Writing for oneself – without expectation

Writing for oneself – without expectation

Writing for oneself – without expectation


‘You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.’ So said Nobel Prize-winning writer Saul Bellow. I was reminded of this quotation recently while reading an interview with author Stephenie Meyer in the Telegraph, in which she touches on how she came to write Twilight.

I never decided to become a writer. I started writing because my memory – damaged by years of sleep deprivation with three colicky babies – began to fail.

I’d had an interesting dream and I didn’t want to forget it, but I knew I would. So as soon as my sons were fed and dressed, I sat down at the family computer to type it out. It was the most exhilarating experience. Once I started, I quickly became addicted. Three months later I’d completed that first draft of Twilight. 

This genesis of the ever-popular Twilight contributes to its dreamlike stature, but what inspiration can fellow writers who really do want to write take from the story? The answer lies in a single word: expectation. Mrs Meyer explains:

I felt no pressure when I was writing Twilight because no one was supposed to read it but me. Even after I showed it to my sister – because she wanted to know why I was always busy – it was still an expectation-free zone. Pressure and expectations were added soon but by then I knew I wasn’t going to stop writing.

Mrs Meyer is not alone; another high-profile romance author has been open about the ‘accidental’ genesis of her very popular series. Diana Gabaldon writes:

The OUTLANDER series started by accident in the late 1980s when I decided to write a novel for practice. My goals were:

To learn what it took to write a novel, and

To decide whether I really wanted to do that for real.

I did, and I did—and here we all are, still trying to figure out what the heck you call books that nobody can describe, but that fortunately most people seem to enjoy.

Both of these authors – and many others working on their debut novels – were writing in a bubble, with no expectation in themselves of being read and no assumed or real expectations of others. But once their debut works proved popular, they then had to find a way to write despite the expectations, and clearly they have done so very successfully; both have recently published new books.

I have published five novels to date, and have several more in the pipeline, so I know well how easy it is to feel visible as you write – like your publisher and readers are looking over your shoulder and critiquing every word. My debut novel, Burning Embers, was by far the easiest to write in the sense that I wrote it for myself, to test my skills and purely for fun. But once that novel was published, writing became more loaded with meaning; would my readers enjoy The Echoes of Love, and then the Andalucían Nights series?

I have developed a very simple approach to managing expectations: I have none, other than those I impose on myself. I expect to write the best that I can, to write the story that is in my heart to write. I expect to write just as I would were no one to ever see the manuscript.

When I write, I am not an ‘authorpreneur’ as the role of author is increasingly defined: I do not think about publishing and marketing; I do not think about what readers will think of my book and try to second-guess how to please them; I do not write to impress or belong or sell.

One of my favourite writers, the French-born novelist Anaïs Nin, said, ‘If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.’ That is how I believe one must approach writing: with complete, naked honesty, with the soul laid bare. Only when you arrive at your writing desk in the right place does the muse sit beside you, and together you flow onto the page words that are authentic. Only when you write without expectation will you be gifted writing of which you are proud.

‘You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.’ Why is that? Quite simply, because in the middle of the night there are no expectation. You, your imagination and the muse are alone in the darkness, and what you create together… that is why you live to be a writer.

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