On Not Letting Ambition Take Over

From Writer Unboxed:

When I was young, writing didn’t feel mysterious or difficult. I wasn’t curious about other writers’ processes, or searching for the “best” way to develop a story. Writing was just putting pen to paper and seeing what came out. It was a way to pass the time contentedly. It was a way to explore my own mind — what I was curious about, what I remembered, what I longed for.

As I grew older, writing started to feel more Important, both for better and for worse. Writing became a source of pride, because pretty much everyone said I was good at it. But it also became a goal, transforming into a sort of ideal, something farther away and less concrete. Like the difference between the air I had always breathed, and the blue sky way above me, out of reach. Supposedly they were both made of the same stuff, but they felt so distant and different from each other. Suddenly I had to look up and strive.

Put another way: the writing I was doing at the moment didn’t seem to matter as much as the writing I would do in the future, and what that writing could mean. Not mean to me, so much as mean for me. Or mean to other people. Would they like it? Would they think I was talented? Would they pay me for it? Could I build a career? Could I even — dare I say it, dare I dream it — become rich and/or famous?

Ambition can be a powerful motivation, but it can also be a vise, squeezing out passion and creativity. The key, as usual, is to find the right balance for yourself.

So my journey over the past several years has been one of going back in order to better go forward. More and more, I’m trying to return to the girl I once was, sitting in a quiet corner of my parents’ office, scribbling stories for myself. Using the page and my imagination to explore the world around me, as well as the world within.

Because there are the feelings we put in our writing, and then there are the feelings we have when we’re writing. When I was young, I took the latter for granted. I didn’t realize how valuable that inner state was to me, or to the creative process, until it had turned so feeble, so vulnerable. So tortured by all the ambitions I hadn’t managed to fulfill that I could barely appreciate the ones I had.

. . . .

This is part of why I think it’s important to have a good support network. And to check in with yourself periodically. Write a mission statement or a vision statement. Keep a journal. Stick post-it notes on the wall in front of your desk. Set reminders on your phone. Whatever it takes to redirect your energy away from outcomes that you can’t control (such as fame or fortune) and keep you rooted in creativity — in exploration and connection.

Connection in particular has been a strong grounding force for me in recent times. Since becoming a mother, and then living through this pandemic, much of the writing that has been most meaningful to me is the writing I’ve done privately, in service of the bonds between myself and my friends and family. A personal blog to chronicle the ups and downs and all-arounds of my two children’s lives. A note of love and support to a colleague battling cancer. A fun little card to someone I’ve known peripherally for many years but am finally becoming closer to. A heartfelt message to an old friend after the passing of his mother.

Despite the small audience — or perhaps in part because of the intimacy? — the way I feel when writing these things is like a light leading me back to my purest self. 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed