Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing Expectations

I was talking to a friend the other day about expectations in writing. I mean, people who have never read a book by you before might not have expectations. They might--they might expect that your book will be good. They will probably at least hope that your book will be good.

If you've written a book and people have read it and liked it, then you have set a bar for yourself, right? The next book has to be better. And you think about how much work went into the first book, and how proud you were when it was finished, and how sometimes you weren't even sure how you'd managed to tell the story, so how are you supposed to do it again!?

Now you have to start all over again. From scratch.

Don't get me wrong: there is an incredible excitement that comes from a new story and new characters (or revisiting old characters from a new perspective, in the case of sequels). But if you start to think about what you have to do to make this one more, to make it better, to make it exceed expectations, to make it use less italics, you can really stress yourself out.

Sequels can seem even more this way. When you have a standalone book, you still might feel like you need to exceed yourself on the next book, but with sequels, you might feel the need to exceed in your writing and your previously created world. Either way, it's a lot of pressure we put on ourselves as writers.

Pressure isn't always a bad thing. It can push you to keep going, to improve, to make your writing better--if it's channeled constructively. It can also crush you under its weight if you're not careful. It can suck you into the despair of I won't be good enough this time. Look at my last polished manuscript. Look at the hours I put into it and the three thousand revisions it got and look at how nice it is. Look how messy this book I'm working on right now is. It's never going to be that good.

There became other fears once publication was involved. What if the next book isn't good enough to publish? What if no one likes it?

I've been finding that if I focus on whether the books I'm currently writing are better than the ones I previously wrote, it takes away my joy in writing the story and makes me stall on writing at all. I need to be able to let the story come out, to follow the characters and see what adventures they take me on, and if I'm holding this giant ball of expectation over my head, it's going to be a huge struggle to write anything.

Should we always be trying to grow and improve and make our writing better? Absolutely. Should we have no expectations on ourselves? Of course not. Should we be putting so much pressure on ourselves to try to outdo ourselves that we lose faith with what we're writing? No. Like so many, many things in writing, there's a balance, and learning how you work best, and learning how to improve without letting your writing dry up or giving yourself a panic attack.

Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves permission to write. To write knowing it won't be perfect, and parts of it will probably be horrible and in need of a lot of work, and that all this book needs to be right now is written on its own standards. The more you practice writing, the more you learn and grow, and your writing will likely reflect that growth anyway.

Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you're writing? Do you find it makes you focus better or does it make your writing train derail?


  1. I haven't written a sequel, so I haven't experienced this before. I'll have to keep this post in mind because I do have one I'd like to do. Two actually.

  2. I'm working on a sequel right now. Yes, it is hard. I find myself thinking the same thing you do: Is it as good as the first one?, Will it be better?, and How do I continue the characters' growth in this new novel? Ack. It's enough to drive me crazy. So I try to write and not think about it at all. Really, I'm not thinking about it...really, I'm not. Okay, I am. sigh.

  3. "If I'm holding this giant ball of expectation over my head, it's going to be a huge struggle to write anything."

    Truer words have never been spoken. Ah. I'm really struggling with "giving myself permission to write" right now. Thanks for the encouraging post.

  4. Good post! I think some pressure in writing is okay, maybe even constructive. But, you're right...there comes a point when it actually derails you rather than motivating you.

  5. Good post! I think some pressure in writing is okay, maybe even constructive. But, you're right...there comes a point when it actually derails you rather than motivating you.

  6. i think if they like your voice and style and you have a good story, they will come back! keep at it!
    it is hard not to worry and compare tho...

  7. EEEP! YES YES YES I freak myself out. You're so right, though, about needing to give ourselves permission to write. Because if we hold that anvil over our heads (ahem), there's no way anything will come out on paper.

  8. Huh. My post on the new Awakenings cover also disappeared. Very curious. I wonder if there's a character limit. I'll keep this post short. LOL.

    Anyway, this happens to me way too often. I always seem to be comparing and doubting.

    But you know, sometimes I think that helps me more than compliments. For me, I think I come up with excuses not to write something if people like it and/or I think it's good. Because then you do begin to wonder if it'll live up to expectations.

    As I'm a stubborn person, I think I get more motivated with criticism. If someone says something is bad, I move to show them that I can imrove, and that it's better than they thought. I think it's because I turn the negative into a positive, and aim to get better.

    But, of course, I do like support. And sometimes negative comments really hurt me. It's all about balance. LOL.

  9. I feel the pressure during revisions especially. The pressure is part of the *fun*

  10. I totally do this! I want it to be perfect, not a single mistake. But it is oh so hard...

  11. My writing derails in a big way when I think too much about expectations, worries, and all that other stuff. The less pressure I have, the better I write.

  12. Hi Laura! Yes, I feel the pressure to do better the next time around, and it's quite a let down if I don't. But I suppose it's normal to have those ups and downs and I only need some patience. :)

  13. I can totally relate to this post. Yes, I put a lot of pressure on myself when I'm writing. I expect myself to make this draft perfect. I'm learning to let go of these expectations, but it takes time and supreme effort!

  14. I need to let go of any expectations I have about what I'm going to write before I start (especially with a first draft). Otherwise I get freaked out and then I start procrastinating.

  15. Lіnk ехchаngе is nothing else
    but it is simply placing the other perѕon's weblog link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do same in support of you.

    Also visit my web page - zimprich.info

  16. We're a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with valuable info to work on. You'vе done а foгmіԁable job and ouг entiгe cоmmunitу will be thankful to you.

    Mу blοg post ... Chemietoilette


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!