Beware Your Ides of March

…as he was ambitious, I slew him.” –Brutus, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act III.

Old Julius had his chance, didn’t he? At least in Shakespeare’s telling of said tale, a soothsayer told him to beware the Ides of March. But did Caesar listen? No.

He feared nothing, or claimed to fear nothing because he was Caesar, simple as that. Obviously that didn’t turn out well for him.

Yet one could argue he wouldn’t have been in that position so many March 15ths ago, had he not been overly ambitious, in his case for power and importance in Rome and beyond. He wanted to be a king eventually, and felt he deserved to be so, that he was qualified for such a position, he that had accomplished so much.

The forces around him didn’t agree.

Ambition in this country is seen almost as the primary virtue. The desire to advance in wealth, prestige, power, accomplishment is almost a molecule in the American DNA. It’s also a building block of advice within the world of writers.

“Get interviews, sell you book out of your car, hire publicists, get yourself out there, study the trends, go to conferences, remember to write something that can be made into a movie easily when you go to sell the movie rights. (And of course you do intend to market and sell movie rights to your work don’t you?)”

Ambition for the writer, or for anyone isn’t evil in its own right. We all need some of it, of course. But ambition is often conflated with persistence these days. The later is vital for success in writing and most other things. Ambition is secondary. If we’re not careful in fact, too much ambition is deadly.

Believe in yourself as a writer, naturally. Be proud of your work. Strive always to improve. But do so in pursuit of being a better writer, and contributing something to the world. Be willing to enjoy the accomplishments of today,before declaring where you want to be a year from now, (or further) lest the fall should be more damaging when we trip up, or don’t attain what we declared we desired so deeply.

Writing is a competitive field, yes. You always have to fight for the attention of readers. In this day and age of self-publishing that is an increasingly unlikely task. But the same zeal that could put you on top can always keep you from it.

Yes, there may be people out there who sabotage us when our ambition grows too large for our resources, but often enough we are our own undoing. We play the Brutus to our own Caesar, whether we realize it consciously or not. We juggle eggs at first, than knives, and despite a few cuts, we think we can handle chainsaws next.

You don’t need everything today, or even tomorrow, or next week. You’ve gotten this far, and you will get further, but don’t insist on taking from the world what it may not yet be ready to give to you. By all means work hard, push your boundaries, but don’t, like Caesar, assume that because of what you’ve done or who you are, you deserve to be crowned by society. You not only have work to do, but respect and temperance to display.

Of course, overnight, ambitious success stories happen, and I can’t swear you won’t be one of them by ignoring everything I just said. I do believe, though, that if you do too much inner horse trading with yourself, and with others in order gain more and more in less and less time, you’re likely to see yourself as more of a manufacturer and less of an artist. You run the risk of slicing your artistic heart right out of you, whether you succeed in your ambitions or not.

And that, friends, would be the unkindest cut of all.



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