Every so often, someone will share one of those baking fails with me. You know, the expectation of some beautiful, ombre, unicorn cake and then the reality of a pile of cottage cheese and food coloring?
I hate them. Both as an amateur baker and as a person with a nasty habit of creating unrealistic and ultimately unfair expectations for myself, there are few concepts more soul-crushing than well-intentioned effort and a disappointing result.
Here’s an example from a novelist’s perspective.
January 2020—Expectation: If I start this draft now, and if I’m a good little novelist with lots of talent and motivation, I’ll be ready to start edits by April!
February 2022—Reality: I just sent a “final draft” to beta readers and have no hint of a clue if the book−which I occasionally scribbled from the pile of refuse which was the last two years−is worthy of the name.
But here’s the deal, I haven’t learned my lesson, so maybe if I write about it, that will help. At the very least it might help you, if you are more inclined to heed my wisdom than I am.
My “COVID novel,” as I’ve called it (not because it’s about COVID but because it occupied and dominated my waking nightmares for the same timeline), was originally conceived as two separate story ideas between the years of 2010 and 2011. And, for some reason, unlike all the other ideas I’ve abandoned over the years, there’s something about these half-baked plot points and characters I’ve not been able to leave behind.
That doesn’t mean I wanted to write the book. Sure, I wanted the book to be written by me. I wanted it to exist. But I never actually wanted to sit down and write it. Out of the hundreds of writing sessions and editing days, the only thing that kept me going was a sense of, after having started, I now needed to finish. I couldn’t waste the time I’d already spent on it and the dreams I had in college. (Someday I have to write about the concept of waste, but it’s not today.) I’m glad I had that motivating force and that it was enough to finish, but it wasn’t enough for me to meet expectations when the world turned on its head.
I don’t know why, after that, I still have expectations for the next book. They may not be fair, but here they are. This is the first sequel I’ve ever written, and Sigils of the Giver, book one of the (hopefully) duology, is tentatively slated for an early 2023 release. It’s also my favorite idea ever, and I’ve enjoyed working on it in a way I haven’t enjoyed writing in two years. Yes, I have professional and personal reasons to get this book done quickly, but I also am a person, living in a world, and people and Earth are messy, unpredictable, chaotic things. Thankfully, God knows this about us better than anyone.
There was a time were every prayer started with me going through a checklist of all the things I thought God expected of me and where I was falling short. What’s worse, I thought that was all I needed in our relationship, to tick off the boxes, see where I went wrong, salute, and try again.
That was wrong.
Honestly, I don’t know if God even has expectations for us. I mean, isn’t the whole point of the New Testament to basically say, “You can’t do it no matter how hard you try so here’s an alternative option?” And, for me, creativity is fueled and made possible through my reliance on God. If he is saying “Remain in me,” rather than “Make sure you’re following all the rules,” and if my writing thrives on partnering with him rather than following a schedule, isn’t setting those other expectations just asking for disappointment?
So here are my words of wisdom for you, for me, or whoever actually takes them to heart. Goals are excellent. Expectations often are not. My goal is to have this book ready for beta readers by the end of the summer so I can submit it for consideration long before its predecessor is released. It’s possible. I’ve written that quickly before. But my expectations (disregarding what they currently are) ought to be to do what I can when I can in the least burn-out-y a way as I can. I should expect that when I take the time to pray and plan before getting to work, it will go better than if I rise and grind. I should expect that if God’s plan for my day doesn’t include 6 pages or 2,000 words, that the book will still be done when it should be.
I’ve recently taken this position with social media, and while there is still room to grow, I’m ENJOYING posting and engaging more because I’m not under pressure to do it in such a particular way.
Creativity, whether professional or personal, should first be a means of expression and, dare I say, fun. So, maybe, you can bake the cake, even if it might turn into a sweet blob that makes your kids poop rainbow colors for a week. Maybe the failures in expectation don’t need to matter as much as they seem to.
Whatever your expectations, I wish you peace in the process. And whatever you are baking, I hope it tastes delicious.