Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part Two

Last time I posted to the Water Cooler, I discussed some of the ways that having dreams and aspirations can affect you in a positive way.

CliffWSThis post I’d like to look at some possible dangers of having ambition.

Dangers of Aspirations:

1. Assuming it’s God’s will.

I’ve had authors so single focused, so full of energy and passion, that they interpret this to mean “It’s God’s will that I write for publication.” I’m not the end-all expert on God’s will, but I don’t believe it is simply feeling passionate about something. Yes, feeling passionate about a cause or a new adventure makes you feel alive, but so does war. The men from Band of Brothers who have written books say, “Never have I felt so alive as when I was in battle.” An activity may get your heart moving and leave you with an adrenaline high, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily God’s will.

2. Overly ambitious writers won’t always listen to counsel.

So many authors have come my way and said, “God told me to write this.” Or, “This will sell millions of copies because these are God’s words.” Too many to count. The danger in this approach is that writers begin to feel their manuscript is so divinely inspired that it would be almost a sin for an agent or editor to suggest changes to it.

Having aspirations without seeking and listening to wise counsel will often lead to a big waste of weeks, months, even years. So if you’re a writer, you must temper your aspirations with the reality of counsel. If everyone who isn’t a family member says your baby is ugly, it likely is.

The best writers are the ones who seek out critique groups, writing partners, and then when they strike gold (they finally get a professional writer or agent to look at their work) they listen. And when they hit the mother lode by finding a publisher, they should realize how much God can use these professional partners to make their work even better.

3. Overwhelm those not sharing the train you are on, going in your direction.

People with writing aspirations can be overwhelming in their single-mindedness. They feel they somehow need this to accomplish something of value. If you’re one who says, “I have to write. I cannot NOT write,” be careful of those around you. They don’t understand. (Unless they are writers, too!)

Aspirations that lead to the neglect of people you love most (for more than a few weeks when you’re on a deadline) are probably not from God. They are more likely from your own need to find significance in having published something with your name on it.

I became an agent because I was faced with a choice. I had written 15 books, had a big platform in youth ministry, and came to a crossroads: Do I write and speak and try to be more famous? Or do I stay involved in the process of books (which I loved) and be able to hang out with my own two young sons instead of other people’s kids? I made the right choice and never looked back.

If aspirations aren’t in balance with your family goals, then I’d question if they are God’s will for you.

To keep ambitions and aspirations from turning into obsessions, they need to be:

• Tempered with counsel, prayer, balance.
• Put up against the harvest of fruit.

If something you’re pursuing doesn’t seem to be yielding the desired results, then there is a good chance that this aspiration may be a stepping stone to a bigger aspiration God has in mind for you. I’ve discovered that most of our lives have a building block-like history to them that makes sense as you reach the middle or near the end of your story.

My biggest revelation on aspirations is that they must be tied to a soul, especially the souls of those you love.

Aspire to feed your family. Writing for money isn’t a bad thing. If publishers hadn’t paid C.S. Lewis to write Chronicles of Narnia, who knows if he would have written it.

Aspire to make a dent for God’s Kingdom. Great. We all want to live our lives for something that will outlast us.

But make sure your ambitions and aspirations are always tied closely to the souls of those whom God has put into your life. In other words, how is your calling to write also blessing those nearest to you?

What about you? What have you done to keep your aspirations from becoming an obsession?

How I Really Landed a Book Contract

BlackberriesAs a child visiting the family homestead, I went on numerous blackberry-picking adventures with my Missouri cousins. Toting buckets, we ventured deep into woods thick with brambles while keeping an eye out for iron pyrite nuggets to load down our pockets.

We returned, hours later, to be met by Aunt Ethel and her various soaps and ointments. Despite our bites and bugs and itches, we had little to show for our efforts but purple stains on our face and hands. I still remember the taste of sun-warmed berries cramming my mouth, handful by greedy handful. I remember, too, the sting of berry juice in the long red welts I collected.

Exchanging pain for sweetness seemed a reasonable trade to me as a child. I’m more circumspect now.

My life as a writer has had its share of thorns. I’ve tried hard to make my dreams come true, which means that I’ve gathered my share of rejections. When my golden moment finally came, and I held a contract for my first nonfiction book in my hand, it seemed surreal.

The contract fell through.

Looking back with the knowledge I have now, I probably had a lucky escape from a disreputable offer. As I learned in my childhood, all that glitters may be fool’s gold.  I knew none of this then. All I understood was that I had held my dream in my hands and watched it crumble to nothing.

I gave up writing. For life. If I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail again. My scratches wouldn’t have to sting.

But I tasted no sweetness either.

Years went by and still I did not write. Had I not made time for daily devotions, I might not have returned to writing at all. I prayed to understand God’s plan for my life, and a funny little question formed in the back of my mind: I’m not supposed to be writing, now am I? I pushed the irritating thought away, but it returned. No matter how I tried to ignore the idea, it would not be stilled. To appease my conscience, I gave lip service to writing again but avoided doing so. And when several people invited me to join the same writing group, Northwest Christian Writers (NCWA), I expressed an interest but put it off.

And then, one morning while in prayer, I surrendered my fears to God.

At the first NCWA meeting I attended, I felt lost. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were doing while I had no plans beyond showing up at meetings. After several months, I’d identified a goal. I would finish writing the epic fantasy series I’d abandoned so many years ago. This January I signed a contract with Harbourlight Books for publication of DawnSinger and WayFarer, the first novels in my Tales of Faeraven series.

In risking the thorns again, I’ve learned to approach my desires with more caution. I no longer have writing ambitions; I have a calling to write, something altogether different. Although I’ve attained it, my first goal is no longer publication, but rather to tell my stories with truth and grace. If I succeed in this, I’ve accomplished a different and better dream, one that’s worth a few scratches.