• Joel Ryan

It's Okay to Write Small



It might seem countercultural to talk about small dreams in a society that champions big-dream-thinking, defying odds, and reaching for the impossible.


It might seem oddly counterproductive in a blog focused on encouraging fellow writers to write small.


Big dreams are what put a man on a moon, inspired a small-town cartoonist to create a magic kingdom, and gave a rag tag group of colonists the courage to fight for independence.

Seeing beyond the literal giants of their life gave two spies and later a shepherd boy the courage to lead their people into the promises of God.


A lofty goal is what gave the US Men’s Hockey team the tenacity and drive to beat the best team in the world in the 1980 Miracle on Ice.


Some of the greatest moments and achievements in history were driven by common men and women daring to go big, risk all, ignore their skeptics and critics, and never give up.


Setting goals is an important part of life. They motivate us to get up in the morning. They keep us moving forward and inspire us to keep going, persevere, and ultimately embrace growth and seek change.

Without goals and dreams, whatever they may be, we often lose a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and without purpose, most people wither and waste away.


So why would I ever encourage anyone to dream small or lower their expectations?


I wouldn’t.


I believe in the power of big dreams and the importance of setting big goals. However, part of the path to reaching a bigger goal is being able to successively build upon a series of smaller goals.


That may seem like common sense but it’s remarkably uncommon in practice.

Too many of us create massive goals for ourselves and set our personal bar so high that it’s nearly impossible to see at times. However, if we make “the big goal” the only goal, we may find ourselves frustrated or discouraged every moment that goal hasn’t been reached.


That feeling can motivate us to push ever harder or reach even farther the next day, or, as is too often the case, it eat away at our patience, confidence and resilience.


I have nothing but admiration and respect those who’ve been able to quit smoking cold turkey.


My best friend in high school was able to lose over a hundred pounds and become a regular marathon runner in less than a year.

One of my students recently completed an entire draft of a screenplay over his winter break.


In each case, these individuals set a massive goal and had the motivation and discipline to reach it.


Most people have lofty goals in life. Many of them have a good reason for wanting to reach them. It’s called motivation.


My aunt quit smoking because she knew it was killing her, both physically and financially. She wanted a better life for herself and was willing to make the change to have it.


My best friend trained to lose weight and run a marathon to prove to himself and others that he could actually live a healthier life.


My student finished his screenplay in less than a month because he had a story he believed in and an excitement to get it on paper.


They were all motivated to pursue their goals. However, motivation is not enough without the daily discipline to put down the cigarette, get on the bike, or sit down, start writing, and keep writing.


A lot of people are motivated to live better lives, lose weight, or finish something. But when they begin, the pain and discomfort of the process can overpower their motivation.


This is why first steps, daily habits, patience, and small dreams matter so much.


Sadly, too many people quit when they realize they can’t reach their big goal right away. They simply haven’t given themselves the freedom to start small, be bad, and work to get better.


Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Few goals are achieved overnight. And while the people I’ve mentioned were able to reach much bigger goals than most of us, they did so by building on smaller goals.

No one wanting to run a marathon actually runs a marathon on their first day. They’d be a fool to try. They may not even be able to run a full mile at the start. It may take months on the bike or weeks in the pool to shed some weight and get their cardio up before they can hit the track.


Few people finish a screenplay or write a novel in one day, though it has happened. They instead focus on one page at a time, and maybe set the goal of completing three good pages a day. Maybe they don’t hit three to begin with. They can try again tomorrow or focus on completing two first. And as they develop a more consistent discipline of writing and strengthen their creative muscles, they can slowly increase their pace.


And while many people have been able to quit smoking, gambling, drinking, and other forms of addiction cold turkey, many more learn to do so over time. They seek help, take small, purposeful steps, and celebrate the days and weeks and months that are better but not always easier than the ones that came before.


Consider this. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, two bike shop owners had to get a homemade plane off the ground for twelve seconds. In hindsight, we may laugh at the scale of their achievement, but I promise you, the day Wilbur and Orville Wright first got off the ground, they celebrated like no one had before.


It’s a lot easier to celebrate the achievements of others, no matter how small they may be. Why, then, can’t we do it for ourselves?


We can’t lose sight of the big dream or where we’re going. The end is the goal, like a mountain towering above us. And I don't subscribe to the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. As a Christian, the destination is everything! It gives me the courage to press on because I know there's something wonderful at the end of this life.


However, though I look expectedly for the day I see my God face to face, I can't ignore what He has asked me to do and the opportunities He has given me today. Furthermore, glorification (the end goal) cannot and should not take away from sanctification (the daily joy of God improving and growing us).


As we learn to focus on each step, not just the summit, we devote the time, energy, discipline, and drive to conquering that step, not the entire mountain all at once.

Reach for the clouds. Go ahead, but don’t be afraid to celebrate the first time you get a few inches off the ground.


Small goals can become major victories that build patience, persistence, and inevitably momentum.


So instead of just dreaming big, today I dare you to have the courage to dream small. That starts by writing small and putting one word on the page at a time. So get to it.

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Thanks again. Now back to writing!

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