On Writing Without Expectation

WUcheerI have finally started a new book.

Phew.

It took me over two years to get up the gumption to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been sitting around staring off into space for the past two years, but I haven’t had the stomach (or heart) to start a new novel. I’ve used this space (and my own blog) to discuss why in the past, so I won’t linger on that for too long. But after my last book came out, I felt…well, it’s complicated. I felt enormously proud of what I thought was my best book, my best writing, but I also felt incredibly demoralized about the state of the publishing industry and what is now asked of authors and what authors then have to ask of readers. (It goes something like this: “Please, please, pleeeeeeease, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease buy my book.”)

So. I took a break. I wrote screenplays and moved my family across the country and took on celeb interviews, and I vowed (to myself) that I wasn’t going to write another novel because it took too much out of me. Certainly, some of this pressure was pressure that I placed on myself. I wasn’t sure that I could write a better book than the one I just had, and to me (because maybe I’m a little crazy), I didn’t know what the point was of writing if I couldn’t write well. But it was also more than that too – that if the process was so tangled and confusing and a little bit depressing when I wrote such a well-reviewed book, what else was there for me to do?? Write a terrible book? Would I feel less let down and see better sales in that case?

Anyway, the long and the short of it was…I was done writing novels.

Then, after a long break, I remembered a manuscript that I’d started before my ennui hit. I read it and thought it was hilarious. Totally different than the voice I’d used for my just-released novel, totally different than anything else I’d ever written. I started tinkering with it, playing around for the sake of pure enjoyment, and damn if I didn’t, well, start writing a book again.

I tricked myself, and I’m so glad that I did.

I began writing not with the idea of compiling a book that would, say, sell to publishers for a big advance or be a future best-seller or be praised as my most literary novel yet, but just because I thought the book was so much fun. And I know that may sound weird, but I’m guessing that plenty of published authors (and aspiring writers, actually) know of what I speak. In our industry, it’s hard not to look ahead: will this be well-reviewed?, is this “literary enough?,” will this be called “chick lit” when you want to be taken more seriously?, will publishers find this unique enough but still commercial enough?, etc, etc, etc? As I wrote (and as I write, since I am still in the middle of the book!), I realized how much pressure I’d felt to be more literary in my last work, to go darker, to be taken more seriously.

And I thought: sheesh, I’m an idiot! I should write what I love! But  guess what? This sense of pressure and weight of expectations is also totally human.

Now, I am writing because this book is so much fun. I have no idea who will buy it, I have no idea if it will be praised as gut-splittingly hilarious or if I’ll be deemed a total lightweight. It sincerely doesn’t matter to me. I’m that old person who has decided to walk around in her figurative pajamas all day because I sort of a) realize that I’ve earned it and b) further realized that trying to meet everyone else’s expectations was selling myself short.

Screw it. I’m writing because it’s fun, and I’m enjoying it. All of that other crap that screws up my psyche.

If you’re feeling hampered, I highly recommend this: writing without a net, writing without everyone else whispering in your ear. Not because the genre is hot, not because you want to be taken seriously, not because you feel like you should write something. Write what you want, write how you want. Do I think this will be my best book yet? I do. But does it matter if no one else agrees? Not this time. It really won’t.

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About Allison Winn Scotch

Allison Winn Scotch is the author of four novels: The One That I Want, Time of My Life, and The Department of Lost and Found, and The Song Remains the Same. She lives in Los Angeles with her family, where she is at work on her new projects.

Comments

  1. says

    I can’t think of a better reason to write. The fun element may get sidetracked, overwhelmed, dissed, but it’s still in there if we’ll just let it emerge. Thanks for the reminder of why we started and what’s still important and powerful. Huzzah!
    alex wilson´s last blog post ..Staccato:

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  2. says

    This is awesome, Allison! Good for you! I think writing without expectation is the only way I’ll ever be able to finish my novel. I started writing it shortly before all the writing & publishing advice exploded over the internet, and sadly, I got way too caught up in worrying if I was doing everything right—and let’s not even talk about the marketing aspect chipping away at my confidence daily. I just finished reading Anna Karenina, which broke every modern-day writing rule, and Tolstoy blew me away. The reading experience has breathed new life into my imagination and given me unsolicited permission to return to writing what I love, without expectation.
    Barb Riley´s last blog post ..Balancing

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  3. says

    Allison! It’s such a relief to read this post today.

    I’ve recently come to similar conclusions… as I’m in the middle of that agonizing pre-agent period of my life, not sure at all if I will get one, if my novel will ever get published. For several weeks, this took a toll on my writing – I couldn’t decide what to do with myself, and vacillated over whether or not to start on the sequel, which was simmering away (on the verge of a full boil) in side me. I was simply tangled up – “I shouldn’t write the sequel when I have no idea if novel #1 will be published” vs. “I love this story and my characters and I have PLANS for them.”

    Long story short, the idea that it is “wrong” or “foolish” to write the sequel – or anything at all – is anxiety talking, a reaction based on too much Twitter time and too much worry about publishing potential. The goal is to WRITE, as I keep telling myself. To turn off the commentary and write to keep myself alive during this Query Winter, as I call it. I have to write what’s on my heart, and there’s no shame in that!

