The Should is what we think other people think we should be doing. I’ll give you a great example from my personal life.
About 8 years ago, my sister called me while I was at work to tell me she was engaged. I was elated. I was maybe 24 years old at this time. My sister is almost 2 years younger than me. You can guess where this is going.
On my way back to my cubicle, I ran into one of the girls I worked with in the hallway. Bursting with happiness, I told her that my little sister had just got engaged.
She looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry.”
I stared at her, mouth hanging open as I tried to figure out why she was apologizing when I was clearly so happy. People getting engaged is a good thing, right? And she’s married so it’s not like she has any reason to be bitter.
The she said, “I know it’s hard when your younger sister gets married before you. But don’t worry, it’ll happen for you.”
Say what? I don’t think I even responded. It hadn’t occurred to me to be unhappy. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was anything wrong with my younger sister getting married before me. They’d been together for a long time and I’d been single for a long time. Reason dictates that she was bound to get married before me. And I was only 24 so why should it be weird that I’m not married yet? That was the first time I felt like I was in the wrong for being single.
Since then, I’ve had many conversations that follow the same line only now people throw kids in the mix. “Oh. I thought you were younger than that. And you aren’t married?” No, I tell them. Not married. This is almost always followed by the question (especially from other women), “But you want kids, right?” Like not wanting them speaks volumes about me.
That’s The Should. I Should be married with kids by now. But since I’m not, I Should be bitter and miserable and lonely.
But I’m not and I’ve learned not to let that make me feel bad or wrong
The same applies to your writing. How many times have you come up with a great idea only to turn around and dismantle it? That voice in your head commending your brilliance switches sides. Turns out it’s a sleeper agent.
If you really love an idea, do you stop loving it so suddenly? So easily? No, you don’t. What happens is you let in fictitious versions of real people and they dictate what you should be writing. You should be writing contemporary fiction not fantasy. You shouldn’t write young adult if you want to be taken seriously.
Now, here comes the interesting question: did you really like the idea to begin with? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discarded an idea because I think it’s not good enough or no one will like it and opted for an idea I didn’t like but thought I should be writing.
For children, the Should doesn’t exist. They simply are and do what makes them happy. Teenagers learn what they should be doing and push back by doing what they shouldn’t. Adulthood hits and life becomes all about what we should be doing. This is not only boring but leads to a lot of important decisions being made based on fear.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the Should: It’s subjective. We’re each on our own path. Just because mine looks different doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad. It definitely doesn’t mean I’m wrong or bad.
The problem with worrying about what other people think you should do is they don’t have to live with your decisions. They aren’t marrying your significant other or raising your kids. Those choices are yours and you have to live with the consequences.
There’s an argument to be made for writing with an audience in mind but I’m not going to make it. I believe that writing is private in the beginning when you’re tossing around ideas and choosing which road to take.
Don’t worry about other people. They don’t come into play until you’re ready to publish. That’s when you go public and you can’t do much about the questions and suggestions then. But, by that point, you’ve made your decisions. If you’ve chosen wisely, it won’t bother you as much when people say you should’ve done this or that.
You can’t make everyone happy. But there is one person you can do something nice for every day: yourself.