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Please, stop following your dreams!

5 November 2012

From Phil Cooke via Fox News:

Jiminy Cricket (“When you wish upon a star…”) would not be happy with me, but the truth is, I’m getting tired of people wasting their lives following dreams they’ll never achieve.  I have screenplays on my desk from writers who “have a dream” about writing a Hollywood screenplay, but aren’t interested in actually attending a writing class.  I met an actor recently who left his wife and young son to pursue his dream of an acting career.  The problem is, he has absolutely no talent.  I received a self-published book in the mail a few days ago, with a letter asking me if I’d help the writer market the book.  But the book is simply awful (not to mention riddled with misspellings.)

I know — some of you will push back about me being too harsh.  “Who is Phil Cooke to dash someone’s dream?”  “How arrogant to tell someone they don’t have talent or they’re pursuing the wrong dream for their life?”

. . . .

But Hollywood, the self-help industry, the esteem movement and well intentioned friends have led us down a far more romantic, but ultimately destructive path. We’ve been taught that all it takes is a dream, and you can accomplish whatever your heart desires.

As a result, we have a flood of would-be filmmakers descending on Hollywood every year. Publishers are deluged with poorly written manuscripts from wannabe writers with no talent, and auditions for shows like “American Idol” have long lines of singers who can’t hold a tune in a bucket. (Admit it — you love watching.)

High school drama teachers, parents, and well meaning friends have encouraged them for years. But at what cost? How many years have been robbed from potentially finding the one thing where they could actually be extraordinary?
Don’t get me wrong. Pursuing a dream is fine. But unless you have the talent, skill, ability, a commitment to achieve that dream, you’re simply wasting your life. But how do you figure it out? How can you avoid spending years pursuing a delusion?

. . . .

What are you fanatical about? I’m not talking obsession in the same sense as a psychological disorder. (Well, maybe.) In other words, what are you constantly thinking about? What type of books do you buy or television programs do you watch? What’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you think about when you go to bed at night?

. . . .

Finally – have you done the time? I’m not talking about prison, but a question of commitment. Professional writers write. Musicians practice. Designers design. You may not have a job, a business card, or a buyer, but if you have a dream, what foundation are you laying today for success tomorrow? What classes are you taking? Have you found a mentor or coach?

I wrote and threw away thousands of pages before I published my first book. A college friend of mine who’s a concert pianist practices 5-6 hours per day. One successful producer in Hollywood won’t even consider reading your script until you can prove you’ve already written at least ten screenplays. (No wonder he’s successful.)

Link to the rest at Fox News and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Writing Advice

42 Comments to “Please, stop following your dreams!”

  1. First (no doubt dumb) question: Who is Phil Cooke? Second (definitely dumb) question: Who is he to tell people not the chase their dreams?

    Check this out.


    We followed our dream two years ago. A quarter of a million downloads later, we’re pretty much mulching up the leaves on that well-trodden path.
    We won’t stop.

    We don’t care whether 5 or 5 million people have read what we wrote. The fact remains, that if 1 person read it and liked it, then as a writer, your dreams have come true.

    THAT is what indie publishing has given us.

    I’ve forgotten more words than Mr Cooke threw away. My co-writer sent me an email the other day when I asked him if he had any ideas about where our latest story was taking us. His response? “Ideas? The problem isn’t ideas, it’s living long enough to write them all down.”

    Don’t EVER stop following your dreams, ‘cos dreams sometimes come true and without them, that eight hours plus a day you spend having them would be pretty dull.


    • Shorter article: There have always been big dreamers with more ambition than skill and there always will be. There will always be dreamers who don’t understand or care about the odds. Some will make it against all odds. Some will learn what they really need to do to succeed. Some with talent and skill who do everything right won’t make it. Some will die young. Some will give up.

      There, I just eliminated several thousand words from this story. I would title it, “no s***, really?”

    • “Ideas? The problem isn’t ideas, it’s living long enough to write them all down.”

      LOL! Your friend is so right! I’ve often said I’ll die surrounded by half finished projects and manuscripts. Friends and family will find me slumped at my laptop, read my unfinished stories (that they haven’t already read and are bugging me to finish) and curse my name for leaving them hanging.

  2. Well,he’s right about doing the time. Funny, I’ve been think along the very lines of that message this whole day. The man has got a point.

  3. I’m confused by the point of the article. On one hand, it sounds like he advocates telling people to just get over it, you’ll never achieve your dream because you’re not good enough, so why bother trying. On the other, he’s saying you have to work really hard to achieve your dreams and if you do that, and have talent, you can be happy and successful. I mean, I agree with him to some extent, I just think he could have made the point without basically mocking people who put in the effort, but don’t necessarily have the talent.How are they going to know how good they could be if they don’t at least try?

