distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

On Chasing Ambition and Being a Girl and a Woman

I sometimes look around and realize I’m living a strange life—well, “strange” by the standards of what a woman in her thirties (I refuse to say the number out loud or write it down) might be living. I haven’t given my mom grandchildren. Every time I see her and I think of her with her friends who all have grandchildren, I feel a pang of guilt—even though she assures me she wants me just the way I am and that I’ve given her two “grandchildren” so far: Dani Noir and Imaginary Girls, with a third on the way this coming winter.

I don’t feel the need or desire to have children. It’s just not in me to be someone’s mother; there’s no biological clock in there, and I’ve tried to listen for it. No ticking. I say I don’t want children every single time I go to doctor visits, because they keep asking. But I also know they’ll stop asking me soon. My window is soon closing, and I’m fine with that.

I’m not such a successful grown-up either. I haven’t bought a house or an apartment—and I will never be able to do that. In fact, I own nothing of value at all. I’m married, but I don’t fit the standard definition of “wife” —I don’t cook; I barely clean; I don’t even do my own laundry. In fact, sit down because you might find this too romantic—I got married to give my boyfriend health insurance after he finished grad school. I took a personal day from work, we went to City Hall, and the next day I went to work and signed him up for my insurance with HR. We’d never intended to marry before, even though we love each other and have been together since we were eighteen. But I insisted. For health insurance, I told myself. Ironically, I no longer have that job. So it goes.

I don’t have a work career anymore, beyond freelancing. I don’t have many friends—I lost touch with so many of them over the years—and the only ones I do still have are writers too. I don’t like holidays. I don’t understand why people stay close with family just because you share blood. I keep close with certain members of my family, a tiny circle who I love, and I don’t need anyone else. I don’t have a social life. I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have savings. I enjoy spending time alone, with only myself. Very much. I look around lately—with so many people I know having children, and moving out of Manhattan, if they ever lived here to begin with, and doing things with family and going to weddings and going on vacations—and I see how odd I am. I am writing this alone at a café table on a beautiful weekend morning when most people seem to be outdoors, and I’m perfectly content staying right here.

I have and want one thing, and I’ve been single-minded about it since high school: I write. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, to the detriment of everything else.

When the writing is going well, I’m happy, I’m alive, I’m more pleasant to be with—and when the writing isn’t going well, I’m destruction on short legs. I’m a nightmare. I’m all or nothing. I’m that self-centered, temperamental artist no one wants to live with. When I want to go away for a month at a time for an artist colony, I jet off and go. When I want to stay home for days at a time revising and not cleaning or doing dishes or picking up things I drop on the floor, I do it.

I’m everything I always wanted to be—because I only ever wanted this one thing. And I’m also a bit of a monster, because when you have only one thing, you have quite a lot to lose.

I’m thinking of all this now because of this beautiful post I came across last night, “What I Did the Summer After I Graduated” by the Rejectionist. It’s this quote that resonates with me, this one I shared on Tumblr last night:

“When you are a woman or a girl or female no one says to you Look, artists who are great take without asking and take and take and do not apologize because when you are a woman or a girl or female the only thing you are supposed to take is a lot of other people’s shit. No one says to you Be sure you are strong enough to take and not apologize and keep going when the taking leaves you nothing to go back to. Be sure you are strong enough to steal and live alone with what you’ve chosen to make yours.” —The Rejectionist

You see, that post speaks to me. It speaks to me about ambition. About having this kind of larger-than-life ambition as a girl and now a woman. I know so many of us have it, but I also know it’s all I have. It’s all I want. My life is made up of this and nothing else.

Which is dangerous.

That beautiful post makes me think of all I let go and thought I didn’t want and so lost, over the years. About being this strange kind of creature who’s filled with only this WANTING to become something she may never get to be because it’s never good enough, where I am, it’s never the best I can do. What will be left of me if I never reach the heights I see in my dreams? And does it even matter if I know I’ll never stop reaching?

Recently, on Twitter, I asked, cryptically, if it ever ends. If, for authors, you ever stop and think what you’ve done is good enough. Authors said no, so I must not be alone in this.

I know in my heart it won’t ever be enough. I will never have written enough. Having aspiration this enormous means it can never be fed.

I have a memory of being eighteen, the summer before I left for college and met the boy I dragged to City Hall. It was night. We were in the woods, some boys, some girls, and of the friends I was with that night, I was the only one headed off to college in a week or two. Three of them would go on to become heroin addicts and one would be murdered over a drug dispute before she turned thirty. But at that moment, the summer nights smoking innocent bowls and running naked into the reservoir and hanging our arms out the open windows of speeding cars down long, dark roads seemed to be the only thing worth having in the world. A friend was talking of all I’d miss. All we had here. How much he wanted to stay and how he couldn’t fathom how anyone would want to leave. And it was a beautiful town, yes, where people still go on vacations. But it was so not enough for me.

