Wednesday, 21 March 2012

M'wha ha ha ha ha

As I step up the pace of publicising book five (Twenty Twelve), prior to its fast approaching release date, I end up answering the same questions again and again.
Actually, that's not as bad as it sounds.
At least that way I know that a. this is something people might feasibly be interested to hear about (unlike the time I somehow got into a discussion on the radio about making chutney. Especially tortuous as I have never attempted making any type of preserve and was thus unable to offer any practical advice on the perfect chilli jam or indeed even able to offer a 'hilarious' anecdote about a failure) and b. I've had enough practice to make my sound bites short and hopefully sweet. Or at least not coma-inducing a la chutney-chat.
Anyhow, this week I was asked something that hasn't come up before; am I ambitious?
Now there's a loaded question if ever there was one.
The simple answer of course is yes. Abso-bloody-lutely. In fact, I make Lady Macbeth look directionless.
But I couldn't say that. Somehow here in the UK at least, ambition is seen as A Bad Thing. It's become all mixed up with ruthlessness and kids on The Apprentice trampling over one another in an attempt to work for Alan I'm-not-really-in-business-anymore Sugar.
If you admit to being ambitious you need a bit of space and time to explain. Which I have here, so I will.
To me, ambition is a goal. And that goal is way outside the comfort zone. It's a goal that to achieve, you're going to need to stretch yourself like elastic. It's going to be hard. It might even hurt.
For a writer this might mean setting yourself the goal of being read by as many readers as possible, forcing you to do publicity you might not be comfortable with or at the very least using up time you can ill afford.
It might mean setting yourself the goal of writing something totally out of register. A different structure, a different medium or a different voice.
It might even mean allowing someone else to read your work for the first time. Which I remember as being one of the scariest things I'd ever done - and I've given birth to twins!
See, being a writer takes a lot of chutzpah. Only the strongest and most ambitious survive.
So move over, sharp elbowed author coming through...

9 comments:

Rin said...

My ex-husband would always tell me I wasn't ambitious because I didn't aspire to 'the top'. But I reckon I was more ambitious than him - because my goal was (and is) to enjoy every day, which is a much higher target. So yes, I left my well-paid, well-respected job as a women's editor to freelance, taking a cut in both pay and so-called 'status' - but I never dread going to work these days.

Gillian McDade said...

I totaly agree, Helen. Ambition is indeed a goal. I don't see it in the business sense though, more a sort of personal writing achievement and aspiring to be the best in the field if that makes sense. Oh, and learning something new every day too. I set myself goals to do that.

Rosy T said...

Exactly, Gillian. It's very British, isn't it - to see ambition as something private to keep quiet about - like any other kind of personal itch? But we shouldn't admit to ambition - unless we appear pushy, or, worse, be seen to fail!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Many's the time I've argued about ambition. I am ambitious - always have been. The difference between this and the 'ambition' of the apprentices is that for me, ambition is about expansion and extension and aspiring towards excellence. Not trampling over others in order to look good, or 'win'. No wonder ambition has become a dirty word.
Susiex

N.Scott said...

'To me, ambition is a goal. And that goal is way outside the comfort zone.'

You readjusted me with these words. Like a chiropractor, this very simple and true statement has provided me a sense of direction and relief. For some reason it never occurred to me that my immense discomfort is not, in fact, a sign of impending failure but rather part of the journey. Thank you.

BJ Kerry said...

Hi Helen
Best of luck with Twenty Twelve. I am wondering if you have seen Sally Quillers post about restrictions on using references to the Olympics in fiction. It sounds like madness but apparently its true!
(http://quillersplace.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/want-to-write-about-the-olympics-this-year-think-again/)

Helen Black said...

BJ, I mentioned possible problems to my editor ages ago when my husband (a lawyer) flagged it up.

They told me everyhting was cool.

Hmmm. We'll see.
HB x

Caroline Green said...

Really enjoyed reading this. Is very interesting because as well as the British thing, almost seems to clash with the whole 'delicate author starving in a garrett' thing too.

Debs Riccio said...

Is chutzpah a bit like chutney?