I’ve been thinking a lot about ambition lately. Or perhaps thinking isn’t the right word. I’ve been dealing with the side effects of ambition. In my case the lion’s share of my ambition revolves (unsurprisingly) around writing. I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was a kid. I’ve wanted to be a novelist. These are desires that are so ingrained in me that they feel sometimes like tortures. I’ve often wished that I could just walk away. That I could abandon pursuing these goals. But I have never been able to.
In the beginning, serving this ambition is, if not quite easy, at least entirely within one’s grasp. You write. And you continue to write and produce and revise and hone and polish. If, like me, you want to publish a novel, you write one. You put in the hours and the blood, sweat, and tears. And I have. And though I may not have been as diligent about it in years past, I have managed to do it. I’ve written novels. I’ve rewritten them. I’ve revised them. With no one other than myself to oppose me.
Yet it seems that even after the momentum starts setting in, where you’re writing more regularly, and more effectively, and when you start to achieve some small measure of success, that things start to get more difficult. Other people start to enter the mix. Whereas it was just you before, it’s now beta readers and agents and editors and suddenly control is something you no longer lay sole claim to. And the publishing industry is slow. And while I know all of this, and know I have to let go and know that my focus should be on just producing the best fiction I can, it’s bloody frustrating at times. The kind of frustrating that makes me shake. The kind of frustrating that makes me want to break things. The kind of frustrating that sometimes turns dark and quiet and takes on the faint whiff of defeat, the spectre that it will never happen.
And then there’s the success around you. I do not begrudge anyone their success. I know many brilliantly talented people who have achieved what I am shooting for, and respect many more. I know that others have put in their time and their own energies into their works and I am happy to see and even sometimes share in their successes. But there are times when I’m just not so gracious. Times when people are talking about their books and their signings and the top ten lists they made that make me clench my fists. Not because they don’t deserve it – not that at all. But because I want the chance to try for that as well. The chance to fail as well, I suppose, but at least to do so from the arena and not from the wings. If I fail I want it to be broken and bloody after a long fight and not before. And there’s a part of me that just wants someone to step forward and tell me what I need to do to get that.
Yet I know that’s not how it works. I know that, but sometimes it’s hard to accept. Sometimes it’s hard to get that down into my bones where the fire seems to be. Sometimes I just want to blaze incandescently rather than slowly turn up the dimmer. And sometimes I just want to douse the light, if only for a little bit.
In the end, it still comes down to me, and I know that the best thing I can do is to just focus on the work. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do. If one of my novels is in a holding pattern, I have to switch to another. It will take as long as it takes. These are things I tell myself repeatedly. Sometimes I even listen.
I suppose this is me whining. It feels a lot like whining. But it’s sometimes hard to be so close to something that it’s not something you do, it’s something you are. I hope I do it justice.