In life, as in writing, expectations can really trip you up. So I’m starting a series on expectations, critique, criticism, and how to use the opinions of others to your advantage as your power through to your big writing dream.
I, after too many experiences with disappointment, have tried to go through life with fairly low expectations…or at least plenty of grace. It’s not that I don’t think my husband is amazing (I do, he is amazing, all the time), or I always expect my friends to ditch me on coffee dates or anything. But I know that if I let my own high expectations of life-just-simply-doesn’t-happen-to-my-friends-and-they’d-never-ditch-our-coffee-date get in the way, I end up hurting them and me. It works similarly in our working lives and our creative lives.
Expectations (our own and other people’s) can influence how we interact with others, how we address and promote ourselves, and how much effort we put into our daily output.
Expectations come in many forms: some can hurt you, some can help you to your goals, and others you can use to your benefit. Some expectations come from yourself, some can come from people you know, and still others come from people you have never met. Today I’m writing about all three types, focusing mainly on the expectations from others.
No matter what you do, other people will have something to say about it. Whether it’s the choice of who you marry, your latest work presentation, or the shoes you matched with your shirt today, even if you don’t hear it or see it, how we act in the world allows people to create expectations of what they can expect from us.
While expectations can be a good thing (that’s what gives you a work ethic under a frightening boss or urges you to work your butt off to get an A in class), sometimes they can also be a detriment, to our work and to our mental health. Especially if you are a more sensitive person, expectations can really get you in the gut.
Expectations are something every writer will encounter: from friends, from readers, and from themselves. It can be hard to manage, but there are plenty of ways to push back their influence, and even use them to your advantage.
If you’ve ever accomplished something you’re really proud of, someone along the line has probably praised you for it. Whether it was a good grade, a stellar work presentation, or your bathroom renovation, your accomplishment sets the standard for your work to those around you. People will see what you’ve accomplished and know what to expect from your work ethic and creativity.
This is why pushing the envelope is such a big deal in the business world. By setting the standard for an industry, a book trilogy, or a tv series, you’re letting followers know that they can expect bigger and better things.
As a writer, when you let your writing out into the big, wide world, people are actually reading your stories. They are interacting with them, sharing them, being influenced by them. You’ll be praised for what you write, how you write, where you write. This will set the expectation of what you as a writer can deliver, and people will follow you for it.
This is a beautiful thing and while it may not make you a better writer, these expectations from other people of what you are capable of, can be the thing that bolsters you to your biggest dreams.
Action Step #1:
Whenever you get a piece of encouragement, compliment, or adoration from someone regarding your writing, your blog, your book, whatever, save it for later.
There are several ways to do this. My favorite is physically writing them down in one of my favorite notebooks that I use for most of my blogging notes. The act of writing them down helps ingrain them in my mind for recall.
You can also create a Word document on your computer that you copy and paste or type into, or you can print everything and save notes in a file folder that you can refer back to often. Whatever your choice, use it! When you’re feeling down, unmotivated, unsure of the worth of your work, go back to those notes of encouragement and let other’s expectations of your carry you up a step on the ladder towards your dreams.
Now for the quick dive into the negative side…bear with me.
While putting your writing work out into the world is a good, beautiful thing, with good, beautiful responses, it can also have a pretty dark shadow side.
While you can get some of the most confidence-inducing comments from readers, you can also get thoughts from other people that could really threaten your mojo. These are the expectations that can hurt you. The ones that can cause you to believe the lie that you aren’t a good writer, or you don’t have a story to share.
The number one rule? Don’t listen to them! You get to choose what you allow into your heart, mind, and work, and you don’t need unnecessary negativity in your life. This is someone having a low expectation of what you’re capable.
As a quick aside: constructive criticism is important and vital to growing as a writer. But there is a difference between constructive and hurtful criticism. You’ll learn what’s best for you and to trust your gut.
Action Step #2:
Whenever you get a piece of criticism that tears you down, try this: write it down or print it out. Then rip it up and throw it away.
It’s one thing to just delete the email or ignore the comment on a post, it’s another to physically go through the action of throwing it away and moving on. You’re signaling to yourself that the comment doesn’t have a hold on you. You’ve let it go, you’ve tossed it out, you’re moving on. Rest in knowing that you do not need to dwell on the negative comments.
Expectations can be manipulated to help you become a better writer. Really.
All those good comments you get? The rave reviews? The things people trust you to know? Those are your strengths. Those are the things that people will follow you for, that people will buy all your books for. These are the things you want to make stronger and better, every time you sit down to work.
All those negative comments? The scathing reviews and the things people say you suck at? Some are absolutely unfounded, but others you can use to make you a better writer. Look for the things that several people mention in a negative manner. These are the skills you can improve on. These are the skills you can take classes on, do exercises with, and practice, practice, practice.
Action Step #3:
Keep a running list of both the things you’re good at AND the things you want to improve on. Whether it’s in a notebook or on the computer, create two columns and list to your heart’s content. Then when you’ve succeeded at strengthening a weakness or mastering a skill, strike it through so you can see your progress.
How do you deal with other’s expectations? I’d love to hear in the comments below!