(to the tune of ‘Don’t rain on my parade’)
I’ve been thinking a lot about a euphemism that’s now much in vogue: ‘managing expectations’. This seems to be to be simply another way to say crushing your dreams, raining on your parade, telling you not to fly (when you simply gotta) etc.
Actually, I don’t want anyone to manage my expectations. It was this managing that kept me from trying to be a writer for the past twenty years. If we could manage our expectations, we would never be writers in the first place.
I went to a publishing event last year where I very much felt my expectations were being managed. I was excited, as it was my first-ever writing event, and I’d paid £60 to be there. The talks, while all very interesting and useful, swung between two poles of: don’t get your hopes up now, and: if your hopes are irretrievably up and not coming down, then here are some tips. Well, mine were up there. They were more up than UP, the lovely film where the house gets lifted by balloons. So of course I decided the doom and gloom didn’t apply to me. I imagine everyone else did the same.
I’ve seen expectations being managed a lot since then, in books, on blogs, and at other events, where they want to stress that the vast majority of us in the audience are never going to make it. And if you do make it, no one’s buying books, so you won’t make any money. So don’t dream of being a writer, making any money, or even of doing it as a career. (Although they don’t want to crush your dreams so much you’ll give up and go home and not pay them £60 to attend a day on publishing in future.)
You know what? Plenty of people do get publishing contracts. And some people enough to live off. Some do even make loadsamoney. It has to be someone. Why shouldn’t it be you? You can up your odds enormously by working hard, being open to criticism, and getting good ideas. Most of us have a lot of time on earth – for example I personally have seen every episode of Friends at least ten times (feels like ten thousand). At 10 series, 24 episodes, half an hour each, that’s several months of my life just watching Ross and Rachel not get together. And don’t even get me started on Hollyoaks.
I believe my point is that you do have a whole ocean of time out there in which to work at your writing. Think of all the pointless dates, the days spent waiting for boys to call, or not call. I should have co-habited years ago! (As well as being handy for getting the shopping done and car fixed, cohabitation is excellent for eroding all that will he/won’t he time-wasting. Unless you have a fiery passionate liaison like Sylvia and Ted, in which case it will be useful for lots of angst-drenched material.) I’ve spent several lifetimes just waiting for delayed trains. Decades in pointless meetings about the stationery budget. Years doing classes in other topics than the one that actually interested me. If being a writer is what you really want, you have acres of time, buckets full of energy, and a whole lot of margin for error in getting there.
So make the time. Do the crime. (Don’t write in rhyme.) It will all be fine. And don’t let anyone crush your dreams. OK, you may not make it. But if you don’t even try, you absolutely, definitely will never make it. And I say this as someone who was afraid to try for years.
So, that publishing event I went to was last summer. I sat in the audience feeling alternatively flooded with excitement and plunged into doom. Six months after that event I had an agent and was getting interest from publishers. It CAN happen. Don’t give up (unless you are barking mad and refuse to take any feedback, advice, or criticism of any sort – but if you are you won’t listen to anything I say anyway).