Wild Possibilities

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Publishing professionals often snicker when they hear authors dream about the day their book becomes an Oprah Pick. Or the jaded roll their eyes to hear that an author has created a list of actors to cast in the film version of the book. You won’t catch me snickering. I think it’s important to dream. If it weren’t for the ability to picture wild possibilities many a great thing would never have come to pass.dreamstime_xs_17682366

What is it that makes people long to dash big dreams? Why do some take joy in mocking dreamers? I’ve always loved this list* of dreamers who succeeded despite the naysayers:

  • He was told that his drawings were stupid and he’d never  be a cartoonist – Walt Disney
  •  He was considered a mediocre  chemist and told he should try something else – Louis Pasteur
  •  He utterly failed algebra – Albert Einstein
  •  They said he was “too stupid to learn” – Thomas Edison.
  •  The world discarded him as a hopeless alcoholic – Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
  •  She was far too old to start painting at 80 when her hands became too shaky to continue her beloved needlework – Grandma Moses
  •  He was blind at age 44, in a day when blindness was akin to a death sentence, yet he wrote Paradise Lost sixteen years later – John Milton
  •  Teachers called him dull and hopeless and flunked him in the sixth grade – Winston Churchill
  •  She was devalued because of poverty and prejudice – Golda Meir
  •  She toiled amid pervasive sexual discrimination in a staunchly male field – Madame Curie
  •  He was consigned to second fiddle in an obscure South American orchestra – Toscanini

I wonder what the common thread was for all of these unforgettable heroes? Maybe it was that they were not afraid to embrace the wild possibilities of life.

Writers need to rediscover dreaming big. You are constantly battered with joy-killing statistics by the naysayers. I’m guessing many of you can quote the tiny percentage of writer-hopefuls who will eventually get traditionally published. You probably know the pitiful average annual income of a writer in today’s market. You might even know the staggering number of books published last year.

Forget all that. I see hundreds of writers who are published each year despite those odds. I know many writers who make six figure incomes and a few who make seven and eight figure incomes. And that is in a market that publishes scads and scads of books. Most of those success stories are people who are not afraid to dream.

I’ve always loved the words of Henry David Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Each writer ought to keep a Wild Possibility Notebook next to him as he writes. As important as it is to exercise our bodies each day, it is equally important to exercise our imagination. Here’s what you do with that notebook:

  • Write one wild possibility each day. Don’t edit and, above all else, don’t be your own naysayer. Just write it down.
  • Once you have it committed to paper, play with it. Ask three questions:
    • What if. . . ?
    • Why not. . . ?
    • How. . . ?
  • Once a week review your wild possibilities. Sort them into one of three columns:
    • Elbow Grease. These are the dreams you can make happen with a little hard work.
    • Depends On. . .. These are the dreams that depend on someone else coming alongside. (Like Oprah. Or a movie producer.)
    • Only God. These dreams require a miracle. (But I believe in miracles, don’t you?)

Of course, that’s just one way to exercise your dream muscle. What are some of the techniques that have worked for you? If you’ve been too discouraged to consider  wild possibilities, what can you do to again risk dreaming big?

*I collected the success stories above several years ago but I think most of these came from Dear Abby columns.



Don’t be afraid to consider wild possibilities. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish. Click to Tweet

Learn to keep a Wild Possibility Notebook beside you as you write. Click to Tweet

Practice the art of dreaming big. It’s the stuff of every success story. Click to Tweet

70 Responses

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  1. JJ says:

    Thanks for this. Sometimes I doubt my wild determination and optimism…

  2. I love the idea of a Wild Possibilities Notebook! I try to explore visions instead of overanalyzing them before they make it onto paper (and beyond).

    One technique for dreaming big that has worked for me is to surround myself with people who have found success in publishing. I attend an annual children’s book festive that hosts an author showcase. One year, I had the joy (and encouragement) of talking to an author who previously held a day job and woke early (4 a.m.) to write. (That was, and continues to be, my practice.) She told me she even drove a forklift, transporting books, dreaming of writing full time. (I have the joy of teaching.) Who was this author? Kate DiCamillo – whose book Flora & Ulysses is a 2014 Newberry Award winner.

  3. Wendy, I love this idea … and I thank you for the encouragement to dream. I was just reading a prominent work on “how to write a synopsis/proposal” last night and it was mentioned NOT to say anything about Oprah … what a fool you are if you do. It always is a little disheartening when you hear people write about what makes them laugh and throw out a writer’s work regarding the proposal (I just completed my MS, and writing a synopsis was THE hardest thing I’ve had to write … it always is for me.). Dreams are not tolerated. If you have them, you’d better keep it to yourself … according to most, or you’ll be the laughing stock.

