For me, aiming high in writing is to simply try to do the best I can, write as well as I can, and try to express my ideas in a way that satisfies both my potential readers and myself. But of course, there is always more to it than that, or this article could start and finish with that single sentence.
I write for an audience. An unread book is at best a doorstop, at worst an utter irrelevance. The goal has to be to write something that other people will read. The three en’s. (I just made these up, but I’m sure they’ve been used somewhere) As a writer of fiction I hope for readers to engage, enjoy, and be entertained. Those are my primary goals.
But is that all I do in my writing? Nope. Though I do devoutly want to attract as big an audience as possible, and so aim for the three en’s, I also, inevitably, write for myself. My own enjoyment of the written word, my own pleasure in words and phrases, and my own satisfaction in putting together the complex puzzle that is a novel: a seemingly simple creation comprised of a thousand moving parts, all hopefully hidden beneath the surface, away from the reader’s eye.
In the act of writing, as frustrating or tedious as it can be at times, I entertain myself. I enjoy the process (with the aforementioned caveats), and I engage fully in working ideas, themes, and motifs into my writing. I put those things in not because I think they “should be” added, or because I think they will help me gain more readers, but because for me, in writing, it is what I personally must do, because my fiction writing must include at least a nod in the direction of those things, or I cannot write it with any conviction. I cannot begin my stories, cannot finish the execution of a tale, if it does not have an underlying structure or theme that sings to me.
Back in university I noticed when struggling with essays that until I found a core concept or argument to hang my discussion of literature, philosophy, or history around, I tended to be lost and flail about with bits of information, my efforts disjointed. But when I found a theme, or angle, or motif that stimulated my thinking on the subject, everything flowed and I produced much more coherent work. My professors still noted a tendency for me to write like I was running for a train, but they let me off with a better mark if a central idea animated my discussions rather than the essay just being a collection of points without an organizing principle.
So it is with me in writing novels. Aiming high is to capture perfectly something that my readers can engage with, enjoy, and be entertained by, which at the same time I have organized around themes and ideas that flow and are exemplified beautifully through plot, characterization, dialogue and imagery, without ever getting didactic, or having the themes get in the way of the fun for the reader. That for me would be my perfect book, and something I will always strive for.