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