We were on the edge of a cliff, looking off into the dark night and there was no way to know how far we’d fall if we jumped. I remember looking into the darkness of my hometown and feeling it in my bones, this thought: I have to get the fuck out of here. I couldn’t stay. I had so much more to do. I’d barely written anything beyond amateur poems and stories at that point, and I didn’t even know what being a “Writer” even entailed, but I knew I had to be one. I was going to be a writer. Somehow I felt sure I had to give up everything and anything to do that. I looked into the darkness and swore to myself I would.

It’s a promise I kept. I did go off to college. And I never did look back, though I mourned my friend who died, who was so talented, she should have gotten out, and away from drugs, herself. She would have become an artist whose name you would have known.

I’d miss my chances at trying heroin with my friends—I thank the universe for this every day—and I’d move to the city, where I always wanted to live, and I’d stay far away from drugs and I guess I’d become this thing I wanted to become. An artist. A writer. A cold-hearted person who cares for nothing else. Somehow I got it in my head that this is how I had to be and I whittled down my life to only this.

This is a strange life, the kind of life—decades ago—only men were supposed to live.

Ambition. Why did I let go of so much while chasing after it to get here? And if I hadn’t, would I have made it anyway?

Is this where I thought I’d end up when I looked off the cliff into the darkness?

Complicated questions I ask myself. Complicated answers I can’t ever hope to know.

75 responses to “On Chasing Ambition and Being a Girl and a Woman”

  1. I love this. I recently had a realization that writing–besides my wife and kids, of course–is the only thing I haven’t given up on, the one “hobby” ahemahemahem that I did not allow myself to think, “Okay, this probably isn’t going to happen.” That is selfish. But it’s also important, I think. I feel it every time I go upstairs–leaving the family movie, or whatever it is–to work. I don’t know what else to say except: this is wonderful and thanks for sharing it.

    • Bryan, I just can’t believe it’s selfish. I can’t. I don’t believe you are being selfish at all—and many good things will come from all the hard work you’re putting in! Thank you so much for being so supportive, always, and a good friend.

  2. i love this post so much. in some ways, i think i live in nyc because it’s a place i can be myself in all my weirdness — without constantly having to explain why i won’t marry my longtime boyfriend, or why i don’t eat meat, or why i spend every weekend writing in coffee shops. it’s a place where you can be content to be alone while surrounded by thousands of people sharing the same square mile. it’s also a place pumping with ambition — probably more so than anywhere in this country. so i think you are at home, nova ren suma 🙂

    • Gina, I think you are right! I do feel very at home here… and I do love the feeling of being alone while surrounded by people. It fits me somehow. Thank you for understanding!

  3. Oh, thank you. I was always just as single-minded about being a writer, too. It made me stick out in my hometown like a sore thumb. And even after college, I knew I had to get out of the state and the small town that I’d learned to write in. I had to leave to even have a chance of getting what I want. And now I live in a closet of a studio with my cat and I’m finishing the first draft of my first novel in the next few weeks and I am absolutely terrified. I have a lot of rejection and failure coming at me, but I’ll keep pushing through it, because apparently having that single-minded ambition isn’t always terrible.

    All of this to say, you are not alone.

    • Jenna, I so relate to this—and I am wishing you all the best of luck with the first draft of your first novel that you’ll soon be finishing! You are going into this with the exact right attitude, so I must believe that all the hard work will be worth it! Thanks so much for commenting.

  4. This is such a gorgeous entry. Thank you for sharing!

    There are so many trade-offs in every direction we take, I think it’s definitely a blessing that we *can’t* see where we would be if we’d done things differently in the past. Personally, I really did have a crazy-intense biological clock, so I followed those deep yearnings I felt towards motherhood, and it was the right choice for me. It’s the only vocation I’ve ever felt as strongly about as writing, and that’s balanced me in ways that I personally needed, giving me something else that defines me just as much as writing, for the very first time in my life.

    But…that hasn’t taken away any of my writing ambition, even as it slows down my writing output (making the ambition harder to fulfill). So, even as motherhood felt and feels right for me, personally, that doesn’t stop me from ALSO being envious of childless writers who can jet off for month-long writing retreats. And fwiw, it sounds like you’ve made exactly the right choices for yourself along the way. (Not that you need me to tell you that, obviously! But this entry resonated so much for me that I had to respond to it.)

    • Stephanie, Thank you so much for taking the time to say all this and share this with me. I know we’ve each made different choices, but I love how we can connect and understand each other about this ambition that just never goes away—this deep desire to keep writing, no matter what. Thank you for commenting and sharing your story with me. It means so much.

