Why I am Failing as a Writer: Part 3 – Expectations

Oh, this one hit me! Unlike the prior entry in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s continuing series on “How Writers Fail”, this one made me pause and think.

To fill you in, Writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been releasing a topical series on her Business Musings portion of her site called “How Writers Fail”. Each essay or post focuses on a reason that writers on all levels fail. Given my own interest in becoming a professional writer, I decided to run my own series as a response to her posts in examining how/if each of these is contributing to my own failure as a writer.

Last post I wrote about, Part 2: Fear — although I had to alter it from how she dealt with it as I wasn’t able to relate to the angle she came from.

This post is about expectations. (Click right below for Kristine’s original post to which I am building from)

Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part 3): Expectations

That is a good question. What do I expect? In a lot of ways, I never gave the question any consideration before reading Kristine’s post. OK, maybe I have considered my expectations… I just don’t think I looked that over. There are plenty of things that I do expect and have expected in regard to my writing. Perfectionism is an expectation, for instance. Impostor syndrome is in a way the same. The idea of becoming a writer and forging ahead on this long career that fulfills me is an expectation. The list goes on.

I wrote before on things that I had to learn regarding my writing career. Whether I called them expectations specifically, that is immaterial. The point is, when I read the post by Kristine, these things snapped more broadly into focus.

We all have notions on how things are going to be — or rather how we wish they would be. When they aren’t that way (through either the realism of how life actually works or from our own doing… or lack thereof) we can react poorly. One could quit a project when it isn’t working the way they expect — and gee, does that sound an awful lot like me, although I would say that mine is less expectation and more fear based. Still, when a writer realizes that writing is a lot of work and not simply an enjoyable dance with a typewriter where ideas flow with such vicious voracity and every word resembles in astute perfection the exact emotion being sought, it can harm the motivation to write.

For me, there are many times where I expect that my writing will suddenly allow me to quit my job. I’d be able to wake up and worry about nothing other than what to write. That expectation has also poisoned the prospect of being able to move along with my writing in a way that will actually allow me to build a catalog of works to give myself a chance at doing that — of quitting my current job. Expectations, being as they are though, I expect each book to be THE book. That places a lot of pressure on me and then when a project doesn’t immediately sell (which I damn well know it won’t for a multitude of reasons)… well, it shatters those expectations.

The thing is, expectations themselves are not bad. If I could get myself to understand and expect that writing will be work, and that after that I may or may not find success, then that would be one thing. It’s the mismatch of expectation to reality that becomes the issue. Whether it be over-expectation or under, when it is so disparate from reality, it is a problem.

It’s expecting sudden fame and acclaim if the book makes the NYT Bestseller list.

It’s expecting that one successful book means that all the rest of the books will be successful.

It’s thinking that high book sales for one month will continue steadily through the life of the book.

Expecting your writing to be perfect right out of the gates.

It’s thinking that your book will be well received.

Believing that once you click “publish” that the book will suddenly be seen and sell.

Etc, etc, etc. Reality does tell a different story: NYT Bestseller list is no longer as relevant as it once was, nor does it always show the books that genuinely sell the best. One successful book only means you had one successful book and guarantees nothing in the future. Book sales often spike in the beginning (if they sell at all), then taper off — they seldom remain steady for very long, if at all. Perfection in anything is a fool’s errand, and writing quality will ebb and flow and you will always end up thinking it can be better. There is no guarantee that people will like a good book or hate a bad one, and there might be a chance that the wrong audience found the book. And finally, on that above list, clicking the “publish” button only says that the book is available to buy — nothing more. Work is needed to get people to see it and then more work to get them to consider buying it.

Kristine notes that unmet expectations can kill a writing career. She isn’t wrong. I’d wrap it back to the above assertion, though. It’s only when those expectations are so different from reality that they are a problem.

So what is it exactly that I am expecting from my writing?

For starters, I know that I expect to be able to write as perfectly as possible in the first draft. This kills me often. I don’t consider the act of revision or editing in my writing. Deep down it is there, that knowledge, but the expectation catches me every time. And not because I don’t know better.

Then there’s the other expectation of being able to sell my books effortlessly. I know where this one comes from. Lack of knowledge, skill, and a fear of what I would have to do to sell and market my books drives this expectation. Or that it is more like a hope that drives it — a hope that I won’t have to put in the effort. Of course, marketing and sales are something that I think that I won’t like (remember that I am introverted). Even still, there are ways to get around that.

Another still is the one where I believe that once I sit down to write, the effort will come as natural as breathing. As any writer will say, this is anything but the truth. Yet here we all think that it will happen this way. Or that we’ll be able to set up circumstances x, y, or z and then we’ll write effortlessly. If anything, even the easy days are still hard as hell.

I need to let go of my expectations, much like I have to let go of my fears. They aren’t always connected. Still, it would be better to let them go. There’s no telling what can and will happen. Latching onto these expectations risks a lot of disappointment when things don’t work out in those ways. As they have up to now with me.


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