Balancing Love and Ambition
This is a very important question, I think. My basic answer was the one I always come back to–the dreams I have about getting published are impossible to guarantee, so if I’m not loving what I’m doing (at least overall!), I’m in big trouble.
But I think my answer there is a bit too simplistic. Because, yes, I do have the dreams. I think most of us do. The dreams about getting published–whether it’s via agent/traditional publishing house or by way of our own self-publishing journey. We want to see our book in print, on a shelf that isn’t our own, in the hands of other readers than our family & critique group (as wonderful as they all are!). We want to know that someone else thinks it’s good.
As I said, there are no guarantees of this dream. We can work and work and grow our craft, strengthen our skills, revise our little hearts out, and still…we may still “just” be writing. Which is, I believe, the important part–at least for my happiness.
I also believe, though, that while I try to rest in the joy of the writing act, I need to take as many steps as I can to forward the dream–or to put it in more practical terms, to push my ambition. It’s actually hard for me to think of myself as an ambitious person–it brings up visions, for me, of having to become seriously competitive, to work past my emotional limit-switches, to put aside other things in life that are important to me. I have to remind myself that ambition can be a good thing, that it can hold us to a level of commitment that we need to grow, that it can bring out a professionalism in ourselves that can supplement what we’re learning about the art of writing.
I can read blogs to find out what’s happening in the market. I can make sure that a decent % of the books I read are recent publications. I can attend conferences and take webinars that teach me both craft and strategy. I can, obviously, continue to turn out chapters and send them to my critique group and really listen to their revision suggestions. I can think as I write, trying to feed what I’ve learned in the past few years into the story, so that I don’t just sit, too comfortably, at the same writing level I was back then.
So, yes, there are times when a publication goal seems so far away as to be overwhelming, scary or depressing enough to threaten our writing brains with shut-down. There are times when focusing on what we’re “supposed” to do can poison our ability to find the truth in the story. There are times when we have to pull the shade over that future vision and just write. And then there are times to look ahead, dream, and do something about it.
Jordan is absolutely right–writing without the joy is bloodless. I don’t believe that for me, that approach would ever bear fruit. The trick, I think (hope!), is finding the balance. And, somehow, staying sane as we go for it all.