  5. I really do struggle with the ambitious side of myself. It’s hard now that we have a daughter because I can’t be so focused on my own goals. I’d write a longer post but she’s actually fighting me for the keyboard right now. Maybe I’ll have a chance to go more in depth at nap time. Curious I’m not sure I understood how you talk of your freelancing? Do you really need another career?
    Most writers I know have to write, we know no other way.

    • Hi, Keith. Just to answer your question about needing another career to make ends meet: I live in a very expensive city, and I don’t want to leave—and I’m also dealing with student loans thanks to my very ambitious (and expensive) MFA in fiction years ago. Regrets, but here I am. So, while I’d love to be able to just write right now, I can’t. Between book advances, I do need to freelance*. I aspire to stop freelancing and only write, but I haven’t been able to yet. That’s certainly my goal, though. So I think a grown-up in my situation may well have kept her day job, but it was just taking too much away from my writing.

      * I freelance as a copy editor, since I’m a former production editor; that was my old day job. I don’t freelance as a writer. My writing is only for me.

      • On the bright side, you have clients. It seems every magazine I’ve ever written for has closed up shop. Writing for online doesn’t pay nearly as well it seems.
        What did you do as a production manager?
        You regret getting an MFA? I’ve been thinking of getting a masters, but not in writing. Something to do with publishing or marketing perhaps. (if I ever can find a job to pay for such things.)

        • A production editor is the in-house copyediting person at a publishing house—you coordinate and review the work of freelancers and copyedit jackets and other book components—that’s what I did, so it translates easily to freelance work. I’m kept busy enough with projects between two publishing houses, the one I used to work for and one other, so I haven’t had to look for new clients. And yes, I feel pretty lucky that I can do these projects. (I also get the chance to read some phenomenal novels—I only work on novels—and I feel lucky about that, too.)

          And I don’t regret the MFA at all. I loved it and my writing wouldn’t be what it is without it. But I do regret the student loans.

          • I think we all regret the student loans.
            You also have what sounds like a dream job in some ways. If I couldn’t write my own work, my second favorite thing to do is work with other artists and creative types on projects.
            My wife tried to get proofing work for a house a year ago and that department had a few changes and they still haven’t sent her the “new” test that the replacement for that department made.

  6. :SO MANY HUGS: You are lovely exactly as you are, Nova, and I’m so glad I know you. I would never call you cold-hearted; have you read your own blog posts? 🙂 It is strange, though, this other way of being, feminine and ambitious. My sister and I both have it, and we each wrestle it in turn, watching people we grow up with or friends we know along the way trod the well-worn path of Life How It Should Go – that is, linearly – and wanting that simplicity and yet knowing it’s not enough. I tried it and it didn’t fit me. Lesson learned.

    I never considered I couldn’t be a writer; it was just what I was going to do, no matter what. It never occurred to me how many people try and give up, or how hard it was, or any of that. It was what I was going to do, to be. It just always was.

    • Jess, Thank you so much—you are so sweet and kind. I know what you mean… I never considered being anything else, and I truly had no sense of how hard it would be and how many years of rejection I’d have to go through before all the good things started. It was just in my fate to do this… and I’ll never stop trying to be better at it. It’s what I love. I know you understand this—and me. Thank you.

  7. What I love the most about you and this wonderful post is that you speak from this gorgeous, honest place. In my mind it’s not your choices that make you different from others–it’s your willingness to expose your insides that makes you fit in with the very best that’s out there. I think you’ve wonderful just the way you are and I know that you will have left large and lasting ripples with your words. ❤

  8. Thanks so much for sharing and for being so honest. I struggle with many of the things you do, and it’s nice to hear that I’m not alone. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with living a “strange” life. I think it’s great that you have the courage to set your own priorities and stick to them. That’s something I personally really need to work on. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for commenting, Dani! And for understanding and being open to my “strangeness.” 🙂 Wishing you all the best with whatever your priorities and struggles may be.

  9. You are living your life, and I find you so inspiring. Because you are living and doing the things you want. People do want kids and to own a house, and if they want them, they should be able to have them…but so many people walk the well-trodden path, because they feel obligated to do so, or feel a responsibility to do so, or maybe because that’s what happened to them, or because they don’t realize their other choices, and they aren’t happy with the path they’ve taken. You are brave for taking the path that makes you happy, even if it’s not a well worn one. Good on you. I’ll always be proud of you for doing so.

    • Thank you so much, Christine! You are always so wonderfully supportive and I appreciate you every day. I know we all have our own paths. I don’t judge others’ paths and I hope they don’t judge mine. The world is a better place when we are free to do what we believe is best for each of us.

