By Christen Civiletto Morris
Expectations can be tricky. The wrong word choice can raise or lower them. A skewed perception can twist them.
Expectations are especially difficult when it comes to those we create in our family about our writing. I once bungled a conversation along those lines so badly that it would be funny if it weren’t so … well, embarrassing. And I mean cringeworthy.
“I feel like I’m supposed to write a book,” I announced to my husband one night after the kids were in bed. We’d just married and were settling into our new home in a new town. I was looking for a position as a contract attorney. My husband was only weeks into his new job as a technician.
“Oh yeah?” He didn’t look up from what he was doing. “Another law book?”
His head snapped up. “When are you going to have time to do that?”
I chewed on my lip. He had a point: Four school-aged children. A part-time teaching appointment. Legal cases now and then. And, unless I pushed it off to write this book, another contract position.
“I just can’t stop thinking about it.” My mind groped for the words to explain the feelings I had about this story.
“This plot … these characters … it’s coming to me in waves. I have to write.”
“How long do you need?”
I thought about it for a minute. It had taken eighteen months to write my nonfiction books. But I had been practicing law full time then, and wasn’t now. I figured six months to learn how to develop a plot, flesh out characters, and develop themes, and then another six to actually write and edit. So I blurted out what I guessed was a pretty reasonable timetable: “A year.”
You can cringe now.
We plunged right in. He took on a second shift at his job. I accepted small cases, but delayed looking for the contract position so I could write while the kids were in school. I learned about the craft of writing.
And I wrote and revised in every spare, non-family moment.
One year stretched into two.
He kept working. I kept writing and revising. I attended conferences. I solicited feedback, entered contests, improved where needed, and gained a critique partner.
Two years bled into three. I could hear the “tsk, tsks” through my family members’ texts that read “how’s the job search coming?”
Sometime in year four I put the novel on the back burner to represent a group of residents from my hometown. Given how God works, I wasn’t surprised to learn the clients found me because they heard about research I was doing for the book.
Another four years went by. I continued to work on the cases and teach. I tried to work on the novel. Those weren’t easy times, financially or otherwise.
In January of this year, just before I finally published the novel during a lull in the cases, I recalled our long-ago conversation. The truth is, I thought about that conversation a lot. It didn’t take a year. It didn’t take two. It took eight. I was naïve to think that I could learn to write fiction in such a short time. I didn’t account for God’s plans for our maturity and His purposes. My expectations were out of whack. Even worse, I had created expectations in my husband that weren’t reasonable either.
Disappointment can rear its head when there’s a gap between what we expect and the reality of a situation.
The good news is that we can exert some control over writing-related expectations. I now ask: are my expectations for this project based on accurate facts? What amount of time do I have available? Did I account for the unexpected? For fun? Have I fostered reasonable expectations in others about timeframes, ability, or training?
Happily, upon reading the last word of my novel, my husband closed the book and told me to hurry up and write the next one. I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable: I’ll give it more than a year … and less than eight.
Christen Civiletto Morris is an author, adjunct law school professor, and attorney. Her research on the environmental corruption of her hometown led to the writing of Green City Savior-her faith-based, environmentally themed suspense novel set in Niagara Falls. You can reach Christen at www.christenciviletto.com.