I am a listmaker, a planner, and a victim of my own high expectations. I began the summer by designing a hefty writing goal: finish the current draft of my novel by the end of June. Even now, as I type those words, the task seems like it should have plausible. Easy. But, after only two weeks into my summer vacation, I realized I wouldn’t reach that goal.
Couldn’t reach it.
Headaches ensued, followed by a case of the “poor me’s,” and soon those clouds in the sky that lingered well past their welcome meant more than just rain.
“It’s summer, for crying out loud,” I complained to a friend. “Life is good. Why do I feel so bad?”
My friend suggested I write another list, a different one, a list of every expectation I set for myself. Later, when I read it back to her, she pointed out an interesting theme, so that I understood the skewed vision I had, of me:
Linda Carter could kick a novel into submission in no time, and have dinner on the table by six o’clock. She could swim the deep ocean to rescue a sinking sub and then surface, lipstick and mascara (and sanity) in tact. But I’m not Linda Carter. My hair gives way two minutes into a workout, and those bullet-deflecting bracelets are useless against the snide remarks of that committee in my head.
Making that list of expectations was quite a revelation, from a personal point of view and a writer’s perspective. I can’t do everything I set out to do, and that’s okay. So now, I have two new goals: relax and just be —
Amanda Hoving talks about similar revelations in a recent post on her blog. Yes, time is ticking away, but that I don’t need to drive myself crazy or beat myself up.
Wise words came from a few other folks, too, words that help keep me grounded, lately:
1) Comments on a recent post of my own, which reiterate I am not alone in my struggle to complete a novel, and that perhaps I could consider that story as a shorter work (there’s that perspective bit again).
2) Passages from Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel, a great book for writers with just an idea or with an unfinished draft in hand. Early on in her book, she says something that speaks directly to me, in how I work my draft and (apparently) in how I plan my days:
Don’t make lists…lists tie you down to having events happen in a certain order, and this is not the time for you to be deciding that.
Lists do help me get organized. But, like every asset, making lists quickly swings to a defect when that particular action takes me down into a feeling of failure. Morris knows this, and she offers several tasks for writers that help move a novel forward, without obsessing over the mantra, “I should be doing this, or that, by now.”
3) Jan O’Hara’s recent post on Writer Unboxed, a poignant essay on letting go, relaxing, and embracing the kind of writing that feeds your spirit. She says:
I’ve noticed a tendency for writers to devalue their natural talents, perhaps because the writing can feel easier. (Not “easy”, because writing is seldom that.) Sometimes I think we are so used to telling stories about struggle, we believe that’s the only way to exist. If it isn’t hard, it doesn’t count. If we aren’t wrung out by the process, it can’t contain much worth.
Go read Jan’s essay. Then, set out – or head back – to do what you love.
Speaking of, just for today, this is what I’m doing:
- Using Morris’ book to push my story draft towards the finish (whether that be 80,000 words or 40,000), but not panicking if that happens at a much slower rate.
- Writing and revising flash fiction (maybe even putting them into a collection), because that’s a genre I enjoy, and one in which I feel I can succeed.
Linda Carter can keep her boots.
What high expectations can you let go of today?