One of the first days after my husband’s parental leave ended, my parents offered to come over my house in the morning and watch both kids for me for a couple of hours so that I could have some time to myself. I was very excited. Sure, I’d have to still nurse the baby but I’d at least get some time to do whatever I wanted. I dreamed of getting a big chunk of time to actually concentrate on a writing project with my full attention, something I haven’t been able to do in ages. My expectations were sky high.
But, when the long awaited day arrived, my hopes were dashed. My 4 year old decided that she wanted nothing to do with her grandparents (who she normally adores) and only wanted Mama. My parents sat in my kitchen twiddling their thumbs, while I was in my office begging my daughter to please, PLEASE go downstairs for at least a few minutes. And when I finally got her interested in something other than me for a moment, the newborn would wake and need to be fed. In the five hours my parents were over, I only got 20 minutes total to myself.
After they left, I was completely miserable. A cloud hung over the entire rest of the day and I was in a funk that lasted for days beyond. And the feeling was incredibly familiar because it was exactly how I’d felt for most of my first year of motherhood back in 2012 .
See, the issue that day wasn’t really that I didn’t get time alone. I almost never do and manage just fine. The issue was that I had gotten my hopes up.
There’s a quote I read once that I cannot remember the exact phrasing of that defines happiness as the distance between expectations and reality. Hindsight has made me realize that a lot of my frustration and struggling (both professional and personally) that first year of motherhood was because of unrealistic expectations. Namely, that I was repeatedly told by friends with young children that it would be SO EASY for me to work with a new baby. My child would sleep ALL THE TIME! So and so’s wife wrote their first book while on maternity leave, they had SO MUCH FREE TIME!
While I’m sure this advice was given with good intentions, it set me up for a miserable year. All their babies take naps, why won’t mine? They all found so much time to work, why don’t I have any? The expectations they’d set me up with didn’t match my reality in the least. It had a negative effect on my health and productivity both and made the already challenging first year of being a parent much harder than it needed to be. And it’s why that year was the least productive one of my entire writing career.
Your expectations color how you view just about everything. The closer your reality matches with what you expect, the happier you are. And unrealistic expectations aren’t just unobtainable, they can cripple your progress. An impossible goal can do more damage than not setting a goal at all.
As a writer, it’s about being realistic when it comes to everything from word count goals and revision deadlines to agents and publishing milestones. Hope is sneaky and, when you’re excited about the prospect of something, it’s easy to get carried away. Rejections and other setbacks are much harder to accept when they blindside you.
Me? I’m going into this year of babyhood very differently than the last one. My expectations, like my word count goal, are low since now I know the reality of having a newborn around (and to be suspicious of all baby advice from friends!). I never assume I’ll get writing time, I just take advantage when the opportunity provides itself so it’s like a nice surprise when it does happen. And, weirdly, that laid back philosophy has not only made for a happier Hillary but more productive one as well.
So if you’re feeling discouraged by your writing progress, the secret may not be increasing your goals and trying to produce more. Instead, tweak your goals until they align more closely match what’s realistically possible and adjust as needed. You’ll find that when your expectations are realistic, it will make you a happier and more successful writer!
Photo by bjornmeansbear