh. The room was awash with writers and Twitterland shook with the earthquake of off and online greetings.

And all the conversations I had that, and all the writers I caught up with and met, ignited me again from the slight doldrums of the blank gap syndrome (two new books to write, but no two extra hours in the day to write them in.)

When Catherine gave her launch speech she mentioned that she had spent years attending so many other book launches, always wondering when it would be her turn.  I have done the same. I have stood in Dubray, or Hodges & Figges with a glass of wine in my hand, a new book clutched to myIMG_5377 breast, watching someone give that amazing speech, wondering if I would ever get the chance to say “here is my book.”  Luckily I got the book, but sadly had to cancel the book launch, but standing there last Thursday made me realise I still want that launch.  I’m just going to have to write another book.  In fact I’m writing two. My new non-fiction creative proposal is in with my agent and publisher, and a new novel entertains my thoughts at night and wakes me early, so I write in the glow of rising sun and try and fill that word count. And that was because  Catherine reminded us all in the audience last Thursday, that the only way we get to stand behind the desk and sign those books, is to write.

And as I get the call from another pal that she just got an agent, and as I get ready for two more book launches next week, that is the perfect motivation to keep writing. It’s the only way I get my book launch after all!