Breaking Down The Expectation Barrier 

​Last week, I rediscovered an old story.

It was a piece of fanfiction I wrote over 12 years ago and had been immensely proud of, featuring a protagonist who mysteriously looked and spoke exactly like me. She even owned my favourite t-shirt!

I settled down for an excited re-read. Then I spent twenty minutes wondering what drugs convinced my younger self that this was good writing.

Eventually the realisation hit me: this story wasn’t merely good, it was brilliant.

I’ll tell you why in a minute.

As I’ve mentioned before, my own expectations have blocked my writing. I’d decided that my current project would be traditionally published. I even had an agent who wanted to look over the finished manuscript. So the pressure mounted. I missed deadline after deadline. And now it’s too late.

Ultimately I’ve lost what could have been an amazing opportunity, and I have no one to blame but myself.

Which brings me back to my terrible fanfiction, and why that cringe-worthy story is, in fact, BRILLIANT.

You see, writing is like climbing a mountain. At the very summit are your Neil Gaimans and Frank Herberts, sipping mojitos in the brilliant sunshine. I’m somewhere along the twisting, turning crags, toiling in the shadows.

My endless expectations mean I spend most of my time looking upwards. All I want is to wrap my fingers around a mojito, but the summit is distant. Unreachable. Disheartening.

That horrible fanfiction made me stop and realise how much I’ve already accomplished.

The pressure of my own expectations can also be a force for good. It pushes me to improve. I might not be sipping mojitos any time soon, but I’m a damn sight closer than I was 12 years ago.

This experience has taught me that I might never be as good as I want to be — and I have to be okay with that.

So I’m faced with a choice:

  • Keep writing stuff I’m not 100% happy with, and in another 12 years have even more stories to shudder over.

  • Write nothing at all, and let the mountain defeat me.

It’s a non-choice, really.

Maybe I’ll never be the next Neil Gaiman. But if I keep writing, there’s a 0.01% chance that I’ll find myself sipping mojitos on that mountaintop.

And who doesn’t like a good mojito?

The Expectation Barrier

In elementary, I played the piano.

I loved it. The sound of each note, the click clack of the keys beneath my fingers. My feet could barely touch the pedals. I would listen to music and ache with an intense hunger to know how to make something so beautiful. But I dreaded recitals, performances.

In middle school, I started horse riding.

I grew to love the smell of leather, the tack room, the soft velvet of a horse’s nose. The freedom I felt when riding, how my stresses were trampled away under thundering hooves. But my riding instructor wanted me to compete, said there was no point riding otherwise.

In high school, I did cross country.

This time, I knew it was a competitive sport. I knew that the goal was to run fast, to win the race. But once again, I didn’t see it in that way. I loved the harmony of my limbs moving together, the adrenaline spike after a long run. I hated the timers, the metrics, the comparisons.

Today, I don’t play piano, I don’t ride, and I certainly don’t run.

Today, I write fiction.

I love the adrenaline rush of a new idea, of new characters unfolding. I love the freedom, how it burns away my stress. I love writing those climactic scenes that make your heart ache.

Writing gives me everything my previous hobbies gave me, and more. It’s the ONE. It matters.

Yet… I stopped writing recently.


Last month I talked about the lies I told myself: that I didn’t have time to write. I realise now that it’s my responsibility to change the status quo, and part of that will involve holding myself accountable.

Thinking back, I fell out of love with the piano, riding and running once they became competitions. Once I became good enough that either those around me — or I myself — began to expect more. Once I realised that I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. That I might never be as good as I wanted to be.

Every time I’ve set myself targets (x number of words per day, finish the novel by this date, etc) — I’ve hit a wall, and failed.

And now that I’ve been struggling to write, I wonder: have I hit this same wall? The barrier of my own expectations, the pressure to win?


So I’m going to start small, and promise myself one thing: Tuesday night is writing night. It doesn’t matter how many words I write, or which project I work on.

I’m not here to win anything; I’m here to rediscover why I love writing.

Because, after all, writing is THE ONE.

The Lies I Tell Myself

I’ve been lying to myself.

We all tell lies, little stories, versions of the truth that comfort us somehow.

We justify our behaviour. Tell ourselves we don’t care about something because we’re afraid of losing it. Tell ourselves we’re more important/prettier/better than someone else, because we know we’re not.

Me? I’ve been lying to myself about not having the time to write.

The little story I’ve been telling myself is that there are two sides to me:

  • Writer Anna, a creative daydreamer who loves stories and romance
  • Work Anna, an efficient, no-nonsense print production manager

In the last few years, my job has grown rapidly. The more success I have, the more responsibility I’m given.

