Out of the Ambition Room

I’ve been distracted. I have been smitten. I have allowed the seeming immediacy of another’s success catapult me into full-on frenzy.

It’s a frustrating thing to be unknown. It is terrible to work very hard, make a work public, and then have naught but a resounding mess of crushed crickets to show for the effort. Those poor crickets! They were the only greeting my book received. I heard them singing their little hearts out in the enclosed room of my ambition. It’s a lightless place, a nearly airless place. The Ambition Room is a dark and soul-devouring place.

In the dark, suffocating in the stale air of my dismay, I decided that I should have some say in how things went. I ran from wall to wall, pounding my fists against unresponsive concrete. I tweeted, I facebooked, I announced my Authorhood any place that would acknowledge me. I paid money for a week of New Release Promotion and got… more crickets. The walls in my Ambition Room were closing in and I ran in more erratic patterns, chasing ever-elusive and definitely unexpected desires. I set up a pay-per-click ad and while it’s been fun to design the copy, the $35 dollars worth of clicks I bought will last me the rest of my life at this click rate. I considered a dalliance with the Mechanical Turk, but luckily my ethics are stronger than my ambition. Yet even knowing there were limits to what I would try, I stayed walled up in my ambition. The crickets fell silent. I’d trampled them all; I’d made it so all I could hear was my own frustration, rebounding from the insect-slick walls. I didn’t bother looking for a door. It was obvious there was no way out.


Of course there is a way out. The Ambition Room is only as solid and as real as I choose to make it. The grasping need is a chimera born of misplaced care.

The emotional, intellectual, and metaphysical energy I poured into chasing ambition were wasted. All of that care was misplaced, badly directed, irrevocably spent. I spent time I could have spent writing trying to come up with The One Great Thing that would Sell My Book!

It’s funny, because when I published, I had hopes that my book would sell ten copies. That’s it. That is all I expected. I busted through that limit almost immediately. I’ve had positive reviews posted online, and multiple people I never expected to read or enjoy my book have done both. I broke my original best case many times over and it hasn’t even been three months.Yet, the small taste of having my work appreciated was the first brick in the wall of my Ambition Room.

I assure you: it is possible to wall yourself in.

I assure you: it is possible to get back out, but it will take admitting the extent of your anxiety, your fear of failure, and facing desires you never expected to have.

Soon my Ambition Room wasn’t big enough to hold the desperation of unquenched ambition. The raw, crushed-bug stench of it seeped into my daily life. I spouted non-stop MARKETING, ceaseless ADVERTISING. I wrote less and less. At the pinnacle of gnawing self-doubt, I contemplated making everything I ever write free, thinking that would rid me of the strange need to manipulate the timeline of my success, something which is out of my control. There be monsters, kraken, and dragons here! Not to mention the whole money thing; not the make-a-living thing, just the make-back-what-I-spent-to-produce-the-book thing. It didn’t matter that the one guaranteed way to raise visibility, the only way to get more reader notice is to … write more books! I was obsessed with my MARKETING plans. I was focused on my ADVERTISING  for the series I was only half-heartedly writing.

And then one morning Mr. Aniko said, “Why don’t you wait to do a big advertising launch when you have multiple books completed? Write first. Worry about marketing later.” My entire outlook shifted. The walls of my ambition didn’t so much crumble as disappear. I had allowed myself to get spun up about the accidental qualities – sales numbers, rankings, popularity (!) –  when what I really love is the Thing In-Itself, the Platonic form of writing. Sure, I want people to read and enjoy my books. But the numbers weren’t the focus until I made them the focus. Giving myself permission to restore my energies to writing changed everything. The tremendous block of pressure that stoppered my words was gone! I am proud to announce that after about a month of fumbling, I am within a couple thousand words of completing the second novel in my series. If it weren’t for my little trip to the Ambition Room, I would have met my deadline for completing both books by the end of April. As it is, I’ll be drawing that buggy to the finish line about a week late. I’m all right with that, because I’ve learned a valuable lesson: spend more time doing what it is I am meant to do, and less time worrying about getting people to find my books. Write to write. Let the books come into being, share the stories. Who knows? There may come a day when I long for the cricket’s lullaby.


