Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Writer’s Expectations

Our expectations can change everything–how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about our work–and can shape the course of our lives as writers.

If we set high expectations for ourselves, we may doom ourselves to disappointment.

How many authors start off writing in the belief that they’ll finish their novel in a few months, find an agent to auction it off for a hefty (ie–six figure) advance, and then watch it rocket to the top of The NY Times Best-Seller list?

These are the kind of expectations that can cut short a writer’s desire to keep writing if they aren’t met.

Setting low expectations is a recipe for disaster, as well.

If a writer believes that she’ll never write a worthwhile word or that whatever she manages to write will never be published, then she runs the risk of never moving past her low opinion of her work or the low opinion that others may have of her work because of her lack of confidence in it.

Expectations are tricky–too high and you have far to fall, too low and you can never get off the ground–but if you can set realistic expectations for yourself, goals that nourish your writing practice over the years and enable you to keep writing, you may find just the right balance of high and low, avoiding the crushing disappointment that comes when high expectations aren’t met, and avoiding the fear and frustration that low expectations can create.

How do you find this balance?

Balance comes, I think, from your ability to set priorities. If you find that you don’t have enough time to write, you’ll need to carefully examine your daily routines to see where you can pare away time that’s wasted and where you can squeeze in time to write. If sleep is more important to you than writing, then sleep. But don’t beat yourself up for sleeping an extra half hour each morning instead of sitting at your desk writing. Instead, take a half-hour lunch instead of an hour, and use the extra thirty minutes to write.

Set expectations that are within your reach. If you’re starting out on a first draft of a novel and have never written a word before, give yourself time and permission to make mistakes, to learn as you go. Give up your ideas of perfection and accept that you'll need to do a number of drafts before you'll be ready to share your work with anyone.

If you’re finding it hard to sell your work, find a supportive writing group and share excerpts of your manuscript. Listen closely to feedback and incorporate whatever suggestions make sense to you. A writing group offers a sense of validation--often the only validation--in the years before a publisher shows any interest in your work. Plus, getting feedback on your work, and giving feedback on the work of others in the group, is a way to improve as a writer. So, when your break does finally come, you’ll be ready to take advantage of it.

If you find yourself depressed or despairing, maybe it’s time to re-examine your expectations to see whether they are too high or too low.

The key to staying alive in this business is to keep writing. How do you do that? By establishing a set of realistic expectations so you can return to your desk every day to do what you love doing--writing the stories that only you can write.

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