Recently, it feels so hard convincing myself to write something new. You know, be it a novel, a short story, or even a short poetry. There’s always this inexplicable part of my heart that just wouldn’t listen, no matter how hard I try to tell myself to write. Something is clearly holding me back, and I don’t know how to fight it.
Maybe the cause of such phenomenon was my fear of expectations. Of living up to a certain standard. Of not disappointing anyone with lousy, uninspiring prose. I’m constantly haunted by a phantom of failure—a projected hallucination of all the walls around me crumbling, should I fail to live up to everyone’s, and my own, expectations.
Maybe the cause was poor time management. Between my daily grind and other hobbies, it’s getting increasingly difficult to fit writing into my schedule. Sadly, the decision to put writing aside lies with me alone, and I have to admit that I consciously made the decision in favor of my other hobbies (e.g. watching movies, playing video games, etc.)
I’ve read a sneering comment from a well-respected author, that if we loved writing enough, we would be making the time to do it. So I began to wonder: could it be that I don’t love writing as much as I did? Could it be that over time, this hunger to share stories to every nook of the world, dissipate like a smoke into the atmosphere?
The thought of it frightens me, even to this day.
One thing I tried to understand immediately was my own expectation. I couldn’t control other people’s expectations for my writings, but I thought I could perhaps lessen the burden by taking it easy. So I asked myself a question: what am I expecting from myself? What kind of writings do I think I should write?
And then, realizing that it was counter-productive, I changed my question.
What kind of writings do I want to write?
Some ten, twenty years ago, “writing” felt super easy. After all, there was no one to judge it; I was writing for my own satisfaction. I didn’t care how crappy the words on the page were. I couldn’t care less if the characters weren’t consistent, or if I didn’t describe the settings enough. What mattered to me at the time was using the precious time I had while writing as some sort of an escape from reality.
Of course, everything gradually changed after I got my very first reader. It suddenly became my goal to write a story that doesn’t only make sense to me, but also to other people. I started worrying about “show vs tell”, plot holes, character inconsistencies, and research.
And I’m not saying that it was a bad thing to want to write a story that makes sense to everyone. In fact, I would actually encourage every writer to step up their game and do more thorough research, make more efforts in plotting to avoid plot holes, etc. But as I later realized it, thinking too much about what others would think of my writing made me lose my way. Multiple times.
A reader once left me a message on Twitter, stating that she bought my second book, “Unspoken Words” because she expected it to be dark, gloomy, and bittersweet like my debut novel, “3 (Tiga)”. While she felt relieved that I retain the overall mood of the story, she was surprised when I wrote about a completely different theme for my second book.
This single comment dragged me into a deep puddle of contemplation.
Since I’ve already released two books with a “dark, gloomy, and bittersweet” theme—quoting my reader’s review—should I strive to write more books like that in the future? Should I focus on writing novels that revolves around angst, guilt, and redemption? Suppose if I were; is this kind of thinking guiding me through my writing career, or is it restraining me?
Several months ago, when I was cleaning my bedroom, I found a rectangular tin can I kept underneath my bed. Inside, I found all of the novels I had written longhand in the past, dating as far back as my elementary school years. As I quickly skimmed through the ridiculous stories, messy handwriting, and bleeding ink on the cheap paper, I was entranced. Shortly afterward, I found the answer to my own question.
I used to write everything.
And by everything, I mean literally everything. From high fantasy novels, young adults, poetry, romance, comedy, horror, mystery, bildungsroman—you can name any genre and chances are, I had already attempted writing in the said genre. I wouldn’t say my experiments were successful, of course, but it baffled me when I realized how very experimental I was in my younger years.
There was never a rule to restrict me from writing anything else. I considered “writing” as my escape plan from reality. It’s like an aspirin I take regularly. Only this one doesn’t just act as a painkiller. It’s also my go-to mood booster, tranquilizer, and endorphin. As such, the very nature of my writings should change depending on what I need at the moment.
You know, on some occasions, I might want to write a dark fantasy, full of intricate magic systems and semi-fictional settings. Other days I might want to write a super realistic historical romance, inspired by a real incident in the distant past. One day I will be writing as a tragic hero, another day I will be writing as the villain. The sky’s the limit, quite literally.
Looking back, perhaps what fueled my endless creativity and staggering productivity was that sense of freedom during the creation process. I didn’t care what others would think about my writings as much as I do now, so there was nothing stopping me from experimenting; from having fun.
It all made sense then.
My toxic expectations, my poor time management for writing. It all comes down to the fact that I don’t have much fun writing anymore. And obviously, I wouldn’t want to waste my time on something that doesn’t bring me joy; in this case, writing while being burdened by expectations.
With this realization, I scrapped my latest story outline, which uninspiringly involves angst, guilt, and redemption. I distanced myself from all my pending projects, started over with a blank Scrivener document, and thought to myself: this is it. This is the blank page I’ve been waiting for.
For the longest time, facing a blank page has always been a frightening experience for me.
For the first time since forever, facing a blank page actually felt liberating.
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