Jessica Knoll, whose debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive I absolutely loved, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times recently in which she unabashedly talked about her ambition, how she wanted to not only be a writer but to be a successful one; that she wanted to make as much money as she possibly could from her writing. Called “I Want to Be Rich and I’m Not Sorry” (you can read it here), I thought it was terrific. I thought it was lovely to hear a writer talk about how much they wanted or desired success in their chosen field; I also thought it was interesting to read about how she had always been underestimated because she was a woman; that somehow success isn’t expected for women; and that women are often not only talked out of ambition but derided, mocked, and shamed for having it. It was kind of refreshing, honestly; I also loved reading an author talking, unashamed, about wanting to be successful and make money at writing–as much money as possible.
The comments on the piece were mostly, not surprisingly, negative; everything she talked about in the essay were right there in the comments, posted without any sense of irony by the posters: I’m also a woman writer but I’m looking for books to read that have something to say. I won’t be reading yours.
Oh, the pearl-clutching.
It’s been a while since I read Luckiest Girl Alive, but I do remember it having a lot to say; about class, about success, about being a woman, about dealing with public shame and then trying to insulate yourself from pain and suffering by marrying a successful man and shielding yourself behind his money. The book carried two time-lines: the present day, where the main character was planning her wedding to a wealthy man while filming a documentary about what happened to her back in high school, flashing back to her high school experience and everything that led up to the subject of the documentary. I thought it was rather well done.
I’ve never understood this mentality that writers shouldn’t want to make money from their work; that somehow wanting to be financially successful somehow lessens what we do, somehow makes our work somehow less important; that we shouldn’t, somehow, want to make a living writing. I guess we’re all supposed to hold down full time jobs and treat it as a hobby, carving out some spare time here and there to pursue making art simply for the joy of doing so. I spoke the other day about how my primary sense of self, my primary identity, is author, and I wouldn’t quite know what to do with myself if I wasn’t able to write, if I wasn’t able to publish, if I wasn’t able to keep my writing career going. I do know how awful last year was when I wasn’t really writing, when I wasn’t able to commit to anything, when I stayed away from the computer and the open word documents and kept the word files closed; it fucked with my mind, it fucked with my self-confidence (always shaky, at best) and it was horribly unpleasant. This year I am writing again, and back to berating myself for not spending every spare moment working on something; I’ve written a ridiculous amount this year and yet at the same time, I’m not all that much closer to finishing the Scotty novel or the draft of the WIP as I should be. I find myself being easily distracted by writing short stories, with ideas for new ones popping into my head all the time–thank God for my journal, and thank God for remembering that was a key component of my writing for years, jotting down notes and ideas and thoughts before they slipped away inside my mind–and even now, this morning, I should be working on either Chapter Twelve of Royal Street Reveillon or the WIP, and am doing neither; have already thought about simply cleaning and reading more short stories, avoiding the work that needs to be done, despite knowing that actually doing it will make me happy and feel satisfied.
I am frequently my own worst enemy.
So, bearing that in mind, and bearing in mind Jessica Knoll’s op-ed, I am going to embrace my ambition. I am going to do whatever it is I need to do to become more successful, to reach for every brass ring that I can.
The only thing stopping me is, after all, me.
And bearing that in mind, I shall now bring this to a close.