Friday, September 26, 2014

A is for Ambition, E is for Envy

Fall is here. My favorite season -- in part because it means that with the end of summer heat, humidity, and bright early morning sunlight, I can finally get a good night's sleep again. When I sleep well, I dream deeply. Years ago in college, I participated in a research study that brought together “vivid dreamers” from all over the country. As defined by those researchers, vivid dreamers are aware that they are dreaming and able to manipulate the events in their dream. They dream in color and in detail. My guess is that a significant percentage of writers are vivid dreamers.

Last night I had my first vivid dream of the fall season. I was sitting in the back of a classroom. I knew I was the teacher -- it was my class. But I didn't know what the class was or recognize the classroom or the students. A young woman was making a presentation. She was confident and brilliant. To illustrate whatever it was she was talking about, she picked up a big piece of white chalk and begin to draw on the blackboard. Both chalk and board were out of place in this modern classroom. But as I was thinking this, I realized that she was drawing an elaborate picture. I got up and walked to the front of the classroom to look more closely. She finished what she was saying. As I was praising her presentation, another student said in mournful tones, "We can't compete with that." I said, "Don't worry. She's an outlier. You don't have to compete." The class ended -- with students simply getting up and leaving. As I headed back to my office, the elevator wasn't working. I found a rickety ladder and begin to climb to where I was trying to go. I got to a balcony and looked over. People I vaguely recognized continued to chat as they observed my awkward attempt to climb over the railing and join them.

My alarm clock went off. I woke up -- and started laughing. The dream was so obvious, it was ridiculous. My new book (What the Fly Saw) is coming out in March. March is coming really fast -- much faster than back in May when it seems an incredibly long time away. Now, I'm moving into that season of anxiety and delight that all writers experience before their new arrival. The reviews are coming. Readers will decide if they want to buy a book I sweated blood to write. And with the publishing season in full swing, I've been reading about best-selling writers with new books just released or coming out in the next few months. Obviously, that little voice in my head has been asking how I can compete with writers who are not only talented but have "star power".

"A" is for "Ambition" and "E" is for "Envy". In the Greek myths and Shakespeare, ambition and envy lead to tragedy. But -- post-dream analysis -- I'm leaning toward the argument that neither is bad in itself. For writers -- as for people in other occupations -- ambition and envy can get up motivated. I don't really want to be a celebrity writer. I suspect that must be pretty exhausting. But I do want to "climb the ladder" by writing better. I want more readers and glowing reviews. The ambitious me -- peeping out from behind the reserved me -- can learn from those writers I envy. I don't need their star power. What I need is their dedication to clarity. They work hard at showcasing who they are and what they do well. I can do that.

Message to my dream self -- stop whining and have another look at your marketing plan. What can you do better?

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