My love letter to writers


Silk’s Post #72 — Writers are Beautiful Dreamers. That’s one of the things I love best about them, and I’m coming to realize that it’s probably my key motivator in choosing the writing life. So this is my love letter to kindred spirits.

This special species of human being – the Beautiful Dreamer – has always been relatively rare, except among children. We are supposed to grow out of this mentality when we hit adulthood, as though there’s obviously something more important to achieve in life than being curious, imaginative, empathetic, creative and hopeful. As though ‘dreaming’ and ‘working’ are two different planets that inhabit separate galaxies, never to come within a million light-years of each other’s orbits.

It’s no surprise that Beautiful Dreamers tend to cluster in the arts. Or that their primary motivation, and reward, is not really about making money. How many creative people were discouraged in their youth from pursuing their dream to be a novelist, a singer, a painter, a playwright, a sculptor, an actor, a dancer, an inventor? The talents for which children are lavishly praised (“What a beautiful painting, pumpkin”) somehow become re-cast as irrelevant hobbies when it’s time to choose a real profession (“But sweetheart, you can’t really expect to make a living as a painter”).

When I ran my agency, I employed many very talented fine artists who, in order to pay the rent, re-channeled their creativity into what was originally called ‘commercial art’ (later to be known as the disciplines of graphic design and illustration). Fortunately, most of them remained Beautiful Dreamers.

What especially confuses the pursuit of writing for Beautiful Dreamers is that it’s so pervasive in everyday life – a river fed by so many disparate streams.

“Everyone’s a writer,” we used to lament with a roll of our eyes in the agency business. Meaning: every client thinks they (or their office assistant or their sales associate) can write a headline, a slogan, a TV commercial. And they can. But most of the results are laughably dreadful and hackneyed (sorry, former clients, I exaggerate of course).

The fact is that everyone who’s literate does write – even if it doesn’t go much beyond emails or reports or business letters. Not everybody paints or sculpts – or even sings or dances – but pretty well everybody writes. And the special disciplines of professional writing (technical, journalistic, business, academic, scientific, promotional and other commercial writing forms) all demand high skill levels, offer some level of personal reward, and often even pay well. Lots of writers who dream of being novelists wind up in these niches.

I did.

But when I made the shift from my make-a-living career to my make-a-life career as a novelist, I had to resuscitate my slumbering Beautiful Dreamer. Believe me, it wasn’t just asleep, it was virtually in a coma after all those years of dreamless commercial writing.

My realist left brain told me that writing a novel would be nothing more than a hobby, an affectation. An amusing retirement time-filler now that my important (i.e., commercially valued) writing career was behind me. But that was just a cynic’s hangover from my many years of jaded adulthood.

After the rejuvenating therapy of attending writers conferences, working with my cherished 5writers colleagues/friends, and tentatively stumbling my way through my first novel and halfway through my second, my Beautiful Dreamer right brain has finally regained full consciousness. It took about three years. (Who expected that?)

Beautiful Dreamers believe in possibilities, even remote ones. When they’re told something is impossible, it doesn’t fling them into despair – it spurs them on. When popular wisdom dismisses freewheeling imagination and creativity as unserious indulgences, Beautiful Dreamers thumb their noses and push themselves farther out into uncharted territory, looking for—something. They don’t know what yet, but it’s out there …

… Some kind of truth, something that matters. Some different revelatory perspective. Some story that can be told in visuals, or sounds, or words – a story that will show us what it is to be human. A story with the power to make people care, laugh, think, cry, understand, love.

What sort of crazy pursuit is this? Well, not the kind many people really bother with after the age of, say, 18 or so. It violates the left-brained, adult notion that setting off without knowing your destination is folly. This ‘rule’ confuses purposeful, open-minded exploration with wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. Beautiful Dreamers may seek their holy grails, but also accept that the journey, in itself, can be a kind of destination.

What prompted all this introspection? By chance, I tuned in yesterday to “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To the Beatles,” which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the night the Fab Four first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964 and set off a mania.

Okay, I hear you saying “Cool,” but if you have even one skeptical brain cell, you may be automatically classifying this as nostalgic trivia. Another cheesy tribute show where all the obligatory stars come out in their spangles and pretend to be each others’ BFFs with phoney air kisses. An entertainment package aimed at baby boomers longing for their glory days, designed to sell air time to pharmaceutical companies eager to sell their target audience all manner of products to perk up their aging bodies. I’ll admit it, that’s where my mind went first.

