Are Your Expectations Ruining Your Writing?

Have you ever had this thought, or said this to yourself? Nothing ever comes out the way I want it to.” That thought can cause more damage to your writing life than just about anything you can do.

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A couple of my paintings hanging in my office/easel space. Cheaper to make your own wall art.

I went to war with my painting skills when I was about ten years old. I was always a talented sketcher, good with a pencil or a piece of charcoal, but when I painted for the first time, the picture in my mind went awkward on me.

I’ve never had art lessons, but I’ve tried every other trick I could think of, over the years, to try and wrestle the style that emerged under my paintbrush into some resemblance of what I saw in my head. It didn’t work. What comes out is what you see in the photo above: a big, cartoonish style with some dark lines shoved in. I can’t paint the feathery detail of Degas, the pooling colors of Monet, or the clean, sunny lines of Hopper. When I pick up a paintbrush, my big, loopy style is what comes out, regardless of how precise the details are in my head.

Sound familiar?

Accepting Your Writing Style

Fighting the form of your creative output isn’t healthy, but many of us, including me, do this from time to time. We wish to emulate a certain author’s poise and fearless use of language, or we try and adopt the most prolific member of our writing group’s habits, to try and match her output. If you’re a measured and careful writer with a slow and steady output, trying to adopt something alien to your natural way of creating is only going to frustrate you.

See those paintings up there? I chose that angle to take the photo because just underneath the frame sit six large canvases that are half-finished, and full of work that doesn’t match the naturally sophomoric style discussed above. There are street scenes painted in a layered technique familiar to oil painters, a shop window that was going to be Hopper-esque and instead sits empty, and much more. Result: They’re out of the frame because they’re all half-finished, and they’ll probably stay that way, because they’re not very good.

Honing Your Writing Style

Lately, in the past year so, I’ve been thinking that my paintings come out the way they do not because of a lack of skill (although there’s always that) but because there’s a part of my mind, the painting part, that really does see the world this way. In many ways, the end product is a bit beyond my control, and I’ve been having a bit of fun applying this cartoonish, bubbly lens to other subjects besides lighthouses and birch trees, and I’m actually fascinated by what comes out. It’s teaching me about how I see the world.

Accepting your creative style is step one in the discovery process, but the once you understand the vagaries of your point of view, you’ve brought your uniqueness, the thing no other writer ever has or ever will capture, under control. You no longer have to try to be original—you’re one-of-a-kind whether you like it or not.

When you start applying your creative lens to your writing, you might be amazed at what you find.


Have you ever tried unsuccessfully to write like someone else? How have you found your original voice? Share your experience in the comments.  


  • Brian J

    Hey Shanan great post!

    I like your art. It impressed me and I spent a few minutes
    wishing I could paint, or draw. I’ve yet to unlock those talents, but I will.

    I used to spend my days pretending to be Stephen King, creating hilariously
    un-scary (made that word up) stories, while attempting the casual wit he uses
    in some of his work. No go. Then I played at being John Grisham, Tom Clancy and
    Agatha Christie.

    Eventually I said screw it and wrote my most disturbing story to
    date, and in the process discovered a little something about myself.

    As for my ‘blogging’ voice, I’ve had it for a while I just never
    acknowledged it until recently.

    Sadly, I don’t remember how I found it, although I suspect it
    came from a journal I kept.

    Thanks for being awesome!


    P.S. It’s still a rough draft but you’re featured in a post I’m
    working on about pro blogging. (Should be up Thursday evening, or Friday, I’ll let you know).

    • Shan

      Hi Brian! Thanks for another great comment! And your description of the way you came to discovering your writing voice honestly mirrors mine. Although I didn’t set out to write LIKE any one author, my favorite author is Pat Conroy, and I deeply admire his use of language, He finds words to describe things that you’d never think would work, but they do.

      One of the reasons I’m such a slow writer is I agonize over making sure everything I write has this expansive, bold, musical diction style (and guess where I picked up that notion? Thanks, Pat). Like you said, it’s often a no-go.

      And I’m featured in a post? That’s pretty cool! Let me know when it’s up.

      • Brian J

        Hey Shanan,

        The post is up, I tried emailing it to you via your procrastiwriter email but received a failure. So here’s the link:


        • Shan

          Hi Brian, Thanks for the pingback! I learned a ton from that post, and I’ve now bookmarked some more useful links for my freelance writing journey.

          One note: check the 5 Ways to Procrastinate Strategically link. It’s a 404. And I will look into what’s wrong with that email.

          • Brian J

            Glad you got something out of it. And I fixed the link. 🙂

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  • Cayleigh-May Forbes

    I like what you said about accepting your creative voice. It’s difficult not to try to do what people you admire are doing/have done but, for me anyway, I think it’s just fear that keeps me looking sideways around the room to check my answers with the other kids. The other students being dead and/or currently available is only one part of the problem with said propensity; the other being the absence of any right answer (or indeed identical question). Must soldier on. Thanks for the post.

    P.S. Your paintings are wonderful.

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