The Weight of Expectation
Many of us struggle with the weight of expectation. There’s an immense amount of pressure to please other people. That weight takes all the joy out of writing. The pressure becomes so intense that it’s far easier to not even try, because the thought of trying and failing is unbearable.
What would happen if you threw off that dead weight and wrote whatever you pleased?
Here’s what J.K. Rowling had to say about The Casual Vacancy, her first novel after the Harry Potter series:
J.K. Rowling: I had the idea for The Casual Vacancy right after finishing Deathly Hallows…There’s always trepidation; I mean, I think that people might be surprised to know that I felt trepidation every time I produced a Potter book. You know, the weight of expectation there was, I won’t say ‘crushing’, it was extraordinary and wonderful to have that weight of expectation. But at times –
Charlie Rose (Interviewer): You were competing with yourself.
J.K. Rowling: Yeah, and with the expectations latterly of millions of fans, all of whom were very invested in the story and wanted to see what they wanted to see. And I knew where I was going, and I had to put on mental blinkers a lot and just think, “I know where I’m going, I must not be influenced by this.” So in a sense, it was liberating to leave that weight of expectation behind and know that I could just do what I wanted to do. It was very freeing. But I must say that I spent the first two years working on The Casual Vacancy telling myself, “You don’t even have to publish that, you don’t even have to publish this book.” And that was a way of bringing down my own awareness that, you know, it wasn’t going to be what some people wanted it to be.
J.K. Rowling, Interview with Charlie Rose, 19 October, 2012 (bolding mine)
What a revelation! J.K. Rowling told herself that she didn’t have to publish the book she was writing. Now, I’m sure that J.K. Rowling could write down her thoughts on tablecloths and they would sell. But that wasn’t her motivation. She also didn’t want to write what others wanted her to write. She wanted to tell the story she wanted to tell. To do so, she identified whose expectations were weighing her down and countered them with her own truth.
What about you? Whose expectations are you trying to meet? Why are you trying to meet them? What do you gain out of trying to meet them?
What would happen if you just wrote whatever you pleased? My guess is that is that writing would be liberating, joyful and an absolute delight.
Remember that you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. The only obligation you have is to be true to yourself.
This week’s prompts
Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words:
1. My thoughts on tablecloths [if J.K. Rowling isn’t going to write about them, someone has to]
2. Brightly-coloured pens stood…
3. Potato fun night!
4. Singing in the sunshine…
5. The calculator screen read…
Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.