Releasing your books from expectations

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We are told that the way to peace and contentment is to release our expectations. This is good advice for creativity, an engine to move through projects step by step. Take action, then release the outcome: it’s a principle of Zen life.

We can allow for exceptions to our expectation-releasing. Keeping things simple can make your expectations serve you. For example, your expectation is to finish the 30 minutes you’ve begun to write. Your next expectation is to set another time to write. You move upward by expecting your work to become better, but not perfect.

If this all feels very spiritual, it should. “Prayer is the soul of God,” says Gail Sher in her fine writing book One Continuous Mistake. “It’s unadorned, unpretentious. Doing anything with wholehearted effort will likely involve mistake after mistake. It’s the soul talking to God in a different tongue.”

We move upward with expectations when we enter the realm of reviews and publishing. I tell authors that the only thing we’ve got the power to impact is writing a grand book. It’s you, your muse and spirit, plus the editor’s influence and guidance.

Revision after revision, mistake after mistake, the book improves. It’s never perfect. We learn nothing from our successes, some say. We learn everything from our mistakes.

I don’t agree that we learn nothing from success. A bedrock layer of my Amherst Writers & Artists training says if we cannot see whatever we’re getting right, we have no business finding mistakes.

The freedom that we seize when we release our books from expectations is profound. So long as you let trusted readers and editors into your creative playpen, you’ll keep improving.

Making progress to promote

It’s especially dynamic to release expectations around marketing, promotion, and other discovery. You must act, to be certain. For many years, advertising sales drove the lifeblood of my publishing life. We’d sell an ad, just like you’ll pitch a book for reading or publishing. We could never guarantee the ad would win over a prospect. We knew we kept trying for the clients who were taking action.

People who tell you that guarantees and hard metrics should drive your decisions — well, they might misunderstand the power of mistakes. You keep acting, and keep learning the way. The more you master your craft, the more you know that the way is to keep finding out the way — not just by doing what we’re already good at, but by going off in the darkness.

Expectations fly high around the winds of book marketing. Authors hire PR firms and marketing firms and wind up disappointed. “Their expectations weren’t met,” says Penny Sanseveri in a great podcast. “It’s because of misaligned expectations.”

The author engages the marketer, thinking they’re going to get one thing. The marketer goes into it thinking they’re providing something else.

It’s just human nature to layer our expectations on top of the realities and the uncertainties of our lives. Recognize that and you’re on the way to releasing expectations — so long as you keep working, failing, or succeeding. The expectations are freeloaders on the creative train.

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