    So, I really appreciate you. I love watching the film on Walt Disney at Disneyworld. Oh, word … if anyone had a reason to give up, it would have been him. He was next to broke repeatedly, lost the ownership of a character he made … but out of that came Mickey Mouse.

    I love the notebook idea … I always keep one around to write down thoughts, or I forget them. But I’ve never dared dream in one. Brilliant!

    And just for the record … if we can’t visualize our material in a film … it might not be good enough. But it’s good to think that aspect out. Maybe keep that information to oneself or a select few though! Or risk the laughing stock. Grin.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Good words, Shelli.

      And about the advice about not putting those wildest dreams in a proposal– that’s pretty good advice. A proposal is the business plan and only includes those things we already have in place. But that does not negate the need for dreaming big off-proposal. 🙂

  4. Micky Wolf says:

    Terrific post, Wendy!A great antidote to what can seem so much gloom, doom and don’t-forget- the-hard-cold-facts attitudes with regard to the possibilities for being published.

    I also love the idea of the Wild Possibilities Notebook! And the first notation will be the Thoreau quote. 🙂

    Have a couple of people in my life who are positive realists. What a blessing. I am so grateful for their encouragement and support.

  5. Christine Dorman says:

    Thank you, Wendy, for this wildly encouraging and hopeful blog. I needed it today. You are a Godsend.


  6. Wendy, thanks so much for sharing this!

    What I’m beginning to see is that there’s a pattern, sometimes, to feeling discouraged and hopeless. Remembering that reminds me not to listen too much to the doubts. If I’m doing what I believe God wants me to do, then it’s all in his hands–which is an amazing place to be!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      And discouragement and hopelessness is catching. I find that many a naysayer make winter their months to come alive and crush dreams en masse.

  7. I used to tell people I never did anything interesting. Then I took stock.
    And I realized, I’ve done some stuff that few have done, let alone even tried.

    When people say “Oh, I could never do that.” I ask them why?
    “Well, I just can’t.”
    “Because…I…what if I fail?”
    “Look, other than Felix Baumgartner, think of ‘trying’ as ‘so what if I fail? What can I learn from this?”

    If we don’t have dreams, we are stuck in ‘The Land of What Has Already Been Done’. Or it’s border country, ‘Don’t Even Think About It, You’re a Failure Anyway’.

    Last June, I interviewed a person for my blog. I was sick and coughed all the way through the interview and he totally did not care. I had to cut our discussion off after an hour because my throat hurt. He would have kept talking. I couldn’t. And I felt bad,because it was an interesting interview and I learned things about Meryl Streep, Ron Howard and Cate Blanchett that I didn’t know.
    As if I would? HAHAHA!

    I also learned that in asking for that interview and trying other things as well, that we run a 50/50 chance of hearing a big fat ‘no’. But, we also have that whopper of a ‘yes’ just waiting for us.

    God gives us all dreams, maybe because He wants us to trust that He is able to fulfill them? When those dreams come true, He teaches us just how big He is. And how much bigger His surprises can be, if we only let go of our fears and TRY.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Great advice! It’s a two-step process, isn’t it? Dreaming is the safe, internal part. Reaching for those dreams is the risky bit.

  8. Wendy, I love this! As one who’s coming out of a season of discouragement, starting a Wild Possibilities notebook sounds like something to keep me moving forward when discouragement comes knocking on my heart’s door. I don’t have to open the door. Instead, I’ll open my notebook, read and jot down one more wild possibility. 🙂

    Thank you for such an encouraging post today!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      It’s hard to reject discouragement. In this environment right now– dreary winter, bad economy, changing publishing climate– discouraging news is almost a national pastime. We need to actively refute it and stop entertaining it. Time to surround ourselves with positive input and tell the naysayers to peddle their wares elsewhere.

  9. There’s another point that may be important – we owe our dreams to the world, and to God.

    We set an example when we step out, chin up and smiling, daring to be something more than we are. The pundits say that everyone’s in their own little digital box, but that’s not true, and never will be.

    WE are the fuel, the spark, the focal point for Divine inspiration that makes our fellows say, “maybe…maybe I can.”

    Look at Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper who was the darling of the Sarajevo games. He could never win, but he did his best.

    I’ll bet you remember him. But who won the Gold?

