The weight of great expectation


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11.15pm, 25 August 2009

I lie in bed and try to get to sleep, but it’s no use. My mind is swirling. What was I thinking when I decided to completely re-write my 100K novel from third person to first person and cut out several characters? Didn’t I realise how long it would take? I’ve already been working on it for eight months and have barely managed to get through one-fifth. There’s no way I’m going to meet my self-imposed first-draft deadline of the end of the year. And what if I spend all this time on it and the original ends up better than the re-written version?

I order my mind to shut off. Tomorrow is my first day back at work after a holiday and I don’t have time for this. But I didn’t achieve nearly as much over the holiday as I’d hoped. And if I can’t even make good progress while I’m on holiday, there’s no way I’ll be able to do better while working full time. This is pointless, the book will always be crap no matter how much work I put into it, so why am I even trying?

Tears build in my eyes and before I can stop them, they roll down my cheeks. My husband wakes up and looks over.
    ‘What’s wrong?’ he asks, his voice thick with sleep.
    ‘It’s my book,’ I tell him, knowing how silly it sounds but unable to stop myself. The words pour out and by the end of the conversation, we’ve agreed that if the novel is causing me so much stress, I should put it aside. Take the learnings and apply them to a new book – maybe.

I stick with this decision for a month. But it gnaws at my heart and lines my stomach with disappointment. I’ve felt like this before – eight years ago, when I turned my back on the uni drama course that I’d been hoping to get into throughout all of high school.

When the going got tough, I gave up. And I haven’t gone back to acting since. Is that what’s happening here? I wonder. Am I giving up on my writing because of one rough patch?

I think about all the time I’ve put into the novel, and into the re-write. Despite my anxiety, I know this version is better than the last. If I give up, the last eight months have been wasted. Two unappealing choices lay before me – persist with the drudgery of the re-write or revert to the original (crappy) version.

But why has the re-write become such drudgery? Writing the first version was exhilarating, so why have things changed so dramatically?

The more I think about it, the more I realise the difference – it’s the weight of great expectation. I’m writing what is essentially a first draft, but I’m expecting it to be as word-perfect as a final draft. Plus I’ve set myself a ridiculous timeframe. And the only person applying this pressure… is me.

So, after much angst and internal debate, I decide to re-open that document. But, before I do, I create a list of rules that must be read each time I sit down to write:

  • This is your hobby, so let yourself enjoy the process.
  • It desn’t have to be perfect the first time.
  • The only deadines are the ones you set yourself.

Slowly but surely, I make progress. And you know what? Somewhere along the way, I start enjoying myself again. And when I reach the final scene, I’m not just enjoying the journey, I’m loving it. This post will attest to that.

So am I glad I didn’t give up? Abso-bloody-lutely. I’m so proud of what I’ve written (even though it needs a major edit), and so proud that I didn’t let my anxiety stop me from doing what I love.

How about you? How do you feel about your writing at the moment? If it’s become painful and arduous, it’s worth asking why. Perhaps you’re letting your expectations, perfectionism or fear overshadow why you started writing in the first place.

If you’re like me, you many not be able to silence that Fear Voice completely. You know, the one whispering (or shouting) that your writing is terrible, that you should give up before you embarrass yourself… But just because that voice is there, doesn’t mean you have to listen to it. Feel free to tell it where to go, and then go about proving it wrong.

 Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.”  Unknown

 Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  Nelson Mandela

 Feel the fear and do it anyway.”  Susan Jeffers

 “I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time.” Anna Freud



Filed under Fear, Tangled, Writing

20 responses to “The weight of great expectation

  1. How about you? How do you feel about your writing at the moment? If it’s become painful and arduous, it’s worth asking why. Perhaps you’re letting your expectations, perfectionism or fear overshadow why you started writing in the first place.

    How I feel about it changes from moment to moment! When I’m thinking about it, I’m anxious about how much it sucks. When I’m actually writing it, though? I’m swept up in the awesome process of discovery. This is why I’m trying to make sure I set aside a little time for writing every day. Even if it’s only 10 minutes, that little boost reminds me why it’s the feeling I get while I’m writing that should control!