    Good luck on your new project!
    Jillian Boston´s last blog post ..Tenterhooks (j)

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    • says

      Jillian, and Allison, and everyone–this post couldn’t be truer. I can’t tell you how many years I spent (not wasted–it was good writing time) writing a Big Book. Something literary, angsty, and so on. When my last one failed to sell, I started my next one only half-heartedly. Like you, Allison, I wanted to write something fun, that I’d enjoy writing and enjoy reading. So I junked the Serious Book and wrote my fun fantasy novel. And it turned out to be the One That Sold. Follow your passion, writers!

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  4. says

    What an awesome, encouraging, and well-worded post! So many of us authors are so concerned with rising above obscurity that it sucks the joy out of our love for writing. I’m actually struggling with something similar at the moment. I have two books out and am trying to write the third, but sometimes I get so bogged down in marketing and work for my second job that I forget to just have fun when I sit down to type on my novel. This post couldn’t have come at a better time! Thanks so much for your insight and gumption!
    L.M. Sherwin´s last blog post ..Why Writers Should Keep “Starter Notebooks”

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  5. says

    Beautifully said. Write because you want to. Write what YOU like. Write for yourself. This has become my mantra, and I’ve enjoyed writing so much more since I decided to embrace that attitude. Will I ever have the “bestseller’s life” I dreamt about as a kid and young adult? Probably not. But those were pipe dreams. And dreams do come true, so if they eventually come to fruition, great. If not, I’m having a wonderful time writing, and that’s all that really matters to me at this time in my life. It’s time to own my writing as a selfish activity, one that I do for ME. And I’m proud of it!
    Brea Brown´s last blog post .."The Secret Keeper Holds On" News… and Other Miscellany

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  6. says

    Allison, the beautiful thing is how special it will always be to you because you wanted to say it. I’ve done that with short stories, too. I think what we feel COMPELLED to write is what makes us each unique.
    Malena Lott´s last blog post ..Hope Floats Storygrams

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  7. says

    Thank you so much for your inspiring advice Allison. I haven’t yet written a book and perhaps never will. I began writing poetry after my husband died in 2003. At the same time I joined a small but friendly poetry group. At first my poems were mainly on themes such as loss, loneliness et al.
    After warm encouragement from my fellow members I began to branch out and write short strories and poems about many topics. One day I received an unpleasant critique from a member who told me all I could write was about misery and unhappiness. I nearly let that man finish me for good re any writing.
    Now at 77 years old I love to write and I write how I feel whether it is loneliness or the beauty of a sunset. I write short fantasy stories or stories about life. I discovered that to write from the heart whether a famous author or someone like me is what it is all about.

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  8. says

    I’m so proud of you, Allison! It is so hard to do that. I think so much more so after you’re published, because there ARE those expectations. From readers, from your agent, from your editor…to find that niche, find that sweet spot, and it’s easy to get lost in that and lose that part of writing that you fell in love with in the first place.

    I applaud you for stepping back and being true to your voice, because if you love it, it will shine in your words. :) We have to love these babies first and foremost, or why should anyone else? And I’m thrilled you’re writing again! Can’t wait to read this one!

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  9. Allison Winn Scotch says

    Guys – thank you so much for all of your kind words and support! Truth told, I was nervous about posting this because it felt like a confession of sorts, an admission of all the questions I’ve been wrestling with. It’s so nice to know that I’m not alone. Thanks again!

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  10. says

    Wow, does this post ever resonate. I’ve hit a major “sophomore slump” syndrome, where I just haven’t been sure I could face everything involved in writing and selling another book.

    And you hit on a big reason why: there are so many expectations – not just on your part, but also on the part of editors, readers, writing colleagues, and so on. It all becomes about living up to all of those (sometimes conflicting) expectations. None of which have anything to do with the other big thing you identified: writing what you love, because you enjoy it, dammit.

    This is some great food for thought – thanks so much for your candor!

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  11. says

    Thank you!
    I have been dealing with this in the first revision of my new book. I’ve nearly stopped revising because I’m so discouraged! I feel like it should be more- deeper, more poignant- than it is right now. But a lot of that pressure is out of fear that nobody will take me seriously! When really, who cares? I love this book! So much! I will draw what themes I can! Any that are extraneous are just that.
    Thank you so much for your wisdom and experience. I’m ready to jump back in.
    Laura Lee´s last blog post ..Abercrombie and… What’s that smell?!

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  12. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, Alison. I think a lot of us have experienced what you mention–feeling deflated by industry expectations and more. So glad you pushed past all of that to start a new project, just for you. Can’t wait to hear more about it!

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  13. says

    Love it! Just what I needed to hear today…as I think I’ve been treading down the ‘is it good enough’ trail. I will write what I love. Period. Thanks for your honest words :-)

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  14. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Love this post and so wholeheartedly agree. Life is too short to write anything but the stories you want to tell.

