The Weight of Expectation

What a month! It’s been a while since my last post and that’s partly because I’ve been working on a personal project I hope to share soon. In the meantime, here’s this week’s newsletter. Happy writing!

The Weight of Expectation

Many of us struggle with the weight of expectation. There’s an immense amount of pressure to please other people. That weight takes all the joy out of writing. The pressure becomes so intense that it’s far easier to not even try, because the thought of trying and failing is unbearable.

What would happen if you threw off that dead weight and wrote whatever you pleased?

Here’s what J.K. Rowling had to say about The Casual Vacancy, her first novel after the Harry Potter series:

J.K. Rowling: I had the idea for The Casual Vacancy right after finishing Deathly Hallows…There’s always trepidation; I mean, I think that people might be surprised to know that I felt trepidation every time I produced a Potter book. You know, the weight of expectation there was, I won’t say ‘crushing’, it was extraordinary and wonderful to have that weight of expectation. But at times

Charlie Rose (Interviewer): You were competing with yourself.

J.K. Rowling: Yeah, and with the expectations latterly of millions of fans, all of whom were very invested in the story and wanted to see what they wanted to see. And I knew where I was going, and I had to put on mental blinkers a lot and just think, “I know where I’m going, I must not be influenced by this.” So in a sense, it was liberating to leave that weight of expectation behind and know that I could just do what I wanted to do. It was very freeing. But I must say that I spent the first two years working on The Casual Vacancy telling myself, “You don’t even have to publish that, you don’t even have to publish this book.” And that was a way of bringing down my own awareness that, you know, it wasn’t going to be what some people wanted it to be.

J.K. Rowling, Interview with Charlie Rose, 19 October, 2012 (bolding mine)

What a revelation! J.K. Rowling told herself that she didn’t have to publish the book she was writing. Now, I’m sure that J.K. Rowling could write down her thoughts on tablecloths and they would sell. But that wasn’t her motivation. She also didn’t want to write what others wanted her to write. She wanted to tell the story she wanted to tell. To do so, she identified whose expectations were weighing her down and countered them with her own truth.

What about you? Whose expectations are you trying to meet? Why are you trying to meet them? What do you gain out of trying to meet them?

What would happen if you just wrote whatever you pleased? My guess is that is that writing would be liberating, joyful and an absolute delight.

Remember that you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. The only obligation you have is to be true to yourself.

This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words:
1. My thoughts on tablecloths [if J.K. Rowling isn’t going to write about them, someone has to]
2. Brightly-coloured pens stood…
3. Potato fun night!
4. Singing in the sunshine…
5. The calculator screen read…

Falling Behind

I wasn’t planning to write about this topic for the newsletter. It was going to contain some writing advice, as per usual. But this is what came out instead.

In the past three weeks, I’ve been ill twice. Most of my time has therefore been spent on completing work for clients and then catching up on essential household tasks (in that order). During this time, I have had exactly five opportunities to work on my personal writing, and each session was very short.

You’d better believe I’m annoyed. And frustrated. And angry.

I love writing. I love playing around with words and re-arranging them until they’re just right. I love it so much that I do it for a living. I love it so much that I’m working on several novels (they all started as short stories and kept getting longer). So if I love it so much, how could I allow myself to fall so far behind? Am I just lazy? Am I just pretending to love writing because I think it sounds cool? (“Oh, I’m a writer, don’t you know,” I imagine myself saying as I flip my scarf over my shoulder.) How could I let myself go for so long without working on my personal projects?

When I told a close friend that I was very disappointed in my progress, she said, “You’re being too hard on yourself.”

And the thing is, that’s exactly what I’d say to someone who told me that illness and work commitments had prevented them from writing. I’d tell them, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Five writing sessions in twenty-one days is still an achievement, even if they were short. You at least made the effort to write when you could – you could have easily chosen not to.”

So why is it so hard to believe this also applies to me?

I don’t know. But I’ve noticed a lot of people feel the same way – what they accept about others, they can’t accept about themselves.

If you feel you’ve fallen behind, or that you should be writing more than you have been, I unfortunately don’t have any advice for you that will fix everything. I wish I did, because then maybe it would help me as well. All I can say is that you’re not alone. So let’s get back to writing. We’ll do it together. Grab a pen, or start up the computer, and start writing. Let’s make the time for it, right now, in this instant. We can easily pick up where we left off. The words will always be there, waiting patiently for us, no matter how long it’s been.

This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. Sparkly bottles of…
2. Which fictional spaceship is your favourite?
3. The one thing I know about hot air balloons is…
4. One stroke of the paintbrush and…
5. The copper lid clattered to the floor…