A Dream Deferred: On Writing

Warning: This post will be a more personal post than what I usually post.

Poet Langston Hughes asked what happened to a dream deferred. Most people remember his line about it drying up like a raisin in the sun. But the lines right after that have stayed with me throughout my life: “Or fester like a sore – and then run?” Being a writer has always been something I’ve wanted to do with my life. I’ve always loved stories and sharing them. It’s why I play Dungeons & Dragons. It’s why I majored in English and teach literature. I love stories. They are, as Sir Terry had Death tell Susan, “where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” Stories make us human.

And I always wrote stories. As a kid I would write stories. As a teen and young adult, I wrote fanfiction. I even wrote a modern adaptation of the Grail legend, but I can’t find the old floppy disk where I have the manuscript. And that makes me sad. Aside from fan zines and fanfiction sites, I was never published until I published my first research article while in my M.A. program. I was ecstatic. The number of people who knew me as a child who said “You always did dream of being a writer” grew every time they heard about my article.

And I did have a decent amount of publishing success as an academic. I’ve published multiple articles, book reviews, etc. I’ve received awards for my research. I wrote a dissertation and two theses. And I was happy that my work was able to help people. Yet, it didn’t satisfy me. I always felt empty, chasing the next publication based on what the field wanted me to produce. And while all writers write for an audience, I wrote for one that used elitist gatekeeping to prevent those who my work was designed to help from having easy access to my work. And I don’t feel like getting into the exploitative nature of “Publish or Perish” where the “payment” for publication is the ability to keep working on the condition that one keeps publishing.

But regardless of what I published, I was always telling someone else’s story – not the story in my head or the story in my soul that demanded to be told. I stopped writing fiction in grad school because the pressure to be successful by the abstract standards of academia (and direct pressure from my department and advisor) led me to conclude that if I didn’t work constantly and give up everything else, I wouldn’t be able to tread water.

Running multiple D&D games in my homebrew world provided a “fast food” fix. I could tell stories that would stave off that hunger, but they provided little sustenance for the urge to tell stories. It’s why I tended to run 3-4 games each week, running myself ragged with prep work. I needed a constant fix of stories, and I was happy when my players enjoyed themselves. But I was not satisfied.

So, what happens to a dream deferred? Well, it festered within me, like a sore. And it rotted. As it rotted, I grew increasingly unhappy. And as I grew unhappier, I know I wasn’t pleasant to be around. I was writing, but it was a hollow, shadowy shell of what I wanted to do as a child.

And then I sat myself down and wrote Liam’s Doom. And writing the story I knew I wanted to tell liberated me. It reminded me of what it felt like to enjoy writing again. And I’ve done a lot of writing. And it feels good. It feels authentic. It feels like being a kid on Christmas. I feel like myself again.

I guess if there’s a moral to this story, it’s to not put off your dreams. They don’t die quickly. They die slowly, festering and rotting the entire time. And that process hurts you and those around you. Dreams aren’t easy to follow, and following them does not guarantee success as our capitalist society defines it. But the moment when a dream sees realization in our world is empowering. And I wish that empowerment upon everyone.

And, as a reminder, Liam’s Doom goes on sale 9 March 2021 at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Bookshop.org. I request that you support Bookshop.org, as their site supports local and independent bookstores.