But as I quieted my inner party pooper and listened to the music again – for the first time in a long time, truth be told – my Beautiful Dreamer got up and started dancing in my head. Not out of nostalgia for my youth. Not out of sentimentality for the flowering of my generation. Just simply because of the music itself. The art of it. The hopeful, wise, uplifting, anything’s-possible, Beautiful Dreamer quality of the tunes that made the Beatles one of the greatest bands in history.

I hadn’t realized until that night the degree to which I had dismissed them as a pop-culture artifact of the sixties. In the process of ‘maturing’ into a responsible adult, I had distanced myself from their optimistic, idealistic, yet irreverent music. Kids’ music. As I marched into the future with the rest of the gigantic (some might say robotic) baby boom cohort, I didn’t want to be ‘dated’ – stuck in what Bruce Springsteen slyly called “boring stories of glory days.” Oldies stations were for oldies. Masters (and Mistresses) of the Universe look ahead, not back.

But here I sat, listening to the old music with new ears, tears streaming down my face. Why? Because it felt so good to immerse myself in a soundtrack written by and for Beautiful Dreamers. Just as they did back when, the Beatles’ songs filled me full of hope and joy. The melodies and words still felt fresh. Timeless, in the same way that dreams always belong to the present and never get ‘dated’.

It was like waking up from a years-long sleep, and thinking – Where was I? Oh yeah, I remember. This is what I was supposed to be doing. Dreaming. Not sleeping.

Perhaps not all writers are Beautiful Dreamers. But a lot of them are, and I love them for it. As seekers, they elevate the world. They prize freedom. They are mindful. They help counteract the dead weight of skepticism, expediency, selfishness, fear, intolerance, corruption and other forms of negativity that drag humanity down to the level of our baser instincts.

In other words, we need as many of this breed as we can cultivate.

So, following the prescription that ‘All You Need Is Love’, I want to tell all you writers and other hopeful, curious, caring, creative souls out there that you are Beautiful Dreamers, and you’re close to my heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

10 thoughts on “My love letter to writers

  1. I’m definitely a BD. Have been all my life, somehow never managed to grow out of it, though God knows I tried. Didn’t take. Thank you for this Silk. As much as we need as many BD’s as we can cultivate, we need people like you reminding everyone it’s a beautiful way to be.

  2. Oh Silk, that post surely struck a chord! It needs a much more detailed response than a comment on the blog, so we will discuss this whole left brain right brain thing next time we meet. There’ so much here that rings true. I will say this: my left brain also dominated for many years, not allowing my BD right side to surface, let alone blossom. No possible way to make an easy switch from climbing that career ladder and making money to that which you so well describe, our creative side. It takes a huge effort, but once it’s done, we ask ourselves, what took me so long? And as far as the Beatles goes – don’t even start me on that. I’ve had a love affair with them ever since they burst on the scene. Still listen to their music every time I get the chance. Thanks for this beautiful post!

  3. My left brain still dominates, and I suspect that’s where my self-doubt resides, ready to jump out when I try something different or creative. But my right brain doesn’t give up, and maybe someday it can grab a larger part of the stage that is me….

    • I hear you JM. I had to spend so much time in my left brain when I was running a business that my right brain practically starved to death. But the creative spark is not so easy to kill off — keep it fed and watered and let it grow strong enough to poke your left brain in the ribs with a sharp elbow when necessary! How’s that for a tortured mixed metaphor?

  4. I’ve never stopped dreaming, but you’re so right that what is considered great in children isn’t seen to hold the same value when we’re adults, so it can be difficult to balance the non-dreaming side that works for money and the dreaming side that works for love.

    • Yes, it’s something I’ve never understood — why is creativity so highly valued in children but often undervalued in adults? Is our culture trying to teach us that life isn’t always fun? That we should lower our expectations? That work should never feel like play? I fear that comes too close to the truth … that fear of disappointment coupled with the old stern Protestant work ethic is a powerful combination. Part of our job as writers is, I think, to cultivate our Beautiful Dreamer.

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