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  15. says

    I may be very wrong, but I’ve always felt that the stress we writers place on ourselves (to write a book perfectly and have the entire world love it, get five star reviews from the “people that matter”) is a lot greater than readers actually do. There are the people out there that definitely look for that perfectly crafted, super-deep story, but there are also people who just want to read a fun story that takes them away from their troubles for awhile. And those, to me, are the stories that are the most fun to write. :)
    Lara Schiffbauer´s last blog post ..How to Access Your Intuition

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  16. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I’ve completed a manuscript and I’ve been querying. My focus has changed to, “How do I get this published?” when what my heart really longs for is the fun of writing without an end-goal anywhere in sight. Writing without a net! Amen.

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  17. Angela says

    Thank you, Allison! I almost fell over in my chair when I read this because it’s exactly what I needed to hear today. I’ve been working on my women’s fiction book and am about to send out my first query today. I wrote exactly the type of book I want to read and I couldn’t imagine writing anything else. Of course this makes me question… but would anyone else want to read it? But I’ve realized I can’t think like that because I don’t know how to write any other way. I’ve been a huge fan of your blog and your books for a long time now and am very excited that you’re working on a new novel!!! So happy to have read your post on here today. Cheers!!!

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  18. says

    Allison,
    Wow, this post is so true.

    First of all, let me say that I love your novels. I’m glad you aren’t going to stop writing them.

    I have one novel in The Drawer and am meandering along finishing the second, having learned more than I thought I wanted to know about the publishing industry the first time around.

    It is very, very difficult not to think about the end result, about the literary-ness of what you are writing and about your natural voice vs. what you believe is expected of you. It is nice to hear that published authors go through similar angst; I appreciate the fact that you shared your struggles.

    Good luck!
    annewoodman´s last blog post ..Storytelling Superheroes

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  19. says

    Thank you for this post. I’m in the first draft of my non-fiction book and I worry so much about the marketing that will be expected of me. I just want to write. That’s what I do. I’m not a sales person. Some days a sentence or two will be rattling around in my brain and I have to sit down and write to get it out of my head. When the words come unbidden like that, I know I am being inspired to write and I just have to drop everything and do it, or my muse will never leave me alone! Good luck to you!
    Beverly Harvey´s last blog post ..Cross Species Friendship Offers Lessons

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  20. Denise Willson says

    Hmmm…words fail me now…I’m too busy feeling your pain. Nice to know I’m not alone. Thank you.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

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  21. says

    YES!!!! x1,0000 I am SO glad you’re writing again. Next project hilarious? I’m already sold! :) And I think you’re absolutely on to something about stepping away from writing for a little space when you need it–so you can remember why you fell in love with it to begin with. :)

    I recently adopted the “I’m writing what I have fun writing” mantra, and it’s been both liberating and terrifying. I might fall on my face, I might conflict with my own brand (ugh–puke), but as long as I’m loving the experience and the act of writing, I will be coaxing my best onto the page. Worry about the rest later, you know?
    Jess Riley´s last blog post ..Now Presenting: Karen McQuestion (and a giveaway!)

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  22. says

    Oh, I adore this post. There’s nothing quite like writing for the pure love of it — yes, there’s so much that comes after that point, but the heart and soul of it all remains in the initial connection. Thank you for the reminder. I can’t wait to read this book one day — your joy for it positively emanates from every word.
    Shari´s last blog post ..A Tale of Two Pictures.

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  23. says

    Allison, an excellent post for all the reasons others have expressed.

    You wrote:
    ” b) further realized that trying to meet everyone else’s expectations was selling myself short.”
    May I suggest that the problem is less other people’s expectations — seriously, most people aren’t that concerned with what any one other person does, unless we’re close to them — but what WE think is expected of us. That to fulfill our promise, or justify our college educations, or justify the hours we spend home in yoga pants, alone except for the people who only exist because we made them up, that we have to knock one out of the park everytime. And that the park has to be literary, or serious, or at least worthy — meeting the sometimes-subtle burdens we put upon ourselves.

    And yes, I am talking to my own self as much as to the rest of you!

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  24. says

    When did we lose the fun and start hating our books and calling them the monsters that Winston Churchhill says we finally fling out to the world? I don’t know, but it happens. A good reminder why we write from someone who does it well was in orde, thank you!
    Diana cachey´s last blog post ..Victorian GHOST Scares Groupie . . .

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  25. says

    Writing to have fun, without any other expectation, is such good, simple advice that it’s amazing how often I forget it. I start worrying if it’ll sell, if I can get an agent with it, if, if, if. I forget to have fun. I forget that I was having fun, before all the angst and expectation. I forget that writing should be fun, or else why sacrifice many of my nights and weekends, after the exhaustion already incurred by my rewarding but tiring day job/career? Because it’s fun, and that’s it. Because writing is fun.

    Now that I’ve sold a poem, a short story and a short nonfiction piece, I’m back to working on my novels, hoping to conquer that form next. It’s the one I started with, and it’s the one that’s most fun to me. Hopefully, I’ll remember that this time. Hopefully, I’ll have fun, and the only expectation I’ll have is to have fun.
    Steven E. Belanger´s last blog post ..Poem Published

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