    In my own life, yeah, they tell me I don’t have a whole lot of horizons left to cross, and it’s tempting to fold back and wait for the Reaper. Why dream a dream I’ll likely never see?

    Because someone else will see it.

    And so will God.

  10. Wendy, I adore lists like yours, filled with people everyone thought would fail but instead were amazing successes. So encouraging! I made a list of my own wild possibilities over a year ago, but you’ve prompted me to get it out and review it. My writing journey has progressed so much since then, I wonder how that list might change now…or what would still be the same.

    I love your Only God column idea. Yet, I think I would place the simple act of writing there. He is the One who has gifted any of us with the mental capacity to be able to understand words, group them into phrases and sentences, then place those sentences in just the right order to communicate and inspire. That seems like a miracle to me. If He can, and would, do that for little me, He can do anything.

    • Wendy Lawton says:


    • Kim Doke Fletter says:

      Amen Meghan! I agree. We can be wordsmiths, but God is the creator of words. He SPOKE the world into existence; breathed His Spirit, Ruach Elohim (life- giving Spirit breath of God) into man at creation, then into Abram after He made covenant with him. It’s interesting that you can only speak when you exhale. God has truly given us the ability to speak LIFE through our words.

  11. Sarah Thomas says:

    Oh, I believe in miracles!

    Sometimes, when I dream big, I remind myself that God can dream bigger and that whatever I think of he can outdo.

    Sometimes, when I dream big, I feel like the risky part is that my dreams MIGHT COME TRUE.

    LOVE this post. Reminds me of a certain boy with a many-colored coat whose dreams got him sold into slavery where he eventually became second in command over all of Egypt.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      So true. We dream big and the sheer size of those dreams can intimidate us. We need to dream those big dreams and then commit them to God instead of snatching them back as soon as they scare us.

  12. “I remind myself that God can dream bigger and that whatever I think of he can outdo.”


  13. Way to rock our Tuesday with your encouragement-packed post, Wendy!

    Ohhh! Yes, I admit it–I’m a dreamer. I love to encourage others to dream, too. While I realize it’s important to think realistically, I also know that my God is at the helm working behind, through, over, under, and around the scenes, and that spurs me to press on.

    And now–cyber chocolate for all! *passes out the truffles* 🙂

  14. Lori says:

    I definitely like miracles and God surprises me when “his” dreams for me come true.

  15. Dreaming is much more enjoyable than entertaining worst case scenarios.

    Thanks for the encouragement to commit my plans, and my dreams to the Lord.

  16. Great post! I just watched an interview with Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. She said she never dreamed she would see her novel turned into a movie (and now it’s one of the most anticipated movie releases this Spring) And she’s 25 years old. Wild Possibilities. I love it!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Almost any success story will say the same thing. I never dreamed it would happen to me. We ought to all be dreaming, right?

  17. Ginny Yttrup says:

    Wendy, thank you for this post! As a single woman dreaming of living on an author’s income, this encouraged me. I’ve heard over and over and over that I need to get a day job, need to use common sense, be realistic–all good words–yet sometimes setting common sense aside is the only way to attain the dream. Maybe that’s called faith.

    • That is faith, Ginny, but it is well-placed faith. Of course, sometimes God moves us in a direction we hadn’t planned. I’m the poster child for that! Be prepared for that possibility as you persevere.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Sometimes it is so hard to “move confidently” toward our dreams, isn’t it? But as a huge fan of yours, Ginny, your writing and storytelling is top notch. The stuff of dreams. I pray yours comes true.

  18. Karen says:

    Thank you for writing the opposite of what we writers often read when perusing the industry blogs. Although we need to know the facts, if that were all we ever heard, it would be like teaching our kids to surf while pointing out every big wave that will surely knock them down. Or meeting with an architect to design our dream home and hearing him point out only the mistakes that will take place during construction, or sending a bobsled team from Jamaica to the Olympics but telling them only of the immeasurable impossibility that they could compete against the big boys. Good thing Abe Lincoln’s mama didn’t foreshadow her son’s life with all of the obstacles he would face. Reality is important to grasp—but God’s Truth—that nothing is impossible with Him, is much more important to me as I face my future as a writer. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      “Reality is important to grasp—but God’s Truth—that nothing is impossible with Him, is much more important. . .” Yes!