    • Daisy, thank you. So very much. It means even more coming from you. And I do love being solitary—and knowing other writers understand this. 🙂

  10. I think this is one of the most strangely unbalanced things (in a strangely unabalanced world) about being a woman. That loving something passionately and longing to do it and needing it and being *successful* at it isn’t supposed to be enough for us. Isn’t supposed to be enough to make us happy. And if it is, then something must be wrong with us. Picasso went through women like I go through socks, and had a tumultuous and fraught personal life where he never, as far as I can see, did anything for anyone or anything other than himself or his art. We laud and praise and love him for that! But as women, we’re not supposed to do this. Not supposed to WANT this.

    But I do.

    I’m very similar to you, Nova. Everything you’ve said here makes that little internal bell inside me hum with recognition. The main difference is that I never managed to get out of my hometown, and THAT, believe me, is a decision I struggle not to regret and feel unhappy about every day. I think humans are so much more complex and diverse and *weird* than anyone ever admits. Than the majority of mainstream TV or books or films – or even people themselves – will admit. We’re strange! All of us! The things that are supposed to make ‘everyone’ happy and the choices and values that ‘everyone’ is supposed to know are the right ones often are a wide green mile from what will really make you a fulfilled, content, *complete* person.

    I honestly believe that the things which fall to the wayside in each of our lives are the things we simply didn’t love enough to hang onto. And if you don’t love something enough to hang onto it until your muscles are screaming and your nails are bleeding, through whatever happens…why hang onto it in the first place? Just let go and enjoy the freedom of travelling lightly down that road instead.

    • I love this comment so much. About Picasso—about you—about everything. And I especially love what you said about loving something enough and things falling to the wayside when we don’t. Yes. This is truly beautiful, and I want to thank you for writing this. I feel so understood by this!

  11. Wow. I could’ve written this myself…like, literally. Okay, not the getting married part, but everything else… It’s funny. I never think there are other writers or even PEOPLE out there like me until some brave soul like you speaks out. And, man, do I thank you for this. My long-time bf (who cooks and cleans far more than I do) and I have had this discussion many times. Why don’t we fit in anywhere? Why aren’t there other people out there like us? It seems the older we get, the less we have in common with people our age. He’s never wanted kids. I thought I wanted them as a kid and a teenager. Then reality set in. A screaming baby makes me run in the opposite direction. The issues family members have (autism, alcoholism, bipolar, etc) and the thought of passing them on scares the hell out of me. Not to mention if I were to get pregnant, there’s a good chance I’d lose my hearing, like my mom did when she had me (another fun, genetic condition). And, as a musician, I’m terrified of that.

    Yet..people always ask. They always judge. And I always find myself having to defend myself because I choose not to be a wife and a mother. It was a choice I made in college. I wanted to be an artist. A wanderer. It’s a choice I don’t regret. But, especially around holidays and the like, I do feel isolated. Like I’m watching the world from the outside. I don’t have close friends where I live. I don’t have close family. It’s just me and my guy…and our cat. Most of the time that’s enough…but sometimes I really miss having friends like me. I haven’t had that since college.

    Anyway, sorry for the novel. THANK YOU for posting this. You made me realize I’m not alone, even when I feel that way most of the time.

    • Tara, I read this comment and my first thought was wishing you and I lived in the same city. I feel like we would really connect in person.

      People really do judge. And pity—because they are putting their own wants and expectations over someone else’s. I never wanted so many of the things many women and girls around me wanted (a wedding, for example, or a diamond ring, or taking a man’s last name when I already have one of my own, etc.), and not everyone understands that. I don’t know what else to do but just keep on living my life the way I’ve built it.

      But I just wanted to say that I relate with so much you’ve said here. We are a lot alike… I didn’t know until now, and I love knowing it.

      • Agreed. It seems the people most like me always live across the country 😉 I’m the same way, in that I’ve never wanted what most girls around me wanted. My version of ‘jewelry’ comes in the form of guitars, awesome new synths, and other musician geek gear *ahem* Come to think of it, I don’t OWN any jewelry.

        Hopefully one day we’ll end up in the same town 🙂 You never know with this book thing…

  12. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m about to leave for college and my situation is quite similar to the one you were in. This post gives me so much hope – thank you so much for being brave enough to share it.

  13. I think it’s good to reflect upon things and our rationals for the choices in life. From the things I’ve read the times I’ve visited your blog, I would say “cold-hearted” is far from any description for you. I think you just are fortunate enough to be one of those people who know what you want and have taken strides to go after it. I think you’re brave and following your dreams. Many days I still feel stuck in the expectations of what everyone wants of me.

