when your creative project wants to be something else

I woke up today and decided it was time to scrap everything on my website (isaadney.com) about the book I've been working on for two years and rewrite.

Over the course of these past two years, the book became something completely different than what it started out as. 

If I'm being honest, at first I was angry and frustrated at my book for not going where I had told it to go, for not doing what I originally created it to do. How could it do this to me? How could it betray me like this? I spent all this time and money and told all my friends and family about it and then it just turned it's back on me and said "sorry Isa I'm not going this way anymore. You can either follow me or leave me here."

To be honest, there were months when I thought about just leaving that traitor to fend for itself lost in the woods. I seriously thought about giving up on it. 

But for some reason, no matter how hard I tried (and, seriously, I tried to give up on it), I couldn't. Deep down, I think I have the people I interviewed to blame. Their stories are what kept me moving even when I didn't believe in where I was going, even when I couldn't see a thing. In the end, I knew I couldn't keep their stories to myself. They needed to be shared, and that is why this book will exist. 

This morning, about a week after moving from Florida to San Diego with the intention of shaking things up and pursuing my art, I felt compelled to finally take the hand of my book again, but this time letting it take the lead, letting it go where it wants to go, be what it wants to be. It took a full stop. An about face. A move across the country. A lot of crying on various rugs. And a few steps backwards (those were the hardest).

But I can feel my book's hand in mine again, and we're moving. And while it's a path I never intentionally planned on, the movement is forward now, no longer backwards, and that feels like a win. And while it's still too early to tell, I have a feeling my book knows what it's doing, knows where it's going, and I'm just going to have to trust that. 

Dreams are funny that way -  they can set you off on journeys but rarely do they take you where you plan, rarely do they create the exact ending you dreamed about. Rarely are dreams about ends at all, I've come to think. I think they're about movement, changes, beginnings, and turn arounds. Around and around and around.

So below is what I rewrote this morning on isaadney.com/dreambook after a turnaround. I thought it should live here too since Creative Teacup is what kept me around long enough to get here. 


Excerpt from isaadney.com/dreambook

I am currently working on my second book, featuring the stories of 120 people who had an idea - a dream - and made it into a reality. I interviewed Olympians, founders, athletes, non-profit leaders, actors, producers, musicians, CEOs, Emmy-award winners, Oscar winners, Golden Globe winners, Broadway stars, moms, dads, undocumented immigrants, and a lot of really brave, curious, outstanding people - many of whom, through these interviews, became some of my best and most inspiring friends.

If you want to know more, you can read about the backstory and the book's current progress below. Thanks for being here. :)


In 2007 I won a $110,000 scholarship. In 2012 my first book was published. In 2014 I was flown to Harvard to interview as one of the top 50 applicants being considered for one of only 25 spots in a doctoral program in education.

While at Harvard I felt like all my dreams, and the dreams of my grandma who'd come to New York from Puerto Rico with nothing but the siblings she was raising, were coming true.

Until they didn't.

I didn't get in to Harvard.

And while many current students who'd so graciously helped me along the way encouraged me to apply again (one student said he had a friend who applied three times and then got in) something had changed. The rejection stung, but it also forced me to look at the track I was on. Was this what I really wanted?

I wasn't sure anymore, and I took some time to think.

I'm embarrassed to say I cried a lot. To say there are so many worse things to happen to people than not getting into Harvard is the biggest understatement in the world. But it still hurt. And it still made me question everything I was doing and where in the world I was going.

Though I knew I could always apply again and keep trying, deep down I knew what I imagine the admissions committee knew first: this wasn't really the program for me. My first book was about my college experience and applying to Harvard was me simply taking the professional track of education as far as I could, without ever questioning if I wrote the book because education was where I wanted to focus my career or if I wrote the book because I'm a writer, an artist.

I had to ask myself the question: If I'd never gone to community college would I still have written a book?

Deep down, I knew the answer was yes. I wrote a book about community college because I happened to attend a community college. I had found a community that inspired me to write, and so I did.

And I just kept going, assuming the community was the thing to stake my profession in.

But then I realized that that community needed the kind of leaders and change agents with administrative and political expertise and passion. It's what Harvard was looking for, and while I was close, I knew (and they probably knew) it wasn't really me.

I am a writer.

I am an artist.

I am a dreamer.

But I was having a hard time finding those things on online job boards and graduate catalogs.

What do I do now?