  19. Wendy, Thank you for the encouragement to keep dreaming. In my teen years a poster hung on the wall in my room with a different Henry David Thoreau quote about listening to a different drum, however measured or far away. That is when I first wrote my stories.
    The wild imagination God blessed me with is now focused on His glory not mine, but He still sends vivid creative gifts for me to explore. And oh, the adventures!
    Last summer I achieved a twenty-year long dream in my writing life. It was a wild dream full of risk and the possibility of rejection. Yet The Lord poured out an abundance of grace. Where that will take me is still to unfold. What joy there is in the journey!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      “What joy there is in the journey!” That’s the best part of all. I’m guessing god cares much more about the journey than the outcome, right?

  20. Susan Hollaway says:

    An awesome blog post, Wendy. So inspiring! Thank you. Gotta’ dash. I’ve got to go grab a notebook and pen. =)

  21. Thank you for this encouraging post!

  22. Dianne says:

    Thanks. I needed that.

  23. Wendy,

    Thanks for sharing this encouraging post. It’s so easy to let the negative people in our lives get us down. We need to be careful not to let them put a halt to the dreams God planted in us.

    Thank you for fanning the flame and reminding me why I’m writing and Whom I’m writing for.

  24. Brandi says:

    Wendy I love the examples and advice you just gave. With so many people trying to be published it’s easy to get lost in your own negative thoughts. Dreaming is important. I bet all of those people above thought they couldn’t do it either at one point. Dreams push us to be better, so thank you for the great post!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      There are a lot of people trying to be published but happily enough it is not an even playing field. We are the ones who affect the outcome by the quality of our work.

  25. Voni says:

    I cast movie actors as my characters, but only so I can non-creepily find pictures and keep them as visual aids. Hadn’t thought that they could really act in a movie-version. How fun!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Those pictures will eventually help your publisher with the cover art as well. They love to have that kind of visual input.

  26. Lisa says:

    Much needed, thank you.

  27. Amanda Dykes says:

    While this entire post should be engraved in brass (or at least in our hearts!), one of my favorite parts was that last little line, with the asterisk: “I collected the success stories above several years ago…”

    I think that’s a post in and of itself. “I collected stories.” I love that about you– a collector of stories– because you use those stories to bolster hearts and encourage souls. I guess that’s what we all hope to do, in a way, through story. Thank you, Wendy!

  28. Peter DeHaan says:

    Thanks for the reminder to continue to dream. I needed to hear that today!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Aren’t you surprised at how many in our community said they need encouragement right now? Our gang here are some of the top contenders for success it seems and yet, discouragement still bites at our heels.

  29. Dare to dream people . . . and never let a few words that anyone might say, stop you from doing what you want to do.

    Remember – there is an unknown world just around the corner of your mind, where magic and the unexpected awaits.

    It’s a place where reality is an intruder and dreams come true. You need no secret password, no wizard’s wand or magic lamp.

    All you need is a child’s leap of imagination and a wee bit of curiosity about things that could be – that never were.

    Dare to dream – your dreams.

  30. Darby Kern says:

    I sometimes cast the movie to keep a character’s physicality in my head while I’m writing. Just a suggestion…

  31. Paula says:

    Yes! This, so much of this!
    (Pardon me while I do a happy little Snoopy dance while squealing “I’m not crazy! I’m not crazy!” )
    You know what? My dreaming big does not prove that something in me is broken, but that there’s something wrong with the rest of the world when there’s so much glory given to those who have “made it” to their personal pinnacle, and so much scorn for those who are still building their foundations. There would be no pinnacle if it wasn’t for the foundation being built first – and no foundation if it wasn’t for the dream of a mighty view from the top.

    I think that the world has seen too many people with more ego than ethic declare these big dreams and then settle back like UPS is coming to deliver them – of course they’ll never see their dreams happen. But those of us who work and learn and honestly strive to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives – God is just as excited as you are to put you to work! And His plans are perfect – whether we end up chatting with Oprah or not, His purpose is higher than even our wildest dreams. Jump in and fear not! 🙂

  32. Wendy Lawton says:

    “But those of us who work and learn and honestly strive to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives – God is just as excited as you are to put you to work! ” Exactly, Paula!

  33. Denise Hisey says:

    What a great idea!
    I usually don’t verbalize my “what ifs” but writing them down would be a way of saying out loud in a less vulnerable way.

  34. Great reminder to build your castles in the sky. We would all do well to dream wildly every once in a while!

    I asked my son what he wants to be when he grows up. He said, “A hero.”


  35. Thanks for the encouragement to dream BIG! I think the common thread for anyone who has seen their dreams come to pass is pure “grit.” Those who have succeeded are those who persevered through the resistance. We greatly admire these heroes because they stir up our own resolve… to believe in miracles too.