    • That’s really interesting that you feel anxious about your writing when you’re not writing, but good about it when you are. In that case, it definitely makes sense to write every day. My emotions are directly connected to the specific scene I’m writing at the time. If I think it’s going well, I feel great. If I think it’s going badly, then the whole book sucks. Gotta love black and white thinking! 😉

  2. What a great post. I appreciate your honesty – it makes me feel like I’m in good company. I certainly feel the fear and the weight of expectations and, like you, I know it comes more from myself than anywhere else, (although at this stage I do also have an agent, and occasionally editors, who expect me to write something that isn’t total garbage.) I wish I knew the answer to overcoming that fear, but I still face it many days when I sit down to write, even though I’ve been writing for years, and even though I’ve been published a few times. Each time you sit down to write, it’s new – a new story, a new paragraph of your current WIP – and as such you want it to be good.

    Maybe the fear is good in a way though, because it means we really care and want to write the best we can – we don’t want to just churn out words for the sake of writing, we hope to create memorable stories that will make a difference to the people who read them. And maybe on some level fear is part of the creative process, because creativity is so personal.

    • Thanks, Susanna. I know that the weight of expectations will only become heavier when/if I get published, which is why it’s so important I understand how it works now! You’re right, fear isn’t all bad. It does help us ensure our work is the best it can be – pity it coudn’t do that in a ‘nicer’ way! 🙂

  3. I certainly admire your dedication. My guess is that it is going to be a great book. And I love those new rules – I am going to hang them up by my monitor!

  4. Great post! I’m usually rah-rah-rah about my writing, but this week I’ve been struggling with “the weight of great expectation.” I’m glad you persevered and went back to writing. It’s so important to give ourselves permission to enjoy the process.

    • It is SO important, isn’t it? Labour of love – that’s one of the best terms for writing, I think. Hope your struggle with the weight of great expectation eases up soon. 🙂

      P.S. Hope you’re planning on participating in the Power of Tension blogfest!

  5. Great stuff, Cally! Awesome. I’m going to show this one to friends 🙂

  6. Catherine Johnson

    Wow that is a massive job, good luck whatever you decide. Maybe having a break from it for a while will help and get you dying to get back to it again. I have been checking the meter on a rhyming novel for months and it can get tedious. I’m on a break from it right now and concentrated on new picture books and some poetry which is a lovely break!

    • Thanks for dropping by, Catherine. I can imagine that checking the meter on rhymes would definitely become tedious. This post was actually set in the past – I have finished the first draft and am going pretty well with the edit. 🙂

  7. T.F.Walsh

    Congrats on sticking with it… I have my moments like you and want to throw it all in, and I tend to go through a few days of emotional ups and downs, then I start coming back around and feeling the things I love about writing… and my hubby is always there too, reminding me it is a fun hobby… I nod and acknowledge it but also know it is so much more than a hobby for me…hehe


    • I know what you mean. While writing is my hobby, it’s also much more than that. It’s my passion, it’s my dream, it’s my creative outlet and hopefully, one day, it will be my career! Fingers crossed… 🙂

      PS Hope to see an entry from you in our Power of Tension blogfest, which runs 23-27 May!

  8. Amy

    Great post! Its true that all writers feel that fear in the back of their mind, and it’s all up to us to conquer it. I’m glad that you did, because just from the way you word your posts, I can tell your book is going to be great. I look forward to reading it whenever it comes out(no rush)! Love your blog by the way! 🙂

    • Awww, thanks so much, Amy. Your belief in me means a lot!

      P.S. Thanks for promoting the Power of Tension blogfest on your blog. Looking forward to seeing your entry. 🙂

  9. I am still very passionate about my writing but am suffering from mental constipation for now. I am working on ways to correct it and hope to remedy it soon. 🙂

    • Mental constipation – what a great term. I might just have to borrow that one. It does sound painful though, hope you find a remedy!

      PS Hope to see an entry from you in our Power of Tension blogfest, which runs 23-27 May! 🙂

  10. Pingback: Mental Health Monday–Hosting Cally Jackson, Author of The Big Smoke « Author Laura Diamond–Lucid Dreamer

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