On Ambition

Earlier this summer I took a survey where I was asked whether I was a professional writer. The survey’s definition of professional was whether I made my living as a writer. I sat and thought about it for a few minutes. I do not write for a living. I do not earn money from my writing. I succeed at my jobs (teacher, editor, tutor) because of what I know from writing. Although I have not published a book, I believe I am a professional-level writer. My work has been published in journals and anthologies. I have had residencies, readings, and panels (although not AWP, thanks for nothing).

Doubt strikes me at strange times. After almost 20 years (god I’m old) of writing seriously, by which I mean writing with the idea of seeking a broader audience than my notebook, I no longer doubt my ability to write. I don’t always write well, but I know I can eventually get something somewhere that is at a professional level. There was a call recently for panels for a local literature festival. And I drew a blank.

“C’mon, submit!” said DP.

“What would I submit?” I asked. He listed three things that I know quite a bit about.

“I don’t know,” I said and I let it pass.

Maybe it was self-doubt, maybe it was the hassle of coming up with something coherent. I knew I could figure out a way to tackle any of those three things DP mentioned, but I didn’t.

In my vacation from The Fucker, I’ve started to read and write poetry again. Hi poetry! I have missed you! You can be so much more impersonal than a memoir. You have music. Reading Heterotopia I’m struck once again at the intelligence it takes to steer the reader into new territory and yet have them learn what you want them to learn.

I think I’m writing a new poetry book, because the old one never got published. I think I’m going back to the twenty-three-year-old in the coffeeshop by the railroad tracks eating a chocolate chip muffin, trying to write poems. I’m going to take everything I learned slaving over the Fucker and by god I’m going to get a book to send out to contests. Again.

Fail better.

What are your ambitions?

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3 responses to “On Ambition

  1. I’ve been thinking about ambition so much recently. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof. I badly want to care about seeing my work published and out in the world and successful, but it just doesn’t seem to matter to me the way it’s supposed to. I think I lack the courage to be truly ambitious with my work. It’s so much safer to be a turtle, you know?

  2. Pingback: Syllabus Plot Treatment | Fangs and Clause

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