    • Wow, thank you so much for your kindness and for this comment. I’m sorry to hear you feel stuck in the expectations of others—and I hope you are able to see your own path through all the noise. Sending good luck your way!

  14. I can only say, I stumbled on this on the exact day I needed to stumble on it, at a point I was wrestling with my ambition to get a novel draft done, which had left my house a mess, some odd quarrel with a person at work I don’t have the motivation to figure out, and two appliances on the fritz because all I’ve wanted to do has been write without stopping. I do have kids and have been married, but have to say you’ve named a universal, unquenchable yearning that makes you odd, but not alone for it. Reading this was meaningful enough to me today that I read parts of it aloud to someone who has had to be patient with me over the years. You should be proud of all you have accomplished, Nova, and embrace the insatiable urge you have to create. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • Elissa, Thank you so much for this! I’m glad I found you at a good moment—and I’m honored that it connected with you enough that you read parts of it out loud to someone. Thank you so much for telling me.

  15. This is a fantastic post. What’s interesting is that it goes both ways: I’m a writer, but I live a life almost too big for me with tons of friends, a husband, a baby, a house, and a teaching career. And a million other creative hobbies. And some times, I wonder if I should have been more like you, to have focused my energy into things that I REALLY loved or wanted. What could my writing have been like then? Great post, Nova.

    • Andrea, I can’t stop wondering what it would have been like had I done things differently—and I also know there’s no way to know. So I understand. Thank you so much for commenting and being kind!

  16. That’s ambition, and of course you will succeed, and you’ll love it and hate it and it will consume you, as we are all eventually consumed by what we love and what we hate.

    Better to face it, and consume it back, an Oroboros of artistict oblivion, than sit and slowly, bite-by-bite, be nibbled away to nothing.

    You’ve captured a piece of the writer’s life in this, as only a writer could. It’s freeing and wonderful to see it in words. Thank you.

  17. Thank you for sharing this! I’m 29 living at home and single and recently gave up my job to follow my writing dream. We have to follow our own paths!

  18. Thank you for saying this, because so much of it reflects my own experience, and I thought I was alone.

    I think every generation of women is told what they can and should want. The generation prior to mine was told they should be good wives and mothers. My generation was told we should “have it all,” which meant we should be good wives and mothers and career women and housekeepers and friends and lovers and contributors to society.
    I always thought “having it all” sounded exhausting, and besides, I didn’t want it all. I chose some things and gave up others. My biological clock never went off, and I have no children, and don’t expect to have any. Also, “the American dream” is not my American dream; I co-own a house only because that was important to my spouse, and it ended up being cheaper than continuing to rent. I could not care less if our lawn is green. I have never owned a car. When my previous landlord forced me to buy renter’s insurance (as a condition of the lease), I laughed because the entire contents of my apartment were worth almost nothing in monetary terms.

    Before I married, I spent many holidays alone: especially Thanksgiving, which I viewed as a day for meditation and gratitude and peaceful solitude. Some people think it is tragic to be alone on Thanksgiving, but it’s only tragic if you don’t want to be alone. If you do, it’s beautiful.

    And when I look at the books I’ve written and realize they, not children, will be my legacy, I’m happy with that. If I were a movie character I might regret my choices and decide that having kids is the only true legacy, because that sentiment is very strong in our culture. We tend to view people who would rather produce books than children as either cold-hearted or fooling themselves. But here in my real life I am only glad that I took the turns in the road that my gut told me to take.

    (should go without saying, but just in case:) In celebrating my own choices I don’t look down upon the choices of others–to have children instead of books, or children in addition to books, etc. We’re all just trying to be true to ourselves.

    • This is an amazing comment, Jenn, and I want to quote it everywhere. I especially love and connect with this:

      “I think every generation of women is told what they can and should want. The generation prior to mine was told they should be good wives and mothers. My generation was told we should “have it all,” which meant we should be good wives and mothers and career women and housekeepers and friends and lovers and contributors to society.

      I always thought “having it all” sounded exhausting, and besides, I didn’t want it all. I chose some things and gave up others. ”

      I do think this so much of it—and I never thought of it quite this way before.

      I love everything you’ve said here, and I connect with it so much. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  19. Thank you for sharing this post.

    I ran like hell away from my tiny town in upstate NY, because of my ambition. I like to be by myself. I’ve passed up dates with a gentleman I like quite a bit so I can be alone with writing, and part of the reason I like him is that he’s cool with that.

    I’m strange and awkward and I feel like when other people were busy figuring out how to be adults, how to make non-awkward smalltalk, how to keep their apartments clean, how to put together an outfit, I must have been busy writing. And sometimes I’m frustrated with how long things take me (…this is gonna be the one that works out, right??) because of all those things that I maybe missed out on because of this ambition.

