When I sat down to write this article, it was going to be about perfectionism. But then I realized that I’m not so much a perfectionist as an expectationist. And, yes, I made that word up.
What do I mean by expectationist? It’s a person that spends a lot of time picturing how things should look in their head (me) and then are disappointed when reality hands them something that looks different.
There are lots of moments that should have been happy or perfect but in my mind weren’t because there was something off. I was too fat or my hair didn’t look quite right or I had to pee really bad. You know what I mean? Like you’re on a first date and it’s going really well and you know he’s fixing to lean in and kiss you. You think man this is one of those movie moments but oh my gosh I’m going to pee my pants. And it just kind of ruins the whole thing for you?
This carries into my writing. I get an idea in my head of what kind of books I should write and what kind of characters should populate them. For example, for a long time I wanted to write serious adult literature. It needed to be fantasy of course but it had to make a point. It had to be serious. No silly fun stuff, no fluff. It needed to be wordy and deep. Problem was I kept getting ideas that appealed to a younger audience.
I fought it for a long time. Then I read Harry Potter and realized that children’s books can be deep and meaningful. You don’t need lots of words or seriousness to make a moving point about life and what it means to be human.
That took a huge load off. But then the image in my mind of what my life and writing should be looked a lot like JK Rowling’s. So every time reality was different, I was disappointed again.
I do it with ideas. I decide that my next character should be a little girl. But the idea I get is for a talking cat with an attitude problem. So what do I do? I fight it because it doesn’t match my expectations. I was expecting a little girl and instead got a cat with an inflated sense of self.
If I’m writing a blog post and the first draft is a little bumpy in the execution, I delete it and start over because in my mind, it should flow out perfectly. I can tell you that never happens. Even the ones that do come out smoothly in the first draft still require editing.
The list goes on. Expectationism is such a danger to creativity because creativity never lives up to our expectations. It never bothers to stop and consider them. It’s organic and it changes and does what it wants to.
The best thing you can do to combat this is to accept it and quit fighting it. Your writing will never be perfect. Your ideas will never be what you expected. Set aside your expectations. Learn to embrace things as they are in the moment. Don’t get frustrated because you have to pee when Prince Charming is fixing to kiss you. No, it won’t be a fairy tale story but it’ll be funny and it will be yours. It will be real.
Your ideas aren’t going to look like JK Rowling’s or Stephen King’s or Agatha Christie’s or whatever author you admire. They’re going to look different because they’re yours and you’re different.
That’s okay. That’s how it should be.
If you give your acceptance and show a willingness to go with the creative flow the universe is throwing at you, your writing will get much better. And because you’ve opened yourself up to this, you’ll start getting more ideas as well.
Don’t judge them or expect them to be a certain way. If you quit doing that, you’ll see the potential in them. You’ll see them for what they are instead of what they aren’t.
No one ever came up with something new or experienced something great by only doing what they expected. Our own expectations are limited by what we know at the time. Creativity hands us something new. Because it’s new, we never could have expected it. So, in a way, it exceeds our expectations.
Embrace the moments and the ideas as they are. Love them in their imperfections. Trust me, both your writing and your life will get a lot easier if you can learn to do this.