I struggle with expectations, from both myself and others. It’s quite a vulnerable thing to admit in any role, whether as an author or everyday member of society. But they are two words that are the cornerstone of my belief system—authenticity and vulnerability—even when it might appear to others that I shield those qualities from public view.
Throughout the drafting process of the next novel in my Pigeon Grove series, Opening Night, I’ve run across some unexpected challenges that have caused me to rethink my susceptibility to that slippery word: expectations.
Without giving too much away, there is a reference to Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, through both Sam and Luca’s character in my next novel. That modifying word to the noun—great—carries a heavy weight with it, especially for those who face the fear of confrontation alongside the need for perfection.
It might seem like a silly expectation to have, but I’ve always believed that each chapter of a story I write needs to be at least 2,000 words, as if having something less than that deems it unworthy of publication. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s what the pundits typically offer as the norm for bona fide authors, so it’s what I expect from myself while drafting.
As the chapters for my current work in progress began appearing on the page, I steadily met that goal of mine. And my adrenaline levels shifted into overdrive when I wrote a chapter that far exceeded that benchmark. I’d check my word count after I completed every chapter, ever cognizant of my need and desire to remain above that average, doing the mental math in my head: multiplying the number of chapters by 2,000 and comparing it to what I had already written.
To be honest, it’s a tiring endeavor, and one that detracts from the energy I could otherwise use to actually write more words. Oh, the irony.
But something happened as I continued to write Samantha Charles’ story. I began to appreciate the parallel journey she and I share. Not everything needs to be straight to be perfect. That includes our path through life. Our views of perfection are quite often imperfect.
I released my stranglehold on those malformed word count expectations. I gave myself permission to allow my story to unfold in whatever way and to whatever length was appropriate to share the emotional journey of its characters.
Will this particular novel be shorter than my others? Possibly. Did this bother me initially? Absolutely, and more so than it should. Am I happy to have put those great expectations behind me? Without a shadow of a doubt.
It reminds me that whether reading a classic or composing our own thoughts on paper, words have power to transform one’s way of thinking. And that’s one expectation I will never allow to be anything less than great.
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