    But this is what I want. Kind of all I want.

    So thank you for this post because I feel a little less crazy now.

    • I love what you said about missing when people were figuring out how to be adults… I clearly missed that, too! I relate so much with what you said… and with what you want. It’s clearly all I want, too!

  20. This really spoke to me, start to finish, and I’m so fascinated by how much your escaping-upstate narrative mirrors my own experience. Those towns are such peculiar places, but so peculiarly like each other. I wonder how many other former Hudson Valley girls would see themselves in this.

    • Oh, Kat, there will be an email from me, which is somewhat connected to this, and to your deep understanding of that need to escape a small town, and other things, so this is a to-be-continued, so you know. Thank you so much for commenting, and for completely getting this feeling.

  21. I love this post so much. I am a wife and a mother and I love being both of those things, but I’m also a writer and that makes it hard to feel like I’m doing the other two things justice sometimes. We shouldn’t feel guilty about writing but it’s this weird thing that we do at odd hours sometimes and we’re (some of us anyway) programmed to believe those hours should be spent on some domestic chore because that’s what the normal women are doing. Sure they are. Actually, God help them if they are and I hope they find themselves soon. The fact is, I write when I need to write — and I’m a better mom and wife when I do. I’m not a good anything when I’m denying the need to write. It makes me angry and resentful. I also do some freelance work and it’s very deadline oriented so when I’m doing that stuff it takes up a lot of my time. When I’m not working on a freelance project, I write as much as I can. And I learned, unfortunately just a few years ago, not to feel any guilt about that. I have a great relationship with my kids and my husband. I don’t care anymore who thinks I’m not doing it right because I spend too many (in their opinion) evening and weekend hours in front of the computer instead of mopping the floors. I’ve never quite fit any accepted mold at any stage of my life. I’m me and I have to do it my way. Both of my parents died way too young and I know all too well that none of has any guarantee of time here. I’d rather spend mine fulfilling a passion and following a dream than ticking off boxes on someone else’s list.

  22. THIS. Everything you just said times a thousand. Seriously.

    I feel like I’ve spent my life apologising or feeling guilty for who I am/who I wanted to be. My friends in high school thought I was weird because sometimes I wanted to stay home on the weekends and read (in hindsight I’ve realised they weren’t great friends). My mum worried about me because I wasn’t super sociable, which made me feel like a freak.

    In a few months time, I’m going to be a first-time mum. It took me along time to decide if motherhood was something I wanted, and not something that other people wanted for me. I’m excited about it, but at the same time, relishing these last few months where I can put myself first. And, of course, there are people who are making me feel guilty about it because I want to spend my weekends writing, not visiting the in-laws or whatever. I’m trying really hard to shut the guilt out, but it’s not always possible.

    And lastly, I just want to say that the people I’ve most connected with have been other writers. I don’t think anyone can truly understand this “thing” we’re striving for unless they’re chasing it as well. At least, in my opinion.

    Thank you so much for writing this post. Truly.

  23. Nova, as always you have such a way of expressing emotions and truths that so many of us never dig deep enough to acknowledge and you share them with such honesty and eloquence. *hugs*

  24. We are more alike than I ever thought. I’m 40 years old, married, with no children. I never had the desire of children and while some expressed the thought that I would one day change my mind, it never happened. Now these same people congratulate me on not having any! 😀 And while I do have a house in the country with a well-paying “day” job, I feel sometimes it’s not enough – something is missing. The day job isn’t fulfilling like my writing is, but it provides me with the things I want. And sometimes I believe I use that excuse as a crutch. I want freedom from an outside employer and know I can do it, but hesitate in taking the leap. I know my day will come and will recognize it when it arrives. I’m also an introvert who absolutely loves spending time alone. I have a few friends, but we mainly stay in touch online. I don’t have close friends nearby who I can go hang out with, and quite frankly, I’m okay with it.

    Stay true to yourself, always. There is no “wrong” in life. Live life on your own terms and you will always be happy. ((hugs))

  25. Brava. Honest and true. So often our ambitions lead us to feel selfish or different; they lead others to believe we are lonely or unhappy. And none of these things are true unless we want them to be.

  26. The Rejectionist’s post hit me so hard when I read it, but this one did even more so. I’m 31 years old and married, yes, but with no kids and no plans for kids and I’m unfortunately at that age where everyone keeps asking when I’m going to have babies already. I mean, total strangers when they first meet me ask this (wtf?) and we even have a neighbor who was interested not in finding out who I am as a person but asking if I was pregnant or going to be soon pregnant (!) because he apparently wanted his own kids to have more kids to play with. I repeat: wtf. Anyway, all of this is really hitting me right now because my husband and I did just buy a house, and even though we did this in a rather unconventional way, and even though it’s part of a larger and much less domestic plan, and one that might even help me write more often, I can’t get over the feeling that I have somehow sold out. Even when the “conventional” things we have done, like get married or buy a house, haven’t looked like how everyone else does them, I still feel a little weird for doing them in the first place.

