When Blizzards Bury the Storyteller: Adventures in Expectations
on April 23rd, 2018
It’s mid-April and I look out my window on a historic street in Montreal, where last week I had seen buds on the trees and the first few shoots of tulips in window boxes. Instead, I’m seeing a layer of snow and a neighbor grimly scraping at the layer of ice a late-season storm left behind two days ago.
My expectations have been dashed. I was looking forward to shedding my winter parka and slipping into warm days in rubber boots.
Writing can feel like this, too. Clients and writers come to projects certain it’s going to be spring. Maybe a business owner has been dreaming of writing a book for years. They have a great idea and they picture words flowing effortlessly onto the page, a glass of red wine by their elbow as they laugh with their writing coach about their latest turn of phrase. Writers come to the project thinking of a memoir writing client and long hours spent sifting through rich, detailed memories.
Instead, they get the real writing experience: moments of joy interspersed with moments when the words dry up and inspiration seems far away. They get differing visions of a project, questions they can’t answer, and moments when the writing does flow smoothly.
So what is the antidote to those moments when the promise of a book project does not match up to what we think it will be? Good communication. At RTC, early calls often mean sitting down and talking about what everyone expects. This can be a soulful invitation to discuss what you think will happen and to create a map for where to go when it does not manifest that way. If you want the writing to go smoothly always, what can you and your writing team do when it stalls? How can you keep the inspiration for the book alive, even when real life gets in the way?
One of the beautiful things about working with a team is that it’s not all on you. When you’re writing with a coach and the words don’t come, you can call on them for support. They have been there in the weeds, and they have developed some tricks for coaxing the muse out of hiding. If you’re working on a full book development project and you can’t recall memories or can’t figure out the shape you want your book to take, talk it out. A good brainstorming session can clear the air and can help you readjust your course when what everyone thought might happen next falls to pieces.
When something unforeseen happens on a project, the first reaction might be to panic. How did I get here? But there’s something transformative about the space between expectations and reality. When you start talking about what you anticipated and what has shown up, you get a chance to get into the present moment and really explore it. It’s an opportunity to forge a new path towards an idea you couldn’t even anticipate in your rose-tinted view of your project. Maybe that stilted chapter you created can be the basis of a poem or a new chapter, which blows your previous hopes right out of the water.
If you are working with a writing coach and your expectations of writing do not meet the reality of the work, you have the option of talking over the story. Together, you can find the thread. Mulling it over can help bridge the difference between the idea of what’s in your head and what’s showing up on the page.
Broken expectations do not represent hopes dashed. In writing, they can be a chance to dig in deeper and create something stronger. So the words don’t flow smoothly and you’ve run into writer’s block? A talk with your writing coach may reveal that the part you’re stuck on can contain a clue that can crack open the whole book. Maybe you’re stuck or not getting the story you want because you’re being called to write a different narrative. Or maybe it’s an invitation to let loose and play in another part of the book. If chapter three is not coming together and does not sound like what you thought it would, how about taking your sandbox and playing in chapter five instead?
When you feel you’re in the space you weren’t expecting, it’s time to speak up. It can create a stronger link between you and your writing team and can lead you on paths you didn’t intend—paths rich with story and possibility.
Welcome to the wonderful world of writing. It can feel like a late-winter storm when you expect the greenery of a new season, but it also gives you a chance to go play in the snow and notice what you wouldn’t have discovered if the road were perfectly smooth.
Sitting here in a big sweater and with a cup of tea, I notice the birds are still singing and the sun is still in the sky. Excuse me while I go put on my winter boots. There are new adventures to uncover.