You need only look at the work clearly—without judgment, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes. Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child. —pg 36, Bayles & Orland*
I’m going to be honest . . . the above quote is hard to keep in a tight hold. The fact that I agree with it, doesn’t help my grip. The fact that I believe it intellectually, doesn’t help either. (I’ve said it countless times, “What a person knows intellectually and emotionally, can be separated by a universe.”) It seems that expectations always wedge themselves in between me and my work. And I’m not talking about the expectations that tangle around a lot of beginning writers--“This will be a best seller,” “I will get a big book and movie deal.” I think those expectations are easy to silence with a healthy dose of reality. Just walk into a bookstore. How many books are there? How many of those books are bestsellers? And how many of those bestsellers become movies? Ah, reality . . . ice cold water in the face. Now, this does not mean that I won’t experience such things. After all, no one can predict which story will grab people’s attention (Fifty Shades of Gray, anyone?) But I don’t expect to be a bestseller. What I do expect is to learn and improve. I expect to write a story that moves me on a number of levels. I expect to begin and end a novel within a year. All those expectations seem reasonable . . . until I hear Markus Zusak say he spent three years writing The Book Thief. Or listen to Maggie Stiefvater share her writing journey with The Scorpio Races, a book she had been trying to write for a decade. After she published five, yes, FIVE, books, several of which are best sellers, she finally felt she had the writing skill needed to tackle a story about water horses. (In my humble opinion, it is her best story.)
Expectations--seemingly reasonable or glaringly delusional--blur an artist’s judgment. And before you comment below, I’m not saying throw expectations out with the bathwater. You know me better than that if you’re on my flist. Expectations galvanize and motivate. Expectations keep me sitting in front of my computer. Expectations keep me pushing through each draft. What I am saying; however, is we (meaning you and me) must keep expectations and reality balanced. It is my imagination that generates the story. It is my expectations that help me realize the story. The common denominator is the story. The story is the guide.
*Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking