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?

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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.

Why?

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?

Perhaps.

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.

Finding Inspiration Again

The words have gone.

It’s every writer’s secret nightmare: to sit down, brimming with ideas, only to have the words shrivel into dust. The few that end up on the page lie in awkward sentences like jigsaw pieces that don’t quite fit.

They’re dead; there’s no emotion left.

For the last few months I’ve struggled to write — and what’s most frustrating is that I don’t know why.

I’ve tried focusing on one project. I’ve tried flitting between them. I’ve tried outlining and freewriting, skipping ahead and writing in order. Music and silence. Bedroom and living room. Evening and daytime.

Nothing seems to work.

Staying inspired and motivated is no easy matter. With every unproductive writing session I’ve felt gradually more defeated, and it would be so easy to let everything slide, to stop trying so hard, if only to avoid that creeping sense of depression.

Because without words, what am I?

And then I wonder: where can I find inspiration again?

But there is no magic cure, no secret shop of wonders.

The truth is that inspiration is inside of us. We won’t find it anywhere else. And if we lose it, the only thing we can do is to continue to sit down in front of that dreaded empty page — to continue despite every defeat — and WRITE.

Yes, even if all the words are clumsy, mismatched jigsaw pieces.

How To Break Writer’s Block

As I sit here writing this, I’m suffering from the worst head cold I’ve had in years.

My nose is blocked. My ear is blocked. My sinuses are throbbing. A dull, persistent headache thuds beneath my right eyebrow.

So, obviously, my mind has turned to the subject of writer’s block.

A common credence – one I’ve often considered myself – is that writer’s block doesn’t exist. It’s all in your mind. Stress, pressure, fear and anxiety have gotten to you; YOU have blocked yourself.

There might be some truth in that.

But, given my current condition, I’ve begun to consider other possibilities.

What if writer’s block works like a common cold?

Think about it: everyone gets a cold at some point and it affects everyone differently. You cannot immunise yourself against it. There are as many varieties of cold & flu relief medicines as there are methods to overcome writer’s block… and each method’s success rate will change depending on what strain you’ve caught.

Extending this comparison, how then would we cure writer’s block?

The sad news is that — like for the common cold — there is no cure.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do.

How To Cure Writer’s Block

First of all, don’t panic. A cold isn’t the end of the world; neither is writer’s block.

Secondly, resign yourself to letting it run its course. Most blocks resolve themselves; only seek medical attention in the case of prolonged blockage.

Third, just because there is no cure doesn’t mean you can’t treat the symptoms. Go for a jog, drink caffeine, use writing prompts… Whatever method makes you feel less gloomy.

Lastly, eat lots of kiwis. They have the highest Vitamin C content of any fruit, and whether you have writer’s block or the common cold, it’s bound to be good for you.

So is writer’s block all in your head?

Maybe.

But, from the depths of my blocked sinuses, just because something is all in your head doesn’t make it any less real.