In the midst of trying to figure it out I kept coming up against brick walls. More rejections. More confusion. More and more and more of those little things that are impossible to describe but wear you down every day - those almost imperceptible moments that make you feel like you don't belong, like you should stop trying, like you are so deeply unwanted.

Dark questions started brewing and for the first time in my life I thought about giving up, throwing in the towel on this whole "trying really hard" business I'd employed (with relative success) my whole life.

What if if sometimes hard work isn't enough? I started to wonder. What if you can do everything right and still fail? What if even if you work twice as hard you can still walk away with nothing? What if hard work only works in a just system? And if the system isn't fair, why bother trying at all? What if this whole "go for your dreams" business is just a way to keep people from figuring out how messed up things actually are? 

For the past few years I had been reading almost exclusively about privilege and race, and while the beginning felt like a revelation of pure gold and insight, the deeper I got the more discouraged I began to feel. I felt powerless in the modes where I fell into the less privileged ranks and guilty and disgusted with myself in all the modes where I knew I fell into the privileged category.

It was, I know now, my first real crash against the "real world," a world in which "A" work can still receive an F, a world of competition, a world that gives mouth service to the concept of rewarding hard work and talent and goodness, but often rewards the opposite. A world of racial and gender inequality so deep and so disgusting that I felt achy from all the ways I realized it's affected me, but absolutely paralyzed in grief when finally seeing all the ways it had been and was continuing to affect those whose lack of privilege in so many areas was beyond my experience and understanding.

I'd like to say in these moments I felt inspired to change things, but the truth is, the deeper I got the more I wondered what the point was in taking any step at all. I started to feel like being a dreamer was the stupidest thing I could be. What, honestly, could I do? Why take a step if there are so many forces outside your control, so many forces affecting your opportunities?

I am a dreamer most days, though I've found the more I try to pursue my dreams the more cynical days I have. To say pursuing a dream is hard is an understatement. It's awful and there are times I have thought about scrapping this whole book because I didn't want to put anyone through what I was going through - pursuing a dream can be terribly painful.

But in the end, that's why this book is going to exist, because what got me through was hearing the stories of people who had pursued a dream and had it actually work out. They were people who had the audacity to look at all that is messed up and unjust and decided to be a dreamer anyway, decided to try anyway.

Dreams don't always work out, that's a given. In fact after spending the last two years researching and thinking about dreams I'd venture to say dreams probably fail so much more than they ever work out.

But to me, that's what makes it even more fascinating - that in such a crazy messed up world sometimes a person has an idea, an image that starts off in their head or heart, invisible and formless, and somehow, sometimes, that thing, that dream, takes form and becomes an actual reality. And even the dreams that might never reach full formation seem to continue to move people towards possibility.

It's funny that the concept of dreams and dreamers more often than not are stereotyped in our culture as being "wishers" on a couch somewhere. "Doing" is the thing to be revered. Dreaming for the soft, the still.

But what I have found is that dreams are movement.

To some perhaps the fact that dreams rarely come true is a reason to despise and discount dreamers. But to me, that's what makes them courageous. It wouldn't be brave if it was guaranteed.

And the fact that dreams do sometimes actually come true still amazes me, and I found that interviewing 120 people about a dream they achieved left me with so many inspiring reasons to keep moving, even without the promise of a perfect ending or a dream come true.

This book will share those stories.

As of right now (late 2016) the book exists in over three quarters of a million words, transcripts of all the interviews I did. I am still in the process of sitting with these stories and crafting them into the best possible thing they can be. I recently came across an author I love whose transcriptions for a similar kind of interview-based book were less than half of mine and her book took her four years. So, this is going to take some time, my friends. But I am in it for the long haul and am more committed than ever to making the dream of this book a reality.


It will be a while so if you want to put a virtual bookmark in this so you'll be emailed when there's a book to be read you can enter in your email by going to isaadney.com/dreambook and scrolling all the way to the bottom. And in the meantime of course feel free to keep up with me and this creative process, as well as see interviews with other creative people, here at CreativeTeacup.com. You can also follow Creative Teacup on Twitter. All the cool kids or doing it. I mean, all the too cool for cool kids are doing it. I mean, just, ya know, please? 

Seriously, though, if you like this please share it. Consider it your way of energizing me to finish this book. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is how alone I feel when I'm doing it. Your shares are my greatest form of writing joy. Thank you thank you thank you. <3