    There is something so comforting about reading about your life, about how you live to write and have no interest in domestic things and don’t have a crazy social life. I am so similar to you, probably even more than you know or would imagine since I live in Cleveland and have a house now. But those are just surface things and I can tell you that underneath it’s all the same: my ambition, the apathetic approach to a social life, the abandoning everything else to write.

    When you buy a house or even just move into a new apartment, the unpacking/settling in is going to take up a lot of time no matter what. So when a friend left me a voicemail last night saying she hoped I did something “glamorous, award-winning, and literary” this weekend instead of just house stuff, I felt anxious and guilty and grateful all at once. I am sitting down at my writing desk right now, about to turn off the internet and get some writing done, and I’m glad I have her message to push me on. Because I am not someone who can be satisfied with only this, and because my favorite line in the Rejectionist’s blog post was: “…I thought about how shitty a person I must be to hate all of them for being happy when what we had wanted was to be extraordinary.”

    Write on, Nova, and live the life only men were able to live until recently.

  27. I read the Rejectionist’s blog a couple days before yours. Both are beautiful, tragic, inspiring. Not tragic judgment of your life, but for the reader who chose a different path. The one they always question if it was right.

    Even when you choose the house, the husband, the kids, the friends, etc, you still get the question of selfishness if you incorporate writing into it. I can’t tell you how often I get the sneered lip question, “You take away time from your children for your hobby?”

  28. “I’m all or nothing. I’m that self-centered, temperamental artist no one wants to live with.”

    I have uttered these exact words to my almost-husband so many times. He doesn’t believe me, and sometimes I feel guilty because he just doesn’t know what he is getting himself into. As I read the rest of your post, I realized that you and I could not be more alike. Some part of me, at least at one point, wanted children, but the older I get (and the more I devote to this craft that redeems and destroys me), the more I realize that I will (selfishly) not want to take time away from this to be a mother. Not for a long time, anyway.

    Terrible, I know. I’m such a horrible woman. /sarcasm

    I’m not sure I suggest we be friends, since we are both blindingly ambitious and single-minded in our drive to write write write until we have nothing left (an event, as you have said, that will never happen). My friends IRL have given up on me, I think, because I just don’t give enough to satisfy them.

    Regardless of my rambling, I hope you know that, in me at least, you have a kindred spirit, someone who completely understands and supports you in your you-ness. Your words truly resonate with me, in ways that so many other words do not, and I am grateful to have discovered you and your blog when I did. In a weird way, I needed to read this. So, thank you. Maybe someday we’ll meet at an event and hang out for a while and enjoy the company of a fellow determined-but-never-satisfied writer. ♥

  29. I really love how you shared your thoughts on this with everyone. It’s amazing and also inspiring to see the kind of thoughts that run through a fellow writer’s head – and I think it’s okay to be pursuing this ambition as long as it makes you happy 🙂

  30. Thank you so much for this post. Over the past year, I’ve struggled over whether my writing is selfish, and therefore, something I should let go of since what I’ve been writing has not been published. After many hours of internal angst, I realized that Writer=me. If I’m not writing, I’m really not being who I truly am. So, I’m going to write. I love my characters and my stories and I’ll just keep doing my best to write about them.

    The funny thing is that my husband got it before I did–he’s been supportive of the time I spend writing and the money I spend going to conferences/buying books. When I ask him about it, he says something like, “This is what you want to do, so you need to go after it, whatever it takes.” Your post makes me wonder/realize if some of the messages from the world about a woman’s role are behind my wondering if writing is what I should do.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and helping me feel not alone in this writing world.

  31. Thank you for your soul-baring honesty in this post. I value this so much in you. Even though you think it selfish, being so focused on your goal and aspiration, I don’t think you’ve truly felt yet the impact you’ve made on so many writers. While you’re on your own journey, you display a generosity of spirit that wants us to keep going on our own journeys as well.

    I recently had a discussion with an artist friend about what we give up so we can focus on our priorities in life. This friend puts her art at the bottom of the list. While it’s a conscious choice she’s made, she says she struggles with it everyday. I see her struggle and it breaks my heart.

    I believe a balance can be struck, and we all must struggle to find that. I’ve found mine and writing for so many minutes/hours a day is part of my daily cycle now. You’ve found yours, and you live it and share it with us. Thank you.

