A while back (maybe two years, best guess), a writing buddy of mine shared a pro tip for writers that really resonated with me. Today, I finally realized why it struck such a deep chord for me.
Drew Chial once said something along the lines of, “Don’t measure your success by someone else’s yard stick.”
At the time, I thought, Well, that makes a lot of sense. But there’s so much more to that idea than what’s on the surface.
Before I explain that, you need to understand a few things about me. I’m fearless. Confident. Easily broken. That doesn’t make any sense at all, I realize, but I can assure you it’s all true.
I’m not afraid to try or to fail. I approach everything I do with the same attitude: I will learn how to do this, then I’ll learn how to do it well. There’s no room for, “I don’t think I can do this.” For me, that thought doesn’t usually enter into the equation until much later, when someone puts it there.
And that is my biggest weakness. I’m working on changing that. I don’t want anyone to have that much control over me.
“Talk to me when you’re actually making money. Then I’ll be impressed.” (Money is just something we need to buy things. It’s not a reason for doing things.)
“There are better ways you could spend your time.” (Not for me.)
“You’re not actually doing anything.” (I’m actually doing a helluva lot more than you do, daily.)
I’m a different kind of person than anyone I’ve ever known prior to diving into the publishing world and Twitter. I’m finding, more and more, that I’m not alone. It just feels like it when I’m offline. I think I finally know why, or one reason anyway.
Wake up at 6 am, get ready for the day, go to work. Come home at 5 pm. Eat supper. Bathe. Go to sleep. Rinse and repeat.
This isn’t the kind of life I was meant for, I know that now. I don’t thrive on a rigid structure. It’s bearable, to an extent, but it’s not good for me. And the whole “measuring success by someone else’s yardstick” thing took on a whole new meaning for me this year.
I measure every aspect of my life by someone else’s yardstick. We all do. And, to an extent, we have to. I started homeschooling my girls this year, and I learned that the typical yardstick simply doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve always struggled to wake up early. It’s something we have to do, something I’ll probably always have to do. And it will always be a struggle. That’s simply not my natural sleep cycle. Maybe I could move to a time zone that compliments my sleep cycle, or maybe I’d just adapt and struggle again. That’s a train of thought for another day.
My point is that not everyone benefits from waking up early and getting right to work. For homeschooling, whether we wake up at 6 a.m. or 8 a.m., we start school at 9 a.m. This is the time when my kids are most alert (not counting 9 p.m. when it’s time to go to bed). It’s when they’re most productive. It’s when I can teach them and they absorb the information and are best able to apply it. If I start ELA at 9 a.m., we’re done by 9:30. For several weeks, we were getting up early and getting started first thing. And at first, it was okay. Everything was new and exciting.
The new has officially worn off. We’re several weeks into LEAP and iLEAP test prep with one week to go and shit. just. got. real. But we’ve also settled into a routine that all of us benefit from. I had to learn that yardstick pretty much everyone in the history of ever is held to (the early bird gets the worm) is bullshit. We get our worms at 9 a.m. and there’s no one competing for them. Because my girls are learning at a pace that suits them and in an environment most comfortable for them (blanket fort-desks, anyone?), they are thriving.
The oldest is two weeks ahead in her studies and the middle child is one week ahead. We do science experiments all the time and actually enjoy them. When learning about measurements this past week, we had fun in our kitchen! Fun isn’t something that happens at the ass-crack of dawn. Not for us.
When we’re up too early (earlier than 6 a.m.), we’re exhausted all day and can’t sleep that night (oddly enough, it throws our sleep schedules all out of whack). So that particular yardstick is bad for us. And this got me thinking about success and yardsticks.
What if it’s the yardsticks that are causing so much failure?
At this time, I’d like to submit Exhibit A: Standardized Tests.
First, let me say that I do believe there are benefits to standardized tests. They are one way to assess a student’s progress. But some people freeze under pressure. And make no mistake, kids are people. So for those people, those tests actually do more harm than good. Because some people (especially impressionable young people) believe they aren’t smart or aren’t good enough when they fold under that pressure and “fail.” But what have they failed at? At taking a test. Not at mastering a specific set of skills. Just at demonstrating on paper that they’ve mastered those skills.
Now, this post isn’t about schools or kids or tests, it’s about yardsticks. But I think that’s a great metaphor for writers. We have expectations. Some of them are perfectly reasonable. Some are completely outside of our control. But when we’re measuring our own successes, we need to take a good hard look at our yardsticks (or whoever’s yardstick we’re using). We need to make sure we’re not taking this test just because it’s expected, or even because it will demonstrate our mastery of a specific skill set.
Why are you writing? If you have a goal in mind, great! That’s your yardstick. There are many yardsticks like it, but this one is yours. If you don’t have one, then you may need to do some soul searching and find yours. Have you ever looked at a yardstick? A ruler is basically the same thing, just 1/3 the size. But it’ll do for our purposes. If you don’t have a yardstick, grab a ruler. Or google it. Or just follow along. 🙂
You know how long your yardstick (or ruler) is: 3 feet (or 1 foot). That’s 36 inches (12 inches). That’s important to note. Each inch is a mini goal that will mark your progress along your yardstick. Have you marked your mini goals? Might want to get on that.
There are smaller units of measurement, too. Within each inch, you might have a 1/2 goal. You may divide the two halves of each inch into 1/4 goals. You can go even further than that, and when you do, you have tiny, easy to achieve goals.
So take your yardstick, and measure your goals. Don’t worry about what Dave is doing. Dave has his own yardstick, and you have yours.