Wednesday, January 9, 2013

3 WOW Wednesday: Carrie Arcos on The Discipline of Dream Making

Today's WOW guest, Carrie Arcos, is the author of OUT OF REACH, published by Simon Pulse. She was born in Albany, New York and still mourns the day her family left for the West Coast. She earned an MA in creative writing and English literature and writes young adult fiction. She loved teaching English—first high school and then college. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Out of Reach is her debut novel and was a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature for 2012. You can find her at her website,, or on Twitter: @carriearcos

The Discipline of Dream Making
By Carrie Arcos

Remember those dreams you had as a kid? The one where you were going to be an astronaut or when you were going to be a jockey or maybe you wanted to work for the circus as long as you don’t have to clean up the animal poop. (The latter is currently my six-year-old daughter’s.) These are usually fleeting and change quickly over the course of childhood, but as you get older, some of the dreams stick.

And it’s surprising, but there are some people who actually become astronauts or jockeys or circus performers. I think the one thing they have in common is discipline.

Everyone is creative and talented. But not everyone has the courage to pursue a dream. The secret for most who are successful at what they do and who make it look easy is discipline.

The words discipline and dream aren't normally linked together. They have an entirely different essence to them. Dream is more ethereal, intangible. Discipline is practical, tangible. I like to think of them as the Dream being the call or the purpose of a life, and Discipline being the answer to the call. Discipline, in other words, is the work you're willing to do to achieve the dream.

We also don’t see the word disciplined linked with writing, well at least when writers are presented in stories or on the screen. Our view of writers is that they are sitting around and then suddenly an idea comes to them and they’re off. Or I hear many writers say things like “the story just wrote itself” or “I was just a conduit for the muse.” Rubbish, I say.

For the longest time I believe I was more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually being a writer. I loved reading about the expatriate writers in France in the 1920s capturing the Lost Generation. I was enamored with cafes and being published and attending readings and drinking, or whatever it was I thought real writers do. But I wasn't writing. Sure I was doing little spurts here and there and sending stories to magazines, but not really.

I read The War of Art and got a good butt kicking and wake-up call. I was a hack, not even an amateur. I wasn't a writer.

So I started working out muscles that complained and wined and needed icing later. And it wasn’t pretty, but at least I was moving forward.

I sat my butt in the chair (thank you Ann Lamott). I created a plan.

I got up early and started writing at 6am or during naptime or late at night. I have a husband and three children, so there are responsibilities I couldn’t ignore. I wrote for chunks of times. I didn't wait for the muse. I just wrote. I wasn't under contract.

I wrote because I said I was a writer and writer's write. I wrote because I had something to say. I wrote because I wanted to see if this dream was still worth pursuing, and I wanted to give it a decent shot.

I told myself: I’m all in.

I learned the discipline of writing, the discipline of just sitting in the chair and waiting, or writing with frustration because nothing was working in a scene. I learned the discipline of saying no to extra things that would take my time away from writing. I learned the discipline of practicing the art of presence with my kids, so I wouldn't be distracted all the time on my writing while I was with them.

I created small tangible goals for myself. And when I accomplished a goal, I’d celebrate and set another one and then another. I made sure I was constantly moving forward.

Eventually I had a novel, after some botched attempts, I was proud of. I won’t go into my road to publication, but I will say that was another aspect of discipline. Not all writers will be published, but it was part of my desire and goals to be so by a traditional publisher if possible. So I researched and researched and did the work and faced the rejections and got better and put in the work to sign with an agent and eventually my publisher.

It’s not easy, not by any means. Most writers will tell you not to do it. Only write if you can’t help it. And I would agree.

It takes strength and courage to face a blank page. It’s emotionally taxing. You can’t sleep. You never have enough time. You always doubt yourself. Someone said it’s like always having homework, so true! If you think you’re neurotic now, just wait till the reviews come out on something you’ve written.

But, I can’t imagine my life without it. Now that my brain is trained to write in the mornings, it’s on. Always churning. Making me return to a work in progress or conjuring up new ideas, spinning stories. And when I’m struggling with the self-doubt, I say a prayer, pull myself up off the floor, sit in the chair and get to work.


  1. Thanks so much for this, Carrie. It's a great reminder of how hard we all need to work at our passion!

  2. I'm so in love with this pep talk. I'd say more, but that pretty much covers it.

  3. You are SO right. Discipline is key. :)


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