I owe a big thank you to Marie Loughin for helping me find my way out of the Ambition Room. In a private email she helped me get my head on straight. Compounded with Mr. Aniko’s suggestion, her comments on social media and blog tours got me back to my writing desk.

I’ve also found it incredibly helpful to locate the blog of someone I admire, and then go back to the first post and read from there. If the blog was started before the person’s career took off, you get to see that the success she has now didn’t just happen.You get a sense of how much of a struggle, anxiety, and hard work went into “making it.”

Blooper Reel

Here’s are a couple of those pay-per-click ads that will last the rest of my life:














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30 thoughts on “Out of the Ambition Room

  1. I could hug you for this post, seriously. You mentioned earlier that you were writing a post about just what I’ve been experiencing, but I didn’t realize you’d hit it so succinctly. I think I’m going to make a visual version of my ambition room – drawing, photoshop, whatever – and hang it by my desk to remind me of what it does to me (makes me crazy). I’m definitely hanging on to this post for the crazy times, if nothing else.

    Oh and those ads are nothing to be ashamed of, that one with the pancakes is sheer AWESOME.


    • Thanks for being a cheerleader for my pancakes ad! I thought, what the hell, no one’s clicking the ones done in the ‘recommended’ style. I’m going to come up with another odd-ball ad this weekend, mostly for fun!

      I am glad that you found this post helpful. When you posted your thread yesterday, I sort of thought you might have taken a trip to the Ambition Room. I like the idea of making a visual version – if you feel up to sharing, that’d be cool, but I understand if not.

      Hope you have a wonderful and happy Friday!


    • Preachin’ to the choir, brother and sister! I have been struggling recently as well, but am pleased to be somewhat on the other side of (although still nursing a little ego bruising at many of the same things you discuss here). And I have a funny feeling that the good feelings will ebb again soon enough. And then flow again. But I think you’ve hit it on the head with the fact that regardless, the key is to just keep writing through it.

      I think that perhaps success is like love. It’s a lot harder to find when you’re looking too hard for it.

      Okay, so that wasn’t nearly as good as your metaphor (which was great, by the way).

      Paul D. Dail
      http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog


      • Paul, hello!

        Success is not something we get to decide for ourselves, one way or another. A lot of life is out of our control. How often and how well we write, how true we are to our own vision – those are things that are in our control. I read a great post by Lindsay Buroker where she suggests practicing a sense of gratitude whenever anyone finds our books. It’s an amazing thing we should be thankful for in any quantity, not just best-seller amounts. I get the sense that you are already doing that (zen kinda sparks off of you), but it was a good way of framing the idea for me.

        Thanks for stopping by – and I hope you have a lovely Saturday evening!


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  3. Mr. Aniko had some invaluable advice for you when he said, ““Why don’t you wait to do a big advertising launch when you have multiple books completed? Write first. Worry about marketing later.”

    Do what you love to do and write, write, write. THAT is what you are so good at. The business end can follow later!


  4. Excellent, Aniko! I should bookmark this and read it every week. And I love Jonathan’s idea of hanging a picture of your own personal ambition room above your desk.

    (If craziness attacks again, Aniko, next time cover the pancakes with blood. Bwahahahaha.)


  5. I love this post. A lot. A few months ago, I spent an unhealthy amount of time in my own ambition room. I’m so glad to break out of it.

    I’m also glad that I have a word for it now. Thank you for that!


    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post – thanks for the Tweet, too! Getting out of the Ambition Room is the best thing any of us can do for our writing. It’s tough, but once you realize that you are there by choice, and that the choice is sapping energy that could be put into writing, it gets easier to get out.


  6. Too many writers are spending time on promotion when they don’t have enough content to really promote. My rule of thumb is have at least three titles available before even spending any time on it.
    In traditional publishing, most people weren’t even published until their third manuscript.


    • Bob, thanks for stopping by!

      I get curious about new visitors, so I visited your blog. My father was career Army, which gave me some insight into the sacrifices a military man makes. Thank you for serving.

      I will heed your advice and knock it off with the constant fretting about advertising until I have at least two more published titles. Although I still think I’ll fiddle with the pay-per-click ads I already purchased. I’m having too much fun making them stranger and stranger to stop just yet!


