Playing For Ideas
There’s something strange about expectations. I find that positive ones are far worse than negative. Let me explain. If I’m worried about teaching a tricky class, making an awkward phone call or running a difficult distance, negative expectations can be a good thing. Invariably I get so worked up about how terrible it’s going to be, the actual thing itself is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. But the reverse has proved itself annoyingly true. Returning home after living in China and being away for almost eighteen months, I was delighted to be going home. At the end of my pregnancy I was couldn’t wait to see my baby and have that lovely wash of all-encompassing love I was promised.
But when I got home from China I had reverse culture shock and found being in big groups of people who spoke the same language as me disorientating. When my baby was born it was amazing but I felt nothing but blind panic when they gave her to me. Both times I felt like an utter failure. The expectation of a positive outcome had a far worse impact than the expectation of a negative one.
The ‘wrong’ reaction can make you feel like a failure. But there are lots of ways to free yourself from expectations.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, this is the start of my time as a ‘real’ writer. Whatever that means. For me, it means that I finally have the time to sit myself down and apply all my mental and creative energy to those things that have been simmering away at the periphery but never got my full attention. Surely something to celebrate and enjoy.
But I’ve found a weird kind of pressure has been sitting on me. Now I’m doing it ‘seriously,’ the pressure to produce something good, frequent and to have measurable successes has increased. Sitting down to write is no longer my one treasured morning of the week, or a snatched hour after a postpartum Pilates class. This is The Thing I Do Now. I need to be careful it doesn’t take the fun out of it.
I suppose it’s a common problem for those who like to make stuff. Drawing the line between play and art, what is fun and what is meaningful. For the last week (since I finished one big project) it’s left me in a dithering state – writing scraps of sentences and scribbling ideas, fiddling with my website and Twittering madly, making more notes about the possibility of a writing course than any new stories or books.
All these promises of fame and money make it very hard to just enjoy what you’re writing and not worry about ‘success.’
But what good is art if it isn’t fun? Surely it’s in the spaces of play that we find imagination, ideas and ways to improve. I would also question myself about what ‘meaningful’ is anyway. It’s tempting to get drawn into entering every competition, submission window and writing prize. There are so many! But if the focus of my work is, ‘oh I need to write a story about cheese for Fromage Arts magazine,’ rather than, ‘oh I want to write a story about this because it excites mem’ then what comes out isn’t going to be any good.
I think maybe I need to trick myself a bit. Get out of my capitalist mindset that everything that is valuable creates wealth and try to see this as an opportunity to mess around with words and see what happens.
All sorts of play can lead to all sorts of ideas
Interestingly enough, my most recent ideas have come from just that. I was ‘in the tent’ (under the duvet) with my toddler when she told me there was a badger in my slippers. This random image brought about an idea for a flash fiction piece and a children’s book . I’ve never written one before but hey, why not? An extended game of Lego that incorporated farm animals and toy cars led to a chapter I hadn’t thought of in my memoir about travelling with a baby.
On Monday, I engaged in something that didn’t seem very meaningful. A chat with a group of other writers. An opportunity to reflect on what my successes were, what my goals were. After a brief discussion about my current project I went away and screamed through 2,000 words. It’s in the spaces after I allow myself to play, invent or just mull over that the creation happens.
So I’m going to lower my expectations. Start my day thinking about playing and experimenting, rather than ‘doing a job.’ I hope it will lead to a whole new burst of words and things that feel meaningful, in whatever form that might take.
Please let me know what your ideas are in the comments below or @sarahtinsleyuk
Thanks for reading,
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