After I finished my novel, I was in a state of rapt joy for weeks and as I basked in the glow of attaining one of my lifelong goals, I became determined to let nothing diminish the happiness I was experiencing. This immediately made me consider the dangerous realm of expectations. When I began writing my book, I had only one expectation – to finish it. It was a large expectation, but one I knew I could fulfill if I remained focused and disciplined. I accepted that I could never perfectly transcribe the story the way I saw it in my head, but I knew I could come close enough to do it justice. I would not have bothered beginning the book if I did not believe I could fulfill my expectation of completing it, because if there is one thing life has taught me it's this – nothing, and I mean nothing, causes more sadness, anger, and anguish than a failed expectation.
Though completing a manuscript is a huge accomplishment, it often exposes writers to a far more vast and dangerous minefield of expectations – publishing. Once a book is done, every writer longs to see their masterpiece in print, gracing the shelves of bookstores around the world from which it is plucked and devoured by hordes of eager and appreciative readers. Some authors expect to be represented by a large publisher. Some prefer to represent themselves. All strive for success. Big success. Bestseller success. Of course, only a handful, regardless of whether they were picked up by mainstream publishers or chose to self-publish, ever reach that level of success. I can only speculate how other writers deal with unmet expectations when it comes to the publication or marketing of their work, but I imagine there is a tidal wave of bitter, disappointed, and resentful authors out there. In addition to this, I'm certain even the bestsellers have their share of unmet expectations they carry about with them like crosses.
After I made my decision to self-publish, I approached the situation without expectations. I was grateful for having the opportunity to get my work into print and I vowed to explore as many avenues as I could to try to bring my novel to the attention of the world, but I refused, and still refuse, to form any expectations when it comes to success of the book. This has kept me from falling into the anger trap, into the I'm mad that my expectations were not fulfilled quagmire that creates bitter memories and resentments and often leads to complaints and criticisms and excuses. On the contrary, expecting nothing has allowed me to approach the experience of publishing the same way I approach the experience of writing – with gladness, joy, and laughter.
Of course, on the surface much of this talk of expecting nothing might sound insincere, but it isn't. It isn't a cheap cop-out either. Nor is it a statement of lowered expectations from a defeated man. Rather, it is a testament against disillusionment. I can't speak for other writers, but for me writing is not a choice. It is not something I choose to do. It is something I am compelled to do. There is a force inside me that demands I write. It is bigger than me, this force, and I dare not disobey it. I don't know why it demands me to write. I don't know why it doesn't demand me to do other things like play the trombone or become the next internet billionaire. All I know is that the need to write has always been there inside me and I cannot put myself in a situation where I view writing with bitterness, anger, or resentment. I don't know if my writing will ever reach lofty levels of success, but that is not my primary motivation for writing. That I am able to get the stories in my head into a book and out into the world is all that matters. That is all the only expectation I harbor. This has not only kept me happy, but has also kept me from being a carpenter of my own cross.