Writing Wednesday: Expectation vs. Reality
By Kara Newcastle


“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”—from an Iris Murdoch novel

There is a myriad of different things that frustrates a writer, whether they be a bestselling author or a total newb at the whole thing. I bet you’ve experienced them—God knows I have. And there’s one thing that bugs every writer at some point, and it’s one of the big reasons people give up writing altogether: you have a great idea, you know exactly how it’s supposed to go, and the end result is utter crap.
Or so you think. Every writer has great expectations for their novel and the writing process, but once they get going, they’re hit with reality. The reality that the book isn’t turning out the way they want it to. The reality that writing is actually a shit-ton harder than they thought it would be. The reality that they’re not the great writer they thought they were (that one’s more objective, and we’ll get to it in depth another time.)

Don’t feel bad. We’re all victims of our own expectations in everything. Every single one of us—myself included—will go into writing (or anything, really) thinking that this is going to be absolutely perfect. The trouble is, what you envision perfectly in your head doesn’t and can’t always be translated perfectly onto the page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at something I’ve written and silently screamed at myself, “WHY CAN’T I GET THIS RIGHT?! This sounds so stilted/dull/passive/immature/weak. It’s supposed to be active/engaging/exciting/illustrative/professional/powerful! Why can’t I get what I see in my head onto the page?!”
It may take a while for the concept to sink in, but in time you’ll come to learn—as I did, as every author before did—that it takes time and rewrites to get what you want. You’ll also learn that at some point you have to stop and say you’re done, you’re satisfied with your work. It’s not easy to do; E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web among many others, was infamous for being unhappy with his work. Stories abound of him finally completing a manuscript and sending it to his publisher, only to panic, race back to the post office and beg the postmaster to dig out the package and give it back, so White could change something in the story. White was so scared of what people would think of his writing, he was constantly going back and tweaking it. He was never satisfied with his own work … but, if any of you had ever read any of his stories, you know he was a true master of the written word.
For me, it was a combination of emotional exhaustion over stressing about getting everything to translate on the page as perfectly as I imagined it and getting just so fed up with working on the same thing over and over again that caused me to rethink the whole “have to get it perfect” conundrum. I realized that I was just making myself unhappy by trying to live up to my own unrealistic expectations. Okay, so I didn’t exactly get across that the monster was hideous the way I wanted to—it’s more important that the reader understands that the monster was dangerous.
I mean, just writing this particular blog took a few tries; I had the idea for what I wanted to write but had a hard time wording it. My expectation: I’ll just bang out this blog no problem. My reality: took me maybe three rewrites and four days to get it done.
So don’t get hung up on your expectations, and don’t get discouraged by the reality. Go easy on yourself. You’ll get it done.


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