"Where are my roses?" Cheryl said. It was Valentine's day. She was standing at her desk, the receptionist's desk in the front of the office, the phone at her ear. She had called her boyfriend during her morning break because she was upset her flowers hadn't arrived at the office yet. She was a young girl, maybe 23, maybe a year or two older. It wasn't just her years that made her young; it was her outlook too. She stood there; her long red hair fell to the middle of her back in ringlets, her red silk blouse tucked into her black slacks, her free hand on her hip, a framed picture of expectation, the illustration on the cover of a book about a relationship that ended on Valentine's day.
But it wasn't just her years that made her seem young or her high expectations and demands; it was also the tone of her voice, part whine, part warble of pre-cry. And it was the volume of the conversation, the words pushed from her mouth through the office like a thick fog penetrating the workspace and our individual cubicles and into our ears, disrupting not just our workday but our thoughts as well.
I imagined her boyfriend, Greg, on the other end of the phone, maybe angry, maybe scared, maybe wondering, asking himself Did I do enough? Or Should I break up with her now? She didn't know that he didn't send the roses. He seemed like a nice guy. I'd met him, I guessed he had, but it wasn't even 11:30 yet, and Valentine's is the busiest day of the year for florists. Patience is important.
I remember thinking at that moment, after hearing her tone of voice, sharp and expectant, stab through the handset of the phone and out the other end, hitting Greg square between the eyes, or worse in the heart, that this relationship was doomed.
Cheryl had been talking on the phone for a good five minutes and had closed her lecture with that thorny question: "Did you at least make reservations for dinner?" Then she sighed a deep sigh listening to his answer.
"I hope so," she said and hung up on him, not without aggression.
The flowers arrived 15 minutes later. Cheryl and Greg broke up 15 days later.
What Cheryl did to Greg, we do to ourselves! I'm sure, for some of us, we do this in many areas of our lives. But for today, I want to address how we do this to ourselves when it comes to writing.
Well, yes, of course, I was going to bring this back around to writing! Think about it. When you have these super high expectations for yourself when you think your writing should be perfect, or that you should write exactly what you want to write every time you sit down to the blank page, well, guess what, you're in for a shock.
Here's what I'd like to share with you on Valentine's Day, Love your messy, imperfect, creative process. AND, love your first drafts, even the really crumby ones. Don't EXPECT perfection. Practice your craft, strive for excellence, and be kind and love yourself along the way.
Expectations can kill a relationship (or at least instigate a fight), and they can also kill your creativity. They can get in the way of your process. They can play tricks on your mind. They can ruin your writing experience.
So, on this Valentine's Day, let go of those pesky expectations. Reframe them. Set reasonable goals. Don't expect perfection. Strive for excellence, and when you have that first draft, walk away for a while. Read a book. Take a walk. Take two or three. Do a yoga class. Do two or three. Sleep on it, not just one night but maybe two or three or even more. Then come back with fresh eyes, eyes free of expectation and demand, and you can edit it than with an open heart and an open mind.
You never know what you're going to get when you sit down to the blank page and, if you think about it, that's half the fun!!!