  7. Mr. Aniko was dead on with his advice! You’re a writer because you love to write. Just keep doing that, build your library and your brand, and all that other stuff would come to you.


  8. I read about the success of a writer recently, and the interviewer asked what his ‘secrets’ were. The writer said it was not advertising or tweeting or blogging, just writing. He kept writing and kept putting his stuff out there. I guess he got off his hamster wheel and just got to it.
    Loved this post Aniko.
    It is so easy to get hooked into tweeting and everything else.
    I have to remember to KEEP WRITING.
    Thanks for the reminder 😉


    • I love what you write, so yes, please keep writing!

      If you look around at the majority of success stories, the people had a lot of hard work before they attained their success. I see this same pattern in the business world, in the acting/producing world, in writing. It’s all about finding what brings you joy, and then focusing on doing that. I believe that doing what you are meant to do is what will bring you the most happiness. Does it guarantee that we’ll all write best sellers? No. But at least it is a promise of intent, a sort of pledge to be true to the call. That is rewarded in ways beyond sales numbers. For me, I’ve found the reward to be in the relationships I’m building with others. This blog has become so much more than I ever thought it would be when I started it just to “build my author platform.” What semi-soft BS that is! I am no more building a platform than I am “building a platform” when I have an honest talk with a friend or when I help someone pick up the stack of papers that fell when that gust of wind caught her unaware. I’m just being me. And getting to know people. It’s been awesome… even if I got here under false pretenses!

      Hmmm, rambling a bit now….


  9. An apt and timely piece. My own research tells me that – one shot wonders aside – one needs a back catalogue of around 8-10 books before critical mass is (can be) achieved. Coupled with the enormous number of writers pushing novels, it is counter-productive to spend time marketing one book. A slow build would seem to be the way to go, but it demands patience. Good luck with your writing!


    • Thanks for stopping by, J.D. – and for following me on Twitter.

      I have found all of my attempts at advertising to be a waste of both time and money. The best and most rewarding activity I’ve found is to connect with people, focus on my writing, and take joy from the fact that I can decide what I publish, and when. That is a new luxury, hooray for the digital age! I can’t decide who will read my books or when, but at least I can make my work available on my terms and my timeline. It’s a pretty time to be a writer; much too pretty to spend locked away in a windowless ambition room!


    • Hello, Nick! I am so glad that my post is useful to you. I can’t take too much credit, as the good advice came from Mr. Aniko, but it’s good to know that I’ve managed to help. None of us should be prisoner to our own ambitions, but I found it very difficult to recognize the phenomena for what it was.

      Many thanks for the comment and for the Twitter follow!


  10. I so LOVE this post hun! It is something I have been wrestling with lately too…the internet, social media, building a brand steals so much of our valuable writing time. At one stage I felt such pressure to blog but after taking a break at the beginning of this year from blogging, I got back to the nitty gritty of writing. We are writers first and foremost and writing is what we need to be doing more than anything. Big Hugs! – KK x


    • Kim, yes, I agree – there is such pressure to be everywhere, doing everything. Twitter, blogging, Facebook, trying different advertising tactics all take time. I have found Twitter to be a great place to meet other writers, and blogging an excellent and useful way to build my internet presence. Everything else has been less than useful.

      Thanks for stopping by – and sorry my spam filter ate your comment for a day or so!


      • Before social media, we writers were told to read. Read all the new releases, all the classics, outside of genre as well as inside. I didn’t even try. (i’m a slow reader. I also like to chew before swallowing.) Instead, I tried to choose my reading selection wisely.

        We were alo told to watch all of the popular television to get an idea of what people liked.

        Now we are told to interact on twitter, Facebook, Goodread, Librarything, linkedin, and Pinterest. Oh, and write a blog.

        No one mentions the reading thing anymore.


      • Oh, wow. Excellent point, Marie. The focus has shifted from the activity of enriching the writer to hawking the writer’s wares. Instead of reading to become better writers, or reading to engage in the historical conversation novels represent, we are exhorted to SELL, MARKET, ADVERTISE. It’s a siren’s call, this idea of being a best seller, but one that more often than not, leads to the Ambition Room.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marie!


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