Last month, I attended a workshop marathon hosted by the community group Makewell in Bismarck. During the day, I went to three workshops:

  • Coffee: From Farm, to Roast, to Cup
  • Grow With Instagram
  • Branding Your Business: Finding the Right Clients

Now, one might ask, what do any of these have to do with writing fantasy novels? Well, they happen to be a part of what I have (in an admittedly tongue-in-cheek fashion) referred to as The Master Plan—or, now that I’ve attended Ben Brick’s Makewell workshop on “Branding Your Business”, what I shall henceforth call “Bill’s Beach Bungalow of Books and Brews”. The plan goes something like this: I buy a gazebo/bungalow hybrid on the beach and convert it into a coffee shop. During the morning, I will sell coffee to the people that are walking by, and I myself will drink a fair amount of the coffee, too (those will be the hot brews). During the day, I will retreat to the interior of my gazebo/bungalow and continue writing books about wizards, which probably won’t help my dating life but will sure be fun. In the evening, I will flip on a fancy string of lights and convert the coffee shop into a cabana where passersby can pull up a stool and enjoy a refreshing beer (those will be the cold brews). During this entire time, I will wear a rotating collection of Hawaiian shirts. Examples:

Therefore, when I attended the Workshop Marathon, I told folks that I was simply gearing up to execute The Master Plan: the branding workshop helped me name the business, the coffee workshop helped me understand one-half of the brews that I will serve, and the Instagram workshop gave me the tools to spread word of Bill’s Beach Bungalow to the masses (I’ll need more than 150 followers for this one to work, though).

While this is a partially-facetious scenario, I find it a useful mechanism for exploring what it means to pursue one’s dreams and passions. Everyone has a wild, crazy dream that stretches the realm of plausibility, and there are two ends of the spectrum on how people follow through on them. On one side, we have the people who, for one reason or another, never actually get started. This is because dreams are hard and scary, and sometimes it’s easier to just put them off for another day. The fact is, however, that the most worthwhile things in life take a bit of effort, and if they weren’t hard, they might not be worth doing. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the people that throw caution to the wind and dive in headfirst without a plan for success and no backup. I’m not going to say that this won’t work, but I’d hazard to say that for every person who has succeeded in such a fashion, there are a hundred more that ended up eating microwaved noodles in an unheated apartment. Play at your peril, I suppose.

Now, there is no one right way to go about pursuing one’s passions, and I sure as heck am far from an expert. All I know is what has worked for me thus far, which falls somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum, or what I would call taking calculated risks from a position of stability. When we think of our biggest, boldest dreams (the acronym for the day is BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goals), we often fall into the fallacy of thinking we must choose between one of the two extremes I just mentioned: either we drop everything and take a gigantic risk that will likely fail, or we settle for far less and leave our dream as just that: a dream, nothing more. However, it doesn’t have to be one or the other option. Running a marathon doesn’t mean we have to choose between either jumping up and running 26.2 miles on the spot, no training, versus permanently resigning ourselves to the comforts of our couches and Netflix. Rather, one starts by running 10 minutes a day, then 20 minutes a day, then 40 minutes a day, and the next thing you know you’re knocking out a 10k before breakfast. Similarly, even the most far-fetched ideas can be tackled if we break them down into discrete, achievable components. What’s even more fun is that, during this process, the big picture/end goal might evolve as one achieves each small component of their dream or passion. With each incremental success, we learn a little bit and build upon it.

So, back to Bill’s Beach Bungalow: let’s say my dream is to live on the beach, write fantasy novels, and sell (and drink) lots of coffee. Where do I start? Using my experiences strictly as an example—this surely isn’t the only way, and it may not even be a good way, but it’s worked for me so far—I’ve focused on building up resources first. I studied both Business Administration and English in college, or as I joked at the time, “English for fun and Business Administration for a job”. As an aside, this is the part where the artistic/innovative world will sometimes knock on folks employed in the corporate world, because what’s less inspiring than the thought of rolling into a cubicle and working on Excel spreadsheets during the day? Trust me, though, the corporate/professional environment not only has its advantages—I function much better when I know I have a reliable paycheck, health insurance, and a 401k—it also can be quite fun if you take a job you care about. In my day job, I supervise a cybersecurity team. The employees on my team stop computer hackers, and what’s not to enjoy about that? (Note, I myself don’t stop the hackers, though I like to pretend I do—I just make sure we stay on budget, plus organize all the meetings that everyone complains about). In a future blog, I’ll probably dig into the pros and cons of the corporate world, and how it can support artistic endeavors, in more detail, but returning to the point at hand, I pursued my passion by focusing on first finding a rewarding career that has subsequently provided me with the stability to write in the evenings, invest in publishing a professional-quality novel, and travel to conventions across the country to promote the book. My next novel comes out this fall, and at that point I’ll be a bona-fide author with what they call a “backlist”, meaning more than one title to my name. Maybe in a year or two I’ll have built up enough resources to invest in that gazebo/bungalow; maybe I’ll convince my company to open a southern office in a state with some serious beach real estate. (Note to executive team: think palm trees, guys and gals. Let’s make it happen.)

Is Bill’s Beach Bungalow of Books and Brews really that far-fetched, then? I don’t think it is, not when we break it down into the building blocks of how to make it happen. Hey, perhaps my writing is successful enough for me to open it next summer. Or, perhaps I do it as a “retirement” gig after many long, rewarding years of corporate service. Those “what if” details don’t necessarily matter—they will happen when they happen, and what does matter is putting forth the incremental but cumulative effort into building what sounds like a far-fetched dream into reality, whatever that dream may be. On the day when the Beach Bungalow is open, I hope you stop by, pull up a stool at the bar, and tell me about how you turned your dream into a reality, too. We’ll watch the sun set over the waves, feel the wind in our hair, taste crisp beer, and listen to the crashing of surf on sand. We’ll make a toast to dreamers and to doers, and to those who have worked together to make the world just a bit better than it was the day before. And when the day is done, we’ll scatter grains of sand into the breeze, some to rise, others to fall, but forever changed, just like the hopes and passions we all pursue.

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