July was a hard month. Almost every day was go-go-go with a beach vacation, visits from friends, the Romance Writers of America conference in NYC and all the shopping and packing required to get ready for all those events. I barely had time to write, but I kept telling myself everything would be okay.
Once the noise and action of the trips and laundry and conversations had died down and it was time to settle back into my routine, I found myself crippled with fear. What if I had stepped away from my story too long? What if the words I’d already written were all crap? What if I couldn’t live up the expectations of all the retailers I’d met with over the RWA conference?
In order to push myself to get back to work, I made a long list of things I needed to do. Updates I need to do to my website, setting up a schedule to get more of my books into audio, emails I needed to write, words I needed to get per day to hit my goals. I thought the list would make me feel better and more in control, but when I stepped back to look at it, I felt like my entire body was being squeezed into some kind of trash compactor. My heart literally hurt from the weight of all those expectations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to-do lists aren’t valuable. Heck, my life runs on to-do lists (decorated with washi tape, colorful pens, and stickers of course). But what I had done was more than just write up a to-do list. I had written down all the crazy expectations I had for myself. Somehow, in my post-conference brain, I had convinced myself that I was superhuman. That I could write 5,000 words a day, redesign my entire website, get started on two audio books, do a complete overhaul of my covers, blog every day, be better with social media, answer a thousand emails, get back on my diet, exercise every day, and be the best mom and wife in the world.
And that’s only the half of it.
Instead of making me feel better and more in control, that list made me feel like a failure. There was absolutely no way I could accomplish everything overnight, but for me, the items on that list represented my own expectations of success. If I could do everything I’d listed on that page, I would be a success both personally and professionally.
Somehow, my brain also interpreted the list to mean that if I dropped the ball on even ONE THING and didn’t get it done as soon as superhumanly possible, I was a failure.
I have honestly spent the past week or so of my life feeling overwhelmed, depressed, tired, and scared as hell. I haven’t been able to write. I haven’t been able to get out of bed early enough some days to get anything on that damned list done. And the more I stress and worry, the worse and more tired I feel. The less I get done, the more like a failure I feel. I’ve been caught inside that loop for nearly two weeks.
So I went to see a writer friend of mine who has always been there for me. Bella Roccaforte is one of those rare friends who can just be honest and tell it like she sees it without hurting my feelings. Over the course of a few days, she helped me to talk through all my fears and start writing again. It started with one thirty minute sprint. No pressure. No worries. Just words, even if they sucked and had to be thrown out completely.
But they didn’t suck. They were fun and witty and emotional. I was instantly back in my world, hearing the voices of my characters again instead of the voices in my head that tell me I’m nothing. By the end of the day, I had over 4,000 words.
When I got home from Bella’s the fear and resistance was back full force. I’d love to say that I woke up this morning feeling like a new person, ready to face the day and kick some butt. I’d like to tell you I checked ten things off my list and am on my way to success! But the truth is that I struggled not to crawl back into bed after I dropped my son off at school this morning. I struggled to get started writing or working on anything at all.
So I reminded myself of how it felt when I set aside all the worries and expectations and just focused on the words. I fought against the resistance inside me and opened up a new page. I started typing, getting anything down, even if it sucked. I set a timer and wrote some words on my current project.
Maybe those words sucked, and maybe I’ll have to throw them out or rewrite them later, but that’s not the point. The point is that I fought against the voice in my head that told me I’m a failure, and I sat down and I worked. Not on the emails or the business side that often makes me feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I worked on my book. For twenty minutes, I lost myself in a world I alone created, and I found a piece of myself that held power. I connected with the passion I have for writing and creating, even if it was just for a short piece of time.
The bottom line is this. Expectations can be crippling. As Indie authors, we spend a lot of time thinking about the expectations of our readers, our spouses, our editors, our friends and fellow authors. But most of all, it’s the expectations we put on ourselves that cripple us the most. For me, it’s this expectation of perfection. Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that anything less than perfect is just plain lazy or worthless. And every day I don’t meet that expectation of perfection, a little voice in my head (my husband calls her Evil Sweetie) tells me that I’m a worthless failure. The sad thing is that some days, I believe her.
It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey to this elusive thing called success. It doesn’t matter if you’re a NYT Bestseller several times over or if you’re celebrating your first 100 sales. It doesn’t matter if you’re still struggling to finish your first novel or if you’re about to publish your twentieth. We all are guilty of placing unrealistic, dangerous expectations on ourselves.
“If I just stop being lazy and sit down to write, I can do 5,000 words a day and finish this novel by next week.”
“I can lose fifty pounds by December and finish five more books and still spend quality time with my children.”
“This new book is going to sell at least twenty thousand copies in its first week.”
“I’m going to work harder, even if it means working seventy or eighty hours a week.”
No matter what it is you expect from yourself, please don’t let those insane expectations become the ruler by which you measure yourself. Don’t let falling short of a nearly impossible goal make you feel like a failure. Stop letting the crushing weight of mounting expectations steal the joy from your writing.
Sit back for a moment and close your eyes. Imagine the expectations and to-do list items sitting on top of your shoulders. Take a deep breath and when you exhale, brush them off, one at a time. Let those expectations fall to the floor like bricks. Roll your shoulders back, feel how light they are now that you’ve let all that go.
Now, put your hands on the keyboard and start writing.