  32. This is such an exquisite post! I love how you are so ok with your own private space and not needing or wanting anything else.

    I’ve always been envious of writers and artists who insist on that alone space, who require and demand it, because I HAVE to be with other people and out in the sunshine. People really are introverts or extroverts, and those aren’t choices. It’s literally painful for me to be alone to write. That’s why I have to have my critters with me.

  33. I love this post, so, so much. I think it’s truly beautiful and honest. And I say this as someone who is later 20s, inching up on 30… and single. Every time I go to visit my parents, and inevitably see my extended family, they always ask what I plan to do with my life (because, I guess, being totally on my own, even if it’s not a dream job, isn’t enough), and when I’m going to find a guy. I don’t have an interest in finding a guy. I like coming home to just my dog. To the quiet. To my space, my mess. Right now, I don’t want to split my time with someone. I don’t want my happiness to be dependent on them, and vice versa. On weekends, I enjoy my time at home, sometimes go out with friends, and take myself out to eat. But my schedule is my own, and that is how I like it. And this is me, as someone who is only now querying. Who doesn’t have two books out, with another on the way. That is where I want to get. That is my main focus right now. The rest is really just a means to an end. When people ask what I want to do, beyond ‘get published’, I really have nothing. And what makes me crazy is the look I get. The lecture about needing to find a career. About getting myself on a track… a track, for what? A career I might hate? More school that I have no desire to do? Something to make me look more prestigious or whatever, when what *I* want is to write?

    So, this is my very long winded way of saying thank you for this post, and I agree with you 150%. I am so much like you in a lot of regards. I remember my summer before college, hitting a bit of a rebellious streak, thinking of all the things I ‘missed out’ on during high school, because even then, I was largely a homebody. I remember being excited for college, only to get there and, in a lot of ways, be disappointed. But I also remember just being relieved to get out. To start over. To put that part of my life behind me. I don’t know how most people from my high school turned out. I only keep in touch with one person. From college, 3 people. But I’m content with the small, close group of friends I have. Sure, I greatly dislike my current job, but that’s due to internal changes that happened well after I got settled in and liked it. But mostly, I’m content with where I’m at. And so when others let me know they think I shouldn’t, I brush it off. Beacuse I don’t want kids. I don’t feel the need for a husband. I’m happy, more often than not, as I am.

    And I have so much respect for others who can be in that same space.

  34. This is really deep in the sense that I think it reopened the wound that led me on to start writing. I may be a teenager but by most standards, I’m the anti-teenager who reads a lot, goes on the internet for hours on end researching mythology,and aversion to any social plans. Definitely people ask what I write and whether I’ll get published (haha! I can only hope!) And I say that my story has yet to be its peak. I do what my parents ask, do chores and then lock myself up in my room with a journal for more stories to be fought out of my imagination. This post and the Rejectionists’ post are reasons why I continue to go on the road of writing. I’m happy being alone with my imagination, writing things because it fills me with joy. Thanks Nova for this insightful post and reminding me why I started writing 2 years ago.

  35. […] about about being a writer, in part, but it has great bits in it for everyone. “On Chasing Ambition and Being a Girl and a Woman” is a fantastic, lyrical piece of […]

  36. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your honesty. As a writer and a freelance designer, married to a musician, I’ve come to realize after so many years that I’m the least maternal person I know. Despite having 2 daughters. Now that they are 16 and 10, I can finally get back to concentrating on my dreams, my goals, at least some of the time. As much time as I can take, take, take. But you can’t imagine the guilt that comes in waves. I long to shut away and write. Close myself off. My Non-artists friends don’t all get this. Some do. Some get it completely. Others, including family, can’t imagine my reluctance to work in corporate America—again. Been there, don’t that. Hell yes, it’s a man’s world. No thanks. Maybe I would have been better off without the tether of my mortgage, my art school students loans (so huge), even my children. But here I am, working hard at making myself a priority again. And the most I can hope for is that I’m teaching my daughters to go after their dreams. That life isn’t all about the amount of money you can make, but the “what” you make that is left behind in your wake. I hope. If the writing works out and I can look at them and say, “See. Work hard. You can do anything you want, girls, but know you have to work for it. Harder than a man at times,” I think that will be good enough. But probably not. I’ll want to do more and more and more. And take and take and take. I don’t feel as bad about that as I used to, in my thirties. And in my early forties, I’m finally okay with me. Just as I am. A selfish, passion-filled artist. : )

  37. […] This post by Nova Ren Suma is also somewhat related, in my mind. She talks about the writing life, particularly from a woman’s perspective. This is a beautifully written essay. I loved it. I’m not saying everything about my writing life is the same, but it certainly resonated with me in a lot of ways. […]

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