I wanted to talk today about Managing Your Expectations, AKA, How To be a Writer Without Whining (Too Much) which means I need to start by telling you a story. Yay! It’s my preferred method of communication, after all!
A few years ago, my pastor was out of town, and we had a professor from a local Christian college come in to do pulpit supply. For the life of me, I can’t remember what text he preached on, or even what his name was, but I do remember the illustration with which he started his sermon.
|Photo from Flickr Creative Commons User Born1945 http://bit.ly/2DErrZM|
The photo has not been altered from the original.
He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) Once upon a time…(Not really, but that’s how all good stories should start…) I was at a local park taking in the sunshine and green leafy-ness of the all-too-brief Minnesota summer, when I spied a little girl of about five sitting on a park bench nearby.
She had one knee tucked up, arms wrapped around it, head bent. Vulnerable, small, and, as I walked a few step closer, I could hear her sobbing softly.
As a father, my antennae went on alert. Was she lost? Injured? Yet, as a grown man, I know better than to just walk up and start talking to a little girl alone in the park. I looked around for someone who might be able to help.
That’s when I spied the girl’s dad, a few paces away with the rest of his family, keeping an eye on his daughter while throwing a ball with his sons. He gave a “It’s all good” wave, and I relaxed. The child continued to fuss, checking occasionally to see if her daddy was paying any attention, but finally, she let her leg slip down and stopped crying.
A few moments later, the dad came over to sit beside his daughter, who was still hiccupping and snuffling, kicking her heel against the park bench leg. The dad asked, “Megan, why were you fussing?”
She pushed her mop of curly hair back with both her hands, fingers splayed like little starfish, and herked in a jerking breath. “Because my expectations are not being fulfilled.”
Clearly she wasn’t so precocious as to have thought that up herself. It was something her father must have talked with her about before. He put his arm around her, gathered her close into his side, and said, “That’s right. You are fussing because your expectations are not being fulfilled.”
The preacher went on to draw correlations between this little girl’s actions and our lives, and it really struck home with me. I’ve remembered that story and that lesson for…it must be more than a decade now.
When I fuss and fume, it’s because my expectations are not being fulfilled. My expectations of myself, of other people, of life in general. If I didn’t expect things to turn out a certain way, I wouldn’t fuss when they didn’t, right?
So, should I stop caring?
No, not at all! But I need to manage my expectations. And that truth can and must be applied to my writing as well as the rest of my life.
I will admit, I had unrealistic expectations when I first dove into writing. Obviously, my first work was going to be contracted right out of the box, getting an agent would be a breeze, once I was contracted, the publishers would continue to ask me ‘what’s next?’ I could retire to an island with my first royalty check and just write things I wanted to while sipping lemonade and contemplating the lap and scrape of the waves against the sandy shore…
|Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Sean McEntee|
http://bit.ly/2mCDuyI The photo has not been altered
from the original.
Okay, stop laughing. (Looking at you, Ruthy!)
None of those things happened. Instead, it was rejection letters, bad contest scores, countless queries, editors leaving, lines closing, contracts evaporating, and bitter Minnesota winters with nary a beach in sight.
Fussing seemed like a great option.
But it’s so unproductive. And a little fussing quickly becomes a lot of fussing.
So what is a writer to do? Walk around like Eeyore, expecting nothing but bad things to come her way? No, of course not. But we need to be realistic in our expectations and be willing to modify them when reality proves them to be unrealistic.
Here are some things I have found to be helpful for me in managing both my expectations and my fussing:
1) Educate yourself before setting expectations – I didn’t know that most authors never quit their day job to write full time. I had no idea what an average score on a contest entry was. I didn’t know that agents aren’t waiting breathlessly, refreshing their emails, praying that more queries come in. Once I took the time to educate myself on the realities of royalties, contests, and agents, I was better able to set my expectations in those regards.
2) Be flexible and realistic – When things don’t go according to my plan, I have learned to be flexible. I adjust my plan and therefore my expectations. So often, our expectations rely on things outside our control. Getting a contract, procuring an agent’s services, selling 100,000 copies. Those things aren’t really in our purview. So set your expectations around goals that are under your control. Finish and submit a novel. Learn to write a proposal. Query X number of agents per month. Try different marketing ideas. And re-evaluate often to see if you’re making strides toward your goals.
3) Mourn for a little while – it’s okay to be sad and ask questions when things don’t go according to plan, but give yourself a time limit. Get a bad contest score? You get 24 hrs to kick the trash can and clench your fists against the injustice of it all. Then move on. A bad review? A rejection? Poor sales numbers? Feel the pain. Grieve for the thing you wanted, then, as John Piper says, wipe your face, and start being grateful for the gifts you have been given, the life you have now. People busy being grateful don’t have time to whine.
4) Embrace Change – Just like the Seeker gals over the past couple of months, embrace changes and see them as challenges. Reality tells me that editors leave their positions sometimes, and lines I write for might close down. When Heartsong Presents closed its doors, I was shaken. But a new door opened and I began to write for Love Inspired Historicals. Now LIH has closed, but I have chosen not to despair. Instead, I’m embracing this change, looking for what the Lord has next. Because embracing change is a lot about trusting God. Look for the next thing He has for you instead of wallowing in pity for the thing you wanted but can’t have.
Have you spent a little time fussing over unfulfilled expectations in your writing life (or any other part of your life)? Can you apply these four principles to get you back on track?
Also, because we’re talking change and expectations, I would love to hear from YOU, SeekerVillagers, what you would expect from Seekerville 2.0. What topics would you like to read about? What sort of prizes appeal to you? (Critiques? Books? Chocolate? Swag?) What advice to you have for those of us who are new Seekerville Bloggers?
Comment and tell me your expectations here at Seekerville, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of my latest Love Inspired Historical, A Child’s Christmas Wish!
About the book:
The only Christmas gift Oscar Rabb's four-year-old daughter prays for is one the widower can't provide: a baby sibling. And when his neighbor's house burns down, he's willing to open his home to pregnant and widowed Kate Amaker and her in-laws—but not his heart. Even if his little girl's convinced Kate's unborn child is the answer to her wish.
Kate quickly sees the generous but aloof Oscar has little interest in growing closer to his houseguests. Still, she intends to make the coming Christmas a season to remember for his daughter. And as Oscar starts to open up to her, Kate can't help picturing just how wonderful the holidays—and a future together—might be.
About Erica:Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.com where you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at https://www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/ where she spends way too much time!