Releasing My Writer’s Expectations

Staring at the blank page on the screen in front of me, I flex my fingers over the keyboard. Pause. I wiggle and stretch each finger, one at a time. Pause. I tap my nails on the keys, at first randomly, and then in a series of varying rhythms. The noise begins to annoy me, and I stop. Finally, I type a few words, a sentence. Then I delete them all and stare at the blinking cursor, its consistent, moderate pace mesmerizing in its dull predictability.

I consider banging my head against the desk, but the keyboard is in the way. Although. . .no, I won’t abuse my keyboard (yet). Eventually, I remind myself that written garbage is writing, and bad writing leads to good writing. It’s just so darn hard to allow garbage to appear on the page, even if just for a little while. Somewhere in the cobweb-filled, dusty,  rarely visited back corner of my mind, there’s this irrational fear that somehow the garbage writing will become anchored to the pages, and other people will read it.

I don’t claim this makes sense, mind you.

Every writer has a process, and I think I’ve mentioned that mine requires writing my way into or out of any project. I just have to write, and write, and write, and somewhere along the way the story begins to flow and the pieces fall into place. Later, the story flow slows to a trickle, and I know I’m done for a bit. Repeat, until the story is done becoming a first draft. I learn a lot about my characters and their stories by doing this, and I have a fat file of snippets for potential future use (having deleted the garbage from the beginnings and endings of current projects, and realizing some of it’s not bad, occasionally even quite good–just not for the current project). My novel had seven first chapters before I finally wrote the one that was right. Some of the others moved to different positions, some are in the fat snippet file, hoping to see the light of day again in the future.

The point of release makes all the difference. It’s that magical, unpredictable point when I give up on having the perfect sentence or paragraph or page planned, and I begin to write, anything, nothing, something. I release my expectations for that particular writing opportunity, close my eyes (seriously, I begin typing with my eyes closed), and get on with it.

Few things feel quite as good as reaching that point. For this borderline Type A/Scorpio/risk-averse girl, giving up control of the outcome (in the form of those limiting expectations) can be overwhelming, terrifying, even paralyzing. But when I finally release the expectations? Better than dark chocolate truffles, and that’s a bold statement, indeed.

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

12 thoughts on “Releasing My Writer’s Expectations”

  1. Oh, you made me feel so much better this evening. I’ve been staring at a half started, rewrite from scratch scene (I almost ever do this, usually I shuffle scenes like I’m a poker dealer) because I couldn’t figure out how to start (which of course was to “just start”)…

    anyway, I write in a very similar way. I actually may base a whole future installment around a scene cut from this ms. 😀 I’m very stoppy/starty too. I also write out of order and outline almost nothing. I’m kind of disaster until I get out of my own way and let go of my expectation.

  2. I went to an absolutely fabulous presentation by Nancy Pickard last Saturday (if you get a chance to meet her and take a class, do not hesitate, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just GO). At her keynote she said she was talking about golden keys and secret handshakes – and how they really do exist, just maybe not in the way you think. And she said one of her golden keys came from Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird where Mr. Lamott’s advice, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Nancy said the same goes for writing. One word, one sentence, then another. Pretty soon, you’ve got a story.

  3. Katherine, I’m so glad I could make you feel better! Its so helpful to me to hear from other writers who share my struggles, and somehow provide acceptance that really, it’s okay. We all go through our version of the struggles. Stoppy/starty–I love this!

    Mary, I love Nancy and would definitely jump at the chance to take a class with her. I follow her on FB, and even that is so encouraging. I might have to put the bird by bird saying over my desk. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Oh yes! It’s hard to know what that first chapter is until we write farther into the book. I think of it as magic happening when things finally take off or fall into place.

  5. Agreed about Nancy! She is fantastic and she’s also one who has to write and write and write. This discussion reminds me about basketball players trying to shoot their way out of a slump. You can’t make baskets if you stop taking them!

  6. Thanks for sharing! I like that stream-of-consciousness approach. I do my writing in the morning, after yoga, after I feed the dogs, after I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and washing machine. In that time period, I try to come up with something if I hadn’t woken up with something. Shan’t worry about it anymore; vow to let my fingers do the work.

  7. Wonderful description of the writer’s process! Thanks, Pamela. I often feel that I write myself in circles, words going no where, but chasing themselves, until, finally, a coherent sentence that’s followed by its friends, more coherent sentences. So glad I am not alone.

  8. Oh, yes!! Love the shift that happens, when writing takes on its own momentum. But it usually starts with just writing something–anything–that I know won’t ultimately stay in the piece. (Reminds me of the old running days, when the first part of the run was awkward and jolty, but at some point, it switched into a synchronized, joyful pace.)

  9. I’ve been trying out the pantser approach for my latest wip. Or my current wip is insisting to be written this way. I talked to an editor about it this weekend, and when she asked, “What is the heart of the book?” I knew it was too early to pitch because I couldn’t nail that pitch line.

  10. And it never stops. Just wanted to let you know that two years after writing it, I just axed the entire first scene of the novel on submission, and made scene 3 the new opening (based on advice from my critique group).

  11. I love this discussion! Such wonderful comments. Thanks, everyone!

    Sue, that’s a great observation about the story beginning; I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, that’s exactly it.

    Cynthia, “..when writing takes on it’s own momentum.” Yes!

    Mary, don’t scare me like that! 😉

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