Sunday, April 14, 2013
The Burden of Expectation on the Creative Life
I’ve had writer’s block since November 22nd 2012. It began after I finished an exuberant first run in NaNoWriMo, whereby I completed a manuscript—start to finish—in less than 21 days. A record for me.
I spent some time trying to write after I finished NaNoWriMo, not the manuscript I had completed during the NaNoWriMo month, but a different one. By the New Year, I was really depressed so I did something I have never done since I made the commitment to be a writer decades ago:
I gave up writing fiction. . . completely. Since that time I have been journaling in that messy, self-pitying/angry/ranting way that is ultimately very healthy but not good for creating a world, a story nor is it good for public consumption.
The good news is that after these 4 months of journaling, I have identified what’s up with me.
It’s so f-king simple that you are going to probably stop reading this blog right after you hear it.
Drum roll, please:
I expected that after 16 years of writing, submitting, receiving awards, and even achieving agented status, I would, by now, be further along in my writing career.
This is almost funny. I mean what writer trying to “make it” hasn’t had that feeling? What writer doesn’t expect, want, pray, hope for more? So the thing that blocks me now, that makes writing bone-crushingly painful is the burden of expectation.
Since childhood I’ve dreamed of being a writer. I’ve always had the dream. Not only that, but in all parts of my life, I am a dreamer. I believe, in my bones, that dreaming actualizes reality. I have lived that Truth; that is how I have made everything in my life happen. My books, my business, the literary anthology I founded, even my marriage, my children. . . all began with delicious, lovely dreams.
The dream of writer once felt lovely, empowering, and it drove me. Lately, though, my dreams to write fiction feel more like extra weight, like I put on about thirty pounds. My cadence has slowed. I’m lumbering. I’m pulled to closer to the earth. Why? Because what was once a dream, became—somewhere along the way—an expectation. Expectations are heavy. Dreams are not.
I have tried to go back into my manuscripts, but I second-guess every stroke of the keyboard. I delete more than I write. The word-counts of each current WIP—healthy 60,000 plus—only burden rather than motivate me.
I just keep questioning the big picture. It’s not just the specific book I am working on; it’s this path of being a writer that I am on.
I used to like to work hard just for the adrenaline-high of it. The burn of it, like a fast run outside. I was very committed to that feeling of nose-to-the-grindstone with my writing, revising until I felt sweaty and tired. Whether it was writing books or getting an MFA in writing, the process of hard work was enough for me. I was in love with the process of creating fiction. I enjoyed every single moment, losing myself deeply in each project.
But now the process of the hard work has felt bone-crushingly painful. Because what was once an airy, ethereal dream is now a feet firmly planted expectation.
And I really just don’t know what to do except, well. . . write about it.
My dreams as a writer are probably similar to yours. (I assume mainly writers are reading this, but you can apply it to any dream).
I dreamt that I would have a book deal by 25. Then when 25 hit and it didn’t happen, I just worked harder and dreamt it would be 30. Then, you guessed it, when 30 hit, I worked even harder and aimed for 35.
I turn 38 this year. You know what the new dream is?
To be able to sit down and write a book with ease, with joy, with a sense of fun.
My oldest daughter is the same age I was when I decided that when I grow up, I was going to be an author, like Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. My fourth grade teacher, although very surly and liked to knock down my over-confidence with remarks like “You are the second best reader in the class, not the first”, awarded me with a badge at the end of the year: “Ambition Is To Be An Author”. Not Best Writer. No, my “award” was for my ambition. Pretty telling.
My dreams and ambition fuel me and the burden of expectation kills the creative dream.
I need to go back to dreaming and let go of expectations.