When we, as writers, set our expectations too high, it can create a sense of pressure and anxiety that can be paralyzing. I have found this to be true on the grand scale as well as in quieter, more nuanced ways (and it’s one of the many things I address in my free webinar on How to Banish Writer’s Block Forever). Let’s start with the grand.
Dream big dreams
Writers have healthy imaginations. It’s kind of our thing. But those imaginations can work against us when we spend our time daydreaming about the masterpieces we’re going to create (instead of doing the work of actually creating it). I will admit to imagining myself sitting across from Oprah, or pacing the dark stage of a TED talk. While it can be (and usually is) fun to play around in these make-believe scenarios, it’s important to check in every now and then to make sure you’re trying to write a novel for the right reasons.
It’s totally fine to want to be rich and famous, but if that’s your ultimate goal, I might humbly suggest that there are easier ways to go about it than writing a novel. In my experience, there is an entire subcategory of people who think they want to write a novel, but really what they want is to have written a (wildly successful) novel. It’s a subtle difference, but a critical one.
Writing a novel takes work. Writing a wildly successful novel takes a lot of work and a fair amount of luck. And again, there’s nothing wrong with imagining your future successes, just don’t let expectations of wealth and fame distract you from actually writing.
Take small actions
Even when we keep our big expectations in check, we can still get tripped up by what we think we should be accomplishing on any given day.
Never (ever) sit down to try and write a novel.
Because how daunting is that? 80,000 words? If it doesn’t sound like a lot, I promise you that after you sit at your desk for a day, laboring over your keyboard, and then check your word count to find you’ve written 623 words – THEN 80,000 starts to feel daunting.
My best advice for avoiding overwhelm (and people laugh when I tell them this): lower your expectations. Seriously. Don’t sit down to write a novel, or even a chapter. Decide to write 500 words, or decide to write for a set amount of time regardless of word count. (My online writing community is great for this, BTW).
Writing a book, especially a novel or memoir, is a long game. Sometimes you will need to do things that don’t even look like writing, like take a long walk, or read someone else’s book. It’s all part of the job.
The source most expectations
The pressure of expectations almost always comes from comparing ourselves to others. The one exception would be if you’ve had some success(es) in the past and are worried about living up to those, in which case, you’re comparing yourself to that other person you were when you had those successes.
All you can really do, as a writer, is to write.
Do your best to let all the comparisons go. Set realistic expectations. Instead of aiming for perfection, focus on making progress, and remember that writing is a process. You will rewrite, edit, and rewrite again before you’re done. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. And most importantly, just keep writing.