    • I think he’s advocating being more realistic about whether or not your dreams really can come true. There’s a lot of people in today’s culture that go around telling kids and teens and adults that they can just do anything they want to, and that’s a false notion. Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean you’ll be able to.

      I’m in favor of talking realistically with my kids. When my daughter tells me she wants to be an animal biologist I make sure she knows that any kind of science is going to require long years of schooling and lots of hard work. But I also tell her that I will fully support her if that’s what she wants to pursue when she gets old enough and I tell her that her love of animals and learning about them is a very good start. When she asks me if her notebooks full of ThunderCats fanfiction could ever be published I don’t beat around the bush. I tell her it can’t and I tell her that if she wants to write something worth being published she’s going to have to spend lots of time practicing, and learn to come up with her own original material. But I also tell her that if she keeps writing and practicing then as soon as she writes something that I think is good enough for publication, I will help her self publish it.

      I think he’s right that mindlessly telling people they can do whatever they dream as if wishing on a star can really make things come true is damaging more than it is helpful.

      • Surely the key here is fostering creativity, not stifling it and allowing people to realise that there dreams don’t have edges? Anything is possible.

        I wonder where the world would be without Harry Potter if JK had listened to the naysayers?

        My nephew wrote something on his iPhone notes the other day, it has serious potential. Sure, he hasn’t taken classes and it needs polishing, but would it sit there festering in the bowels of the net unread? No.

        And judging by the fact that I read it and enjoyed it, he was encouraged to write some more.

        Someone might pay for it one day.

        Or it might sit gathering layers of fluff in a virtual desk drawer…either way, his fire has been ignited. Cash aside.

        • Dreams do have edges. More specifically, they have high costs. And making people think that they don’t is the worst form of deception.

          • Abandoning a dream has a high cost also.

            • Which is why I’m not saying you should discourage someone’s dream, but you should be realistic about it. Telling someone they can do anything they want is one extreme and telling someone they shouldn’t bother dreaming at all is the other extreme. As usual, it’s the middle road that’s best.

              • The middle of the road is where non-dreamers live…safe, boring, risk free. Yawn, and then another, because in that middle of the road place, it was bed time an hour ago.
                I’m hanging with the dreamers, high up, believing that the impossible is possible, living with passion. I want to hear their stories.
                See you up there, Saffina, and by the way, congrats on your AMAZING success!

    • Typical Fox News double speak.

    • If you’re five-foot nothin’, a hundred and nothin’, without a speck of athletic ability…you’re not going to play football for Notre Dame except as a tackling dummy during practice and one mercy play at the end of the season.

      Thing is, everyone can immediately tell the Hobbit-sized kid who wants to play professional or D-1 college football that it ain’t gonna happen. But people with Hobbit-sized brains? Well, we can’t tell THEM they won’t be professional writers, because that would make us dream stealers.

  4. He fell for his own catchy headline. Against the popular idea that following a dream will bring you everything, how could he resist being curmudgeonly? A sure way to draw attention!

    A better way to put his point (IMHO): do you have goals you are working toward that match your dream?

    The dream fuels your efforts. Your persistent work over time makes the dream real. And here’s the clincher: even if the dream turns out to have been the wrong one for you, the work you’ve done along the way will likely have taught you what a better dream is and maybe even opened some doors toward achieving it.

    Killing someone’s dream is cruel and destructive, unless you are prepared and able to replace it with something else that will motivate him or her equally well. Dreams lead somewhere, even if not to the dreamer’s imagined destination. Snuffing a dream . . . does Cooke really think the snuffee will get up the next day saying: ah, I’d better be practical and then get on with it? And even if he or she does, at what cost? Will the right dream really bloom from the ashes of the first? Maybe kindness and encouragement would nurture that artist more effectively.

    I suppose I’m particularly impassioned about this, because I killed my own dream and allowed it to lie dead for decades. When it burst to life again, I felt like I’d been released from prison. And I immediately wrote a novel about dreams and persistence and synchronicity.

  5. The one useful point I took from this article is that you have to learn your craft and you have to practice if you’re serious about *realizing* your dream. If you want to be a published author, you have to write, even if what you write is stuff you end up throwing away, and then after you throw it away, you write something else.

    It is good to remind people that realizing a dream requires work and practice. But telling people to stop pursuing a dream altogether is ridiculous.

  6. There is another aspect that those who are pro-encouragement and pro-discouragement tend to overlook. Most people have more than one dream in their lifetime. Circumstances, experience, success, failure, all play into the making or breaking of the progression of a person’s dreams. For most of us, as we outgrow one or find one unachievable, the experience often helps us find our path to the next.

