Thursday, May 24, 2007

Managing Expectations

Posted by Lynne

If you think planting a rose bush will take thirty minutes, plan on at least an hour. If you think writing a research paper about the heart will take four hours, plan on eight. Managing expectations is a theme in the Griffin household this week, and I most certainly could have added in a sentence or two about my hopes and dreams for my forthcoming book.

Whether you're optimistic, full of hope or you simply wish to dream big, being positive is a critical ingredient to living a literary life. Believing good things are around the corner, or that you can write the great American novel or a bestselling parenting book is at times all you've got to sustain you amidst all the waiting, to say nothing of all the rejection. You wait for your revised novel to sing; to know you are done. You wait for an agent to read your manuscript, an editor to make an offer. Rejection slips come in the form of impersonal sentences, complimentary no-thank-yous and blatant encouragement--though just as a kiss is still a kiss, a no is still a no. The job description for writer should include a line in bold letters: Pessimists need not apply.

For some writers, the emotional work involved in maintaining a healthy outlook involves the daily exercise of pulling negative self-talk from the brain and dumping it in the recycle bin. I can't do it must be replaced with, yes I can. This is impossible, must become all things are possible.

While I've had my share of gloomy moments and faithless days, I'm a positive person by nature. I do feel blessed in this way, since I've had to pick myself up, dust myself off and keep persevering in the face of my share of obstacles. The trick for me, when it comes to managing my expectations though, is to sprinkle my dreams with a dash of reality and a pinch of practicality.

Maybe you're a writer who's too hard on your abilities and accomplishments, struggling with being positive enough to stay the course. Or perhaps like me, you dream big and hope large leaving yourself in the path of disappointment. For example, I know my book will gain the attention of some media, but if I envision myself situated on a comfy couch at Harpo Studios, I'm likely to think Good Morning Chicago is a let down. When in fact I would love to shout out, good morning Chicago.

The impressionist painter Henry Matisse said, "What I dream of is an art of balance."

If this is true--and I believe it is--then managing expectations is holding on to enough positivity so that you can persevere, and love the process, and be energized by all the possibilities. And yet, with enough realism to protect your heart, so you can get up another day to face the page.

What do you do to fear less and hope more, to doubt less and believe more? How do you manage expectations?


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Great post, Lynne. Like you, I'm a pretty optimistic person, but sometimes my hopes get attached to a very high star and I'm apt to be disappointed if I get notice from a smaller constellation. One thing I do, to regain my balance is to remind myself how lucky I am--not to sound too preachy or anything--but I used to tell my sons, when they'd complain that we weren't taking the lavish trips their friends were or we weren't driving a new car, that 95% of the world's population would trade places with us in a heartbeat. So, I try to keep that philosophy now with my book--okay, Oprah hasn't touted it (yet!), but there are plenty of unpublished wrtiers who'd trade places with my level of success.

Keeping perspective--sometimes much easier said than done, is my trick. Oh, and kicking back with a glass of wine and talking to my husband. That helps too!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. One of the best things about this thing called blogging is our ability to support each other. I adore your comment-- 95% of the world's population would trade places with us in a heartbeat. You are so spot on!

I too, use the glass of wine and husband strategy. It works like a charm.


kristen spina said...

Judy, I'm one of those unpublished writers who'd trade places with your level of success in a heartbeat! Unfortunately, my true nature is not overly optimistic. (Anyone who knows me well would be laughing loudly right about now—they'd be tempted to call me out for the "glass is totally empty" person that I truly am.)

That said, I do try to picture it. To let my mind catch a glimpse of that finished manuscript, to hear the phone ring, to see the glass topped off and full. It's a snapshot, really, a moment in time that I let myself believe will happen.

Then I come here and read about how we all struggle with it, and I take heart in the company of such incredibly talented people. For me, it's not about managing expectations as much as it is about allowing myself to have them.

Michelle Zink said...

What a great post!

Managing expectations is my mantra in all things. I've learned that people can usually handle anything if they have an idea what to expect - and that goes as well for myself as for anybody else.

I always have a WIP, because I've figured out that, for me at least, it's the one thing that constantly feeds my hope.

Writing something new is validation that I am a writer. That regardless of what happens with my current book, there's always another story.

And however much I thought I loved the last one, however sure I was nothing could replace the passion I felt for it, I inevitably love the next one just as much.

Maddy said...

"daily exercise of pulling negative self-talk from the brain and dumping it in the recycle bin. "
This is so timely for me. I have just been writing out a list of words that my son uses constantly, all negative and trying to come up with 'opposite upbeat and positive' alternatives!
I never thought that I might need to use them on myself too.
If I manage to complete the list today I'll let you know.

ORION said...

Very timely post. I have hope but no expectations. I have dreams but do not make firm plans that my wishes will come true. I take it down to the simplist level. I write. I read. I work on making my writing better and I tell stories.
Anything else is gravy!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


Come on over anytime you like. One of the reasons we started the blog was to support each other in the struggle. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. It will happen if you will it to be so.


...however sure I was nothing could replace the passion I felt for it, I inevitably love the next one just as much.

This says it all--you are a writer. When we write because we must, good things will come of it. You are so close, keep moving forward.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


Because of your comment I couldn't resist putting on my parenting expert hat. Your exercise with your son about changing the negative self-talk into new ways of seeing things has a couple of fancy names: Cognitive reframing or behavioral substitution. Whatever you call it, you are one smart parent. And as you pointed out so nicely, this technique is invaluable to writers, too.


I work on making my writing better and I tell stories. Anything else is gravy!

You've got some delicious gravy all over Lottery! It's wonderful that you see your success in such a way. I'm sure this must make the ride most enjoyable.


Larramie said...

I abide by Pat's simple approach of doing your best to be your best. Besides, self-satisfaction usually earns great rewards eventually.

Therese Fowler said...

Lynne, like you I dream big but expect little. And I take satisfaction much the way Judy described--by recognizing the ways I am already very fortunate.

The other strategy that helps me is to focus on those things I can control. Getting the story right, writing it well--and then having a glass of wine on the patio when the day's done. :)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


We've never met, but I do love your philosophy; it comes shining through in your comments. Thanks.


It's always best to focus on what one has control over. And in deep reflection, I find I have control over a lot. My writing, my growth as a student of craft, how much time I spend (as you so eloquently wrote about on your blog) getting to the heart of my story...on and on it goes.

Let's keep dreaming big--after all--dreams come true.


Lisa said...

I needed to read this post and Judy's comment tonight. As an aspiring novelist in the wee hours with a day job that frequently leaves me with little time or energy to write, I get frustrated and sometimes worry that I'll never manage to finish writing anything I'm happy with. Then I realize how lucky I am to have the time I do and in those stolen free moments when the writing goes well, a problem is solved, or something stuck gets unstuck I am so grateful that I have this dream to keep me going.

Anonymous said...

My biggest consolation is that I still find time to write and pay my bills at the same time.
And somewhere in that struggle I hope to end up writing the book that shall make me proud.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa and Reality,

Those stolen moments equal words on a page and when culled together-- eventually--they add up to a book. Keep stealing time and remember, it's a journey not a race.


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