Ambitious Enough

At some point in the last year or so, I stopped writing at the desk in my studio.

The move to the couch or the kitchen table was certainly a matter of convenience in the beginning. My sisters have each stayed with me for a period of 12 weeks, and each of them occupied the spare bedroom that doubles as my creative space.

Having a curious puppy also became an excuse to vacate the studio. Tilly’s curiosity often led her under beds and behind dressers and into all the places a puppy shouldn’t be, like my studio. So even when there wasn’t a sister in residence, I became accustomed to shutting the door and staying out of the room.

And then I reasoned, isn’t that why I bought a laptop? So that I could write anywhere?

But if I traced it back, I have a suspicion that my habit of writing in the more central places of my home, the places where food was prepared and television watched and guests welcomed, became firmly entrenched about the time I gave up my ambition.

Only real writers need studios and desks. The rest of us can make do with a laptop on the coffee table.

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I’ve been ambitious in the worst sense of the word at times.

With a little stoking of encouragement, the flame of my ambition has grown into an out-of-control blaze. I have spent hundreds of hours online looking for opportunities, trying to make connections, concocting plans to become a successful, full-time writer. I studied the habits of other writers, envied their spouses’ incomes that gave them freedom to build a career, and cursed the stingy muses that gave all the good stories to other people.

At some point, rightly, I evaluated my life realistically, adding up my monthly costs and researching the payout for the kinds of freelance writing I wanted to do. Already, the two columns were disproportionate.

Then, I remembered my sordid health history, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical claims that insurance companies have paid on my behalf over the past 10 years. No one would write an individual health insurance policy for a cancer survivor.

And if I were a hungry writer, would I have any more time to write what I wanted to than I do now? Or would my need to make money always keep me looking at the market, writing whatever would sell?

Was it ambitious of me to want to make money writing? If so, was that ambition wrong? When I finally decided that I would never be a full-time writer and would be content getting up early or writing after work, was I lacking ambition? If so, was lacking ambition wrong?

And what about all the accountants and doctors and teachers and lawyers and nurses and data analysts in the world? Did anyone think it was ambitious of them to ask for a salary for their work?

Is it too late for me to become an accountant?

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I left for the Festival of Faith and Writing last week happy with my position as a part-time writer and eager to make connections to encourage others rather than myself. I had prayed that the old selfish ambition would not rise up in my soul, and the Lord answered that prayer as I made it a priority to build relationships over creating opportunities for myself.

When I saw there was a session at the end of the first day on ambition, I decided to go, as much as for the opportunity to hear Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker, as for the topic. I had ambition under control, after all. Or so I thought.

When Jeanne said, “I want to make work good enough to honor the Creator who made me, not to build an empire or a reputation,” I nodded approvingly. Wasn’t that what I was doing by accepting my lot in life?

But then this, “If we understood that our words come from above us and the enormity of creative power that’s available to us, we might be MORE ambitious in the best sense of the word.”

More ambitious. Not less.

And I knew that message was for me. Not that I need to return to the desperate, hungry need to make a name for myself. But I do need to remember who has called me to this writing I do, who has gifted me, and whose Great Name I honor when I do my best.

My current lack of ambition might be as much of a problem as my previous over-ambitiousness.

It’s not like I have lacked any ambition in the past year or so. I’ve been on a Master Writer journey, studying those who are ahead of me to fine tune my craft. I have had goals to do more writing beyond just blogging. And in many ways, freeing myself of the pressure to make money in writing has made my voice stronger.

But I want to know about ambition in the best sense of the word, as Jeanne described. I want to remember what it feels like to fight for a calling, to make room for it in my schedule.

In other words, I’m writing at my desk again.

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Since most of us attending the Festival of Faith and Writing are, after all, writers, we are all processing our experiences by doing what we do best: writing. My new friend, Kristin Tennant, whom I met for the fist time this weekend, wrote a wonderful response about her experiences at the conference:  The Writer vs Fear. Go read this!

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.