    One of the saddest aspects of our culture is this odd notion that each person should have zeroed in on their dream-talent at a very young age. Don’t try this, don’t attempt that because you’ll never achieve it. Perhaps we’ve just become too results-oriented. I’ll never be able to thank my parents enough for their support in all my little excursions into this and that. Did I end up where I expected to end up? Not at all but circumstances changed my direction more than once. Yet, each attempt at each little dream went into the development of what I have become.

    There is a lovely scene in Disney’s TANGLED where Rapunzel wonders what will happen when her dream of seeing the lights is realized. Ryder tells her that she’ll just find another dream to take its place.

  7. This article needs to be re-written. The first couple paragraphs of this article should have been taken out. It would have made the article stronger, and less antagonizing.

    Maybe he’s trying to be controversial, but his message is likely to get lost in all that.

    His message is this:

    a. Find the dream that means the most to you.

    b. Practice your skills and get good teachers before you take your work out into public.

    Good advice. The rest of the article was unneccessary and should have been edited out.

    Maybe he needs alittle more skill practice in article writing. 😉

  8. This reminds me of a very sad situation my sister got thrust on her. She was teaching remedial English in a community college. One of her students was “IQ insufficient”. This was the student’s 3rd round of remedial English. People kept telling her that if she tried hard enough, she would succeed and could achieve her dream of being a teacher. Wasn’t going to happen. She wasn’t able to do the course work. My sister was the first one to say stop. She thought that it was a kind of fraud to let the college keep taking the girl’s money for year after year of remedial. Because the girl wasn’t able to advance any further due to her mental capacity.

    So the people who had always encouraged her to try harder had basically lied to her. And suddenly it’s my sister that has to tell her the truth?

    Dreams are important. But I think what he’s saying is that they aren’t enough. I can dream to be a concert pianist, but without practicing everyday it won’t happen. A dream has to have commitment, determination and research.

    I think his complaint is that too many dreamers are wannabees. They want the final results without the labor to get there. The years of learning that any art requires, and which those of us on that path actually enjoy.

    • The other day I had a discussion with a friend about the results of our dreams, and how many people only see one pathway for a specific skill or talent.

      For example, I want to be a writer, so therefore I am not successful until I’m a New York Times bestseller. I won’t try anything that doesn’t lead me directly to being a NYT bestseller. Self-publishing is a cop-out. My first book must get a contract with a Big 6 publisher or I’m not ever going to be good enough. And so on.

      Unfortunately, our culture reinforces this perception that if you have a dream, especially an artistic one, you’re not a success if you’re not at the very top. But there’s so many more pathways than just that one we see as ‘successful’. Those screenwriters the author talks about could have successful Youtube channels. Some of those Youtube series are doing very well financially. They could write commercials. They could even write books.

      I agree that people should work hard for their dreams, and that sometimes we need a bit of realism. I don’t remember high school teachers ever telling me things would be easy, though. In fact, I think some of my high school AP classes were much more difficult than any college course I took. There are people that blindly believe that they will be an instant success, no matter what you tell them, and there always will be. There will always be people looking for shortcuts. But to me, that just means their dream was not really important enough to them.

      • Precisely. Writers themselves fall into this trap. Just yesterday I was having lunch with some old friends and filling them in on what I’ve been doing. I was feeling defensive in letting them know that my agent couldn’t sell two novels to the big six and I will be self publishing before xmas. I felt this neurotic need to justify and explain why this didn’t make me a loser as a writer, and then I finally thought, eff it. I’ll tell them when the books are ready to buy, and they can buy them or not. I don’t need to puff up my ego. I need readers.

        • I feel your pain, Larry. Just self-published this week actually and newer writers (just today in fact) I was with during a NaNo write-in gave me moon-eyes when they found out from another that I was published.

          They’re half my age (I’m 42) and only really know the current age of publishing. Meanwhile, I cringed and quickly said, ‘I’m self-published, so… you know… it’s…*cringe* You know what they said… ‘So what!’ ‘That’s cool!’ ‘I want to read your book!’

          Later, my husband said, ‘Don’t tear yourself down!’ and my best friend, an avid reader, said, ‘I don’t care who published the book, and I don’t recognize any of the authors these day anyhow. If the cover and the blurb catch my attention, and it’s not overpriced, I’ll buy it.’

          Well damn. BTW, my best friend was a beta reader for me (had a separate beta/editor I traded line and style editing with) and she loved the story, but was honest about areas she didn’t understand and helped me smooth things out. I’m lucky to have friends and family who are almost painfully honest.

