When I started writing I had no plans of any kind. I just wrote whatever seemed exciting or interesting. I didn’t know anything about how to do this and that, how people liked to put stories together and then take them apart, whether it was somehow significant in the world to choose one kind of thing over another. No idea.
Writing on its own felt fun. If I finished a little story I liked to show it to my parents and, of course, they were very complimentary. Success! I had fulfilled the whole dream and I was satisfied on pretty much a daily basis.
Then I got older. School happened. English Literature class happened. I saw that there were a lot of expectations of people who wrote stories. I saw that there was a possibility of being some kind of very great thing that people thought was the bees knees, or at least very very valuable in some way. I saw that the bar for success here was very, very high.
So I got the ambition to be published, but, on the way to that my ambition started to eat up that lesser ambition. I wanted to be on a par with the classics. Meanwhile I got published. Then I started to understand what a classic is, and what a ‘great writer’ is. I realised that it wasn’t in my control to be a great writer, because other people bestow that accolade and anyway, they didn’t have such good lives. Also, I didn’t like a lot of their work. But I kept quiet about that.
Meanwhile as that ambition faded I felt another one assert itself, one which had been there early on but which I had not recognised was an actual ambition, when I thought that only publication and money and reviews were ambitions. This ambition was to change the world and everyone in it to become better. I wanted to be a great writer so that I would be able to write something that would change people for the better because everywhere they are causing themselves a lot of misery. This spurred me on a good while.
Then I understood, recently, that I cannot achieve that ambition. I don’t even know what my books and stories mean to other people. I am sometimes not sure what they mean to me other than that I am attempting to embody some realities in which a certain kind of thing is happening. I felt completely exhausted by the realisation, my bubble burst. I realised that it was a stupid ambition and I felt a fool for ever thinking it was something I could do. Even in several lifetimes I would not be good enough for this task. Most writers, even great ones, at best are able to reflect human life accurately in some way. A few are enriching. A few are life-changing, but only because at the time you read them they are just the thing you needed to push you further on. So it was an accident, nearly.
I did nothing while I questioned my entire purpose. But I have returned to it and nothing has changed. I am not better, more able. I am committed to the same hopes and dreams, but I know they are only dreams. I know there is not going to be a success story and I’m not even sure that what I do has value other than to me. I can’t do it because nobody could do it, but now I know that the journey is different. It’s better now. I don’t have that horrible anxiety eating away at me that I must hurry on, hurry on, try harder, do more.
But my ambition is enough to last forever and, as a hopeful focus it’s the best one I ever found. I may not fulfil it, but I am fulfilled by pursuing it.