Well, I have to say I’m blown away by the thoughtfulness restraint and generosity of the conversation about my post “Inclusion.” Folks were willing to express their opinions when they were uncertain of what the response might be – that’s bravery. And when people disagreed, even when they felt that such a disagreement spoke to opinions they held dear, everyone maintained a high level of decorum and respect for the opposing point of view. That’s civility.
So thank you to everyone who made the discussion of “Inclusion” so entertaining and thought-provoking, so brave, and so civil. I have to say that it was way more than I’d imagined when I put down the Horn Book and started to type!
Thus I am learning about blogging. And doubtless making mistakes as I go. So thanks for not only bearing with me, but carrying me along on the currents of discussion.
All of which (now that I’m done being intimidated by it) has me thinking about Ambition and Goals and the relationship between the two. Goals seem like rooms unto themselves: they can be relatively small, clear, and easily defined. Ambitions seem like larger constructions with roofs expanded by things like hope and idealism, their pillars carved out of flawed veins of confidence. Their foundations often erected without conscious thought.
I don’t think I knew enough to have a capital “A” ambition for my blog, beyond opening up a line of conversation with folks who share my interest in writing and thinking. Plus, the fact is that I had an “Arthur’s Blog” button on my website for YEARS without actually writing anything. And what got me going, finally, was narrowing the scope for myself to a goal: to write something once a week. (Oops, off track on goal already!!!)
I am exploring the idea in my head (and through my fingers as I type) that one is most effective when there is a balance between these two things – Ambitions and Goals. And that each endeavor one might want to do in life calls for one or the other to be more prominent.
I’ve always wanted to play the guitar, for instance. I mean, I’ve wanted to play the guitar since I was ELEVEN. And I even took lessons at camp that summer, learning “Eleanor Rigby” and “The Times They Are a Changin’”. But for some reason, I guess I wasn’t satisfied with my progress at the time. And I felt that I’d already sworn my allegiance to the clarinet, on which I was a grizzled two-year veteran. So I decided that it was “too late” to start playing a second instrument, and I dropped it. Remarkably, I have been able to make this same absurd mistake half a dozen times in my life without ever learning anything. Including how to play the guitar.
Finally, I am learning again. And I think the key for me has been to lessen the Ambition (“I want to play WELL. I want to be like those wonderfully soulful, shaggy, guys who can transform a campfire or a party.”) And to focus on a GOAL.
The goal now is to practice every day. Another goal, just behind that, is to be able to change from the D-chord to the C-chord without hesitating.
The ambition was stifling me; even for something as private and inconsequential as learning to play the guitar.
On the other hand, I think my inability to finish the novel I’ve been wanting to write for fifteen years may have more to do with a LACK of ambition on my part.
I have tried many techniques for writing this novel. I had a terrific writers’ group at one point; the other two members have gone on and published the wonderful projects they were working on. For our monthly meetings I would dutifully produce some new material, taking various writers’ good advice and shining my headlights a few yards in front of me, meeting my short-term goals, having faith that eventually I would reach my destination, even though I’d spent the entire trip in the dark.
Instead I ran out of gas. Repeatedly.
I made another leap of progress last summer at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference, sitting in a workshop led by the writer Linda Urban, who was talking about figuring out what the SPINE of one’s novel was. I was sitting next to my pal Ben Watson and he was dutifully scribbling notes and I thought, oh what the heck, let me try this, and BAM! I’d written the “spine” of my novel down on paper and in fact had outlined the whole flippin’ thing! In 45 minutes!!
If I ever actually write this durned novel I’ll have to thank Linda. But so far…well, nothing much has gotten done. It just feels too big, too hard, too overwhelming. And the idea of driving in the dark with my headlights, trusting that I’ll get the whole distance a few yards at a time? Well, that just feels like…driving in the dark with my headlights. Only I’m driving, with a splittin headache, on a wildly twisting, narrow mountain road with no guardrail and a treacherous rocky gulch yawning on my right. And since I don’t know where I’m going, really, I might find that the road ends suddenly. At the edge of a cliff.
I just have this suspicion that I have to psyche myself up to an AMBITION of some sort if I’m ever going to get over this terror. And I don’t think the ambition has to be: “I want to win the Pulitzer Prize.” But it might have something to do with having some Ambition to be a writer at all. At all.
Maybe if I find an ambition for this novel (or for myself as a novelist) that feels reasonable, I’ll be able to construct goals that lead up to it, and which don’t feel futile. Maybe. I’m trying this train of thought out. (Publicly. LOL.)
Is Ambition the thing that gives one confidence and energy? Or the thing that allows you to persevere when you have neither? Or do we working writers simply need something to push writing high enough on the priority list so that it gets done after wage-earning and parenting, attending to friendships and physical issues – all the (other) needs of the heart and the body?
I do think this relationship between an appropriate ambition and well-thought out goals is key in so many endeavors. Once I talked to a fitness trainer about an ambition I had to become someone who could take his shirt off at the beach unselfconsciously. He wisely told me that the part of my body I’d have to change to accomplish that was the brain, and he probably couldn’t help me with that. Ironically, he did. When I focused on a more attainable Ambition I was able to attach smaller fitness goals to it, and make progress.
As an editor and publisher I also have both Ambition and Goals. The Ambition is to leave a legacy of great books for young people that I’ve helped shepherd to their readership. The goals? Those are clear too when I step back from them: Find great authors and illustrators. Read their work. Give them feedback. Meet production deadlines. Inspire the rest of my company to get behind those books. Yet, to be honest, very often the actual workday is too hectic and out of my control to beat it into a shape that supports those goals efficiently.
Which may just mean that in the case of my work as a Publisher, I need to define my daily goals with greater vigor and rigidity.
It’s worth a shot!
And now…I have an editorial letter to finish! (My goal for the day!)