If my writing courses have taught me anything over the past year it’s that I truly struggle with vague instructions. I have high expectations of myself and my work; when I am assigned a task I want clear-cut, specific instructions on exactly what is wanted from me so that I can excel. I find vagueness costs me more time in the long run because I constantly second guess myself as I work.
I finally voiced this frustration to someone who looked at me and said (paraphrased, of course), “Anyone who employs you to write isn’t going to tell you exactly what they want. You have to figure it out.” Not only did that take the wind out of my complaining sails, it made a ton of sense. Thus, one of my goals with my last course was to relax and listen to my instincts. Was I stressed handing in assignments? Absolutely. But I did well on all of them, and I didn’t waste as much time as I normally would obsessing over every single aspect of them. Sometimes good advice is just good advice.
Now, this advice absolutely applies to story writing! Obviously, a publisher, or audience, is never going to give you a formula outlining exactly what they want. Even if you’re a ghost writer step-by-step instructions are not going to be forthcoming from whoever hired you. Rather, there will be some sort of vague expectation communicated that you’ll want to try to work towards fulfilling.
Yes, as story writers we write for ourselves, but usually there’s some kind of reader at the end of the tunnel, one who will be susceptible to what we’ve created and hence has some expectations concerning our work. We all strive to exceed those expectations, yet at the same time it’s important to not let ourselves drown in them. We’re never going to write anything perfect, we can only write our stories to the best of our abilities.
Perhaps vague expectations from those who want what we create are better than stricter guidelines. Why? They let our creative muscles flex and flourish. They allow us to approach things in unexpected ways that may delight in the end. And they allow us to hone our instincts and skills.
As a writer you won’t always know what people want from you, but that kind of gives you the creative edge, doesn’t it?