As creative writers, it’s easy to fall prey to unrealistic expectations. Writers must strike a balance between expectations that are too low or goals that are set too high. If expectations are too low, they may be a product of fears and self-doubt that our writing is not good enough. If expectations are too high, they may reveal an overly optimistic view of talents and skills that haven’t been mastered.
Developing a healthy balance between the two can provide a more realistic vision of your writing. The more realistic your expectations are, the more easily you’ll be able to achieve your writing goals. Here’s how you can manage your expectations as a writer.
1. Assess your skill set. Make a list of all your skills. What are you especially good at doing? Are there certain skills that you need to learn? For example, do you need to learn how to edit yourself? Or do you need to develop a better ear for dialogue? When you assess your skill set, you gain a clear understanding of your strengths and limitations.
2. Assess your writing goals. Think about the types of writing you want to do. Do you want to write fiction or screenplays, or are you happy writing for businesses? Do you want to be a published author, or do you prefer to write as a hobby? Do you want to be paid for your writing? If so, research places like Writer’s Market for information about paid writing markets. What time frame do you want to achieve these goals? Some can be achieved within a year while others may take several years. Still others may never be realized. You may need to prioritize these goals and set milestones for achieving the larger ones.
3. Check in with yourself periodically. Goals and expectations can change over time. Set aside time every quarter (ideally) or at least every six months to review your writing goals to determine if you are still on track. When you reassess your plan every few months, you can make adjustments along the way so you stay on track.
4. Seek a second opinion. If you feel stuck and you’re not sure where to go next with your writing, it might help to get the perspective of a friend or two. It may be that you aimed too high with your writing or your expectations are too low. They can provide valuable insights into your approach. For example, if you lack self-confidence, they might point out some of your strengths that you can capitalize on. Or if you are painting an overly rosy picture of your writing life, like writing an 800-page novel in the next six months, they can provide needed perspective so you can see if that is a realistic goal.
5. Challenge your inner critic. Writers are naturally born with an inner critic, a voice that tells them their writing stinks. When you notice that voice in your head, stop for a moment and challenge those thoughts. Who is really thinking them – you or someone else? Counter with a positive affirmation in return. For example, if the voice keeps telling you that no one will like your story, counter it by pointing out all the times when someone DID like your story. Keep countering that critic with success stories of your own until that voice is silenced for good.
Or put a sign on your wall: “Inner critics not allowed while creative genius is at work.” Or something similar. The sign serves as a constant reminder that what matters most is your opinion, not someone else’s.
6. Expect rejection. No matter what kind of writing you do, rejection is bound to happen. Someone somewhere will be reviewing your work, and not everyone will like what you write. Rejection is a natural part of the writing process. Rejection can help you reassess your writing project to see if it still works. It can help you look at other avenues for publishing that you might not have considered. If two editors didn’t like your piece about making your own food for cats, then maybe a third editor will. Rejection can be disarming at first, but it can also fuel your motivation to keep trying.
7. Let go of the need to be perfect. When you first begin writing, you might envision what your final piece will look like. Then as you begin writing, you realize that your piece is nothing at all like you imagined. Perhaps you write a dozen or so drafts before finally giving up. First drafts are supposed to be crap, says essayist Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. Know this and accept it. First drafts help you unload the ideas from your head to the paper before you can craft them into a story. If you try to be perfect as you write, you will never accomplish much. All you will have to show for your effort is a waste basket filled with crumpled sheets of paper.
Unrealistic expectations are often the result of feelings of inferiority or idealized visions of writing success. Neither of them are satisfactory. Keep your expectations realistic by periodically assessing your skills and emotional mindset.