Yet this eats into my mental energy. By the time I step out of the office, my brain has turned to mush. I’m drained; I cannot face writing.

That’s why I haven’t been writing, I tell myself. No time, no energy. There’s nothing I can do about it.

That simply isn’t true.

I see authors on twitter juggling jobs, kids, partners, friends and writing without batting an eye. If they’ve found a solution, why can’t I strike that balance?

The truth is, “it’s a scheduling conflict” is a far more comforting story than “I’m lazy and/or lack motivation”. (Ironic, really, given that my day job is all about workflow management…)

Yes, work is tiring, and I need to pay the bills, and I need a social life… but it’s a lie to say that I’m doing everything I can.

Ultimately I have two options:

  1. Keep lying to myself, and pretend there is nothing I can do to change the status quo.

  2. Or admit that however I ended up in this creative rut, this dry spell of blank pages, it’s my responsibility to find a solution — because no one else will.

Now, let me get those schedules out…

Let Them Write Cake

Last Sunday I baked a batch of jam tarts that failed spectacularly.

I rolled the pastry too thick, didn’t put enough jam, and proceeded to overcook them. My boyfriend kindly described them as “interesting” — I’d show you a photo if I wasn’t so embarrassed.

It’s rather ironic, therefore, that one of my most viewed posts is this delicious analogy comparing fiction to baking cakes.

The truth is, I consider myself both a good baker and a good writer. Not brilliant at either, mind, but certainly past novice level.

Writing credits aside, I’m a brownie queen. A chocolate chip cookie ninja. I’ve successfully made jam tarts numerous times.

Yet last weekend I screwed up. My skills are rusty. I’m cake-deprived!

Before you start questioning my sanity and/or blood sugar levels, I’ll get to the point:

Writing — and baking — take practice.

I’ve no qualms about throwing a failed cake into the bin. I didn’t let those jam tarts prey on my mind, or give me baker existential crisis.

There’s nothing wrong with having an “off” day: I know I can do it, I’ve learnt my lesson, and I’ve moved on.

Yet when it comes to writing, I take each failure personally.

I come away from an unproductive writing session with nothing to show for it and feel DEFEATED. Plagued with doubts.

It was only when I was surveying the desolate landscape of overcooked crumbs, that I remembered to stop beating myself up.

While writing means a lot more to me than baking does, the principles are the same: practice makes perfect.

Instead of letting my failures knock my confidence, I should treat each writing setback like that batch of jam tarts: learn and move on.

Eventually, I will write cake.

How To Kill Off A Character

From a reader’s perspective, a death pulls me into the story on a deeply emotional level. Perhaps because it is a safe way to mourn for the little deaths in my own life — the stresses and worries and losses. Or because it feels real, far more than any happily-ever-after.
On Character Deaths

I’ve been thinking about character deaths again — why sometimes they work, and other times they’re off the mark.

A well-planned character death can lift a story out of the mundane, pull at your heartstrings, and catapult the plot into a new direction.

A poorly-planned death will, at best, send your readers into a rage.

So how do you successfully kill of a character?

  • Decide who to kill
    The more prominent a character is, the more considered their death will need to be. A stranger’s death can be a simple plot device; a secondary or main character’s death needs to be more, and cause a greater emotional aftermath on the survivors.

  • Have a GOOD reason
    Don’t kill someone just to shock your readers. A death should drive a story forward, cause character progression, or be the inevitable climax of a downward spiral. If you’re killing someone off simply because you don’t need them anymore, evaluate whether you needed them in the first place.

  • Be 100% certain
    That character isn’t coming back. Ever. Don’t be desperate; none of this “I was reincarnated from my angel form”. So make sure you don’t need them for future scenes and/or that you have a replacement character waiting to pick up the pieces.

  • Make it plausible
    Is it suicide? Murder? Old age? Disease? The death needs to make sense. Is your character emotionally stable (therefore unlikely to commit suicide) or do they love putting their life on the line? If they are murdered, who kills them and why?

  • Foreshadow it
    Don’t kill someone out of the blue; drop clues that it’s on the cards. If your character has a heart attack, show him taking aspirin earlier on. If your character is shot during a protest, include tensions between the police and the public from day one.

  • Don’t be afraid to let go
    Chances are you know who needs to die, and why. Instead of running around trying to save them, let your character fulfill their destiny. Your readers will thank you for it.

How do you kill off your characters — and why?