          My point of all this, after trying to break into the big six for over twenty years and giving up until two years ago when I started writing again…

          I’m self-published now and proud of it!

  9. A goal is simply a dream with a timeline and a plan of action.

    • Amen, Dan.

      My dream was to become a published author.

      My goal in 2010 was to make that dream come true by 2012.

      Goal accomplished. Dream (part 1) complete.

      The sales? Well, they’re coming. Slowly but surely.

  10. And to throw some cold water on the related “do what you love” meme: http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2011/10/12/steve-jobs-bad-career-advice/

  11. I’ve had a lot of wonderful dreams — some crushed, some realized, some abandoned. The thing I’ve learned above all is this:

    Reality doesn’t crush a dream. It’s the denial of reality that crushes a dream.

    Denial of reality causes a person to lose his or her sense of humor and proportion. Things that should make you happy become uncomfortable, or may even hurt.

    That said, here’s the reality people deny:

    It isn’t about criticism — you can feel free to deny that all you want. Laugh in its face. That’s good for you. The killer reality of a dream is that you may not make it even if you are supremely talented. You may hate doing what you need to do to get that dream you want.

    The second one is the one that will get you, and it’s the most denied of all. If you love what you have to do to get there, it doesn’t matter if you ever succeed, and no amount of criticism will slow you down.

  12. I do wish people with “existential” dreams would get a kick in the pants. “I want to be a writer”; “I want to be an NY Times best-selling author”; “I want to be rich and famous.” People with dreams like this delude themselves into thinking that “being” a bestseller or a supermodel or whatever will solve all of their problems and make them happy, and then they’ll just sit around basking in the glow of success without working for it ever again. However, I would encourage everyone with more concrete dreams: “I want to write.” “I want the world to hear what I have to say.” “I want to reach people and affect their lives.” In that case, go for it.

    By the way: the word “talent” is BS. It doesn’t exist. There’s a basic thresh-hold aptitude, and everything after that is sweat and dedication.

    • Bartholomew Thockmorton

      You tell em’ T.K.!

      Genius (and talent) is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!

      Hummm…where have I heard that before?

    • Yep. We shouldn’t tell people “You can achieve any dream you want.” We should tell them, “You can achieve any dream you’re willing to work for.”

      Luckily for us writers, we enjoy the work.

    • I’m afraid I don’t agree about the talent thing. I think it very much does exist.

      I don’t care how long I write, how many classes I take, or how many hours I clock, I am never going to write as well as Shakespeare.

      That doesn’t mean I can’t be very successful, or write good books. And, with hard work, I can be the best I can be. But I will never have Shakespeare’s gifts.

      Some people really do have more talent.

      Btw, as noted, Edison’s quote about inspiration/persperation wasn’t about talent, it was about invention. It was also incorrect, imho.

      • I believe it’s not about writing like Shakespeare. It’s about writing from the best that Kinnard can be.

        • Deb, I agree with you.

          Although I do think talent exists, it doesn’t really matter, in some ways, because no matter how talented someone is, they can never write YOUR books. You are a unique voice.

      • Bartholomew Thockmorton

        Shakespeare? Edison? Who am these peoples of which you speak?

        Are you trying to dash my dreams?

        I’m tellin’.

  13. If the cost of pursuing my dreams requires the author of that article to be miserable, I fervently hope that bastard is miserable for the rest of a long and comfortable life.

  14. I can’t approve of the guy who left his wife and kid to pursue his dream of being an actor. By all means follow your dreams–but don’t use that as an excuse to skip out on your obligations.

  15. I read the whole article. Contrary to the title, Cooke has 4 good points to find out if one has the talent, drive, and knowledge to pursue one’s dreams. I don’t think anyone should be discouraged to follow their dreams. Everyone has his or her life to live and experiment, and through self-discovery and/or learning eventually the answer will be found. However, is the dream one’s personal dream or fool’s gold glitter? When it is fool’s gold glitter, that dream will be a chimera.

    • I suspect that Cook’s article said exactly that, once upon a time. However, either his enthusiasm carried him away or an editor at Fox decided to revise his article to fit the title, & now his article says, “These lusers can’t achieve their dreams & since it’ll take a lot of work to achieve yours, stop trying now.”

  16. “I wrote and threw away thousands of pages before I published my first book. A college friend of mine who’s a concert pianist practices 5-6 hours per day. One successful producer in Hollywood won’t even consider reading your script until you can prove you’ve already written at least ten screenplays.”

    Who cares what Phil Cooke and his college chums did? Perhaps that lack of respect is what bothers him?

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