Tag Archives: achievement

The Speed of Write

Everything is relative. Right?

It’s so easy to look at the body of work being produced by, oh, let’s just say anybody who has a body of work to speak of, and be intimidated. It’s so easy, as a writer, to think, “my writing is horrible. I’m horrible. Who would read this? Why should I bother? Why does it even matter?” And, from there, it’s a small hop, skip, and jump (maybe more like a trip, lurch, and fall) to quitting altogether.

And it’s not just writing, right? It could be exercising: “It’s too hard. Look at how much weight that guy is lifting / how far that girl is running / how much more flexible she is. I’ll never get there. I might as well give up.” Or knitting: “I’m awful. Look at this awful tea cozy / dog sweater / who-the-hell-knows-I’ll-just-call-it-a-scarf that I made. Who would ever want this? I’ll just buy one at the store and be less embarrassed.” Giving up is easy. Practicing, getting better, learning how to do the thing you wanted to do back on January 1st or whenever you decided to do the thing… it’s HARD. And those people who are doing it — and being successful — are just so DonDraper’ed visible, and so successful, and GOD they make it look so easy. They make it look so easy, that as hard as it is for me, I might as well quit. Right?

No. Fargo that. That’s the Howler Monkey of Doubt screeching in your ear and throwing its feces at your eyes. The monkey wants you to quit, because if you quit, then he gets to watch reruns of The Bachelor through your eyes and eat a tub of chocolate chips through your mouth and sleep the day away through your backside on your bed.

But that way madness lies. The Howler Monkey doesn’t know sharknado about hard work because it’s only concerned with taking the easy way out. The truth is, it’s pointless to compare yourself to the people writing bestselling novels, or bench-pressing small imported cars, or running marathons, or knitting afghans for the Queen. Because the person doing that incredible thing has been practicing his or her craft for countless hours to make it look that easy. You don’t see the failures. You don’t see the miles and miles of smoldering wreckage of his crashed and awful manuscripts leading up to the good ones, you don’t see the painful mornings and hours and hours of training she put in to work up to running that marathon, you don’t see the hundreds of horrible golf-club covers she made to practice up for Queen afghan-making.

The point is, we are all points on a continuum. Yes, you may suck now. I may suck now. I probably do. But if I go back and compare myself to the poor schlub who started this journey almost a year ago, I’m pretty confident that I’m at least a little better off. A little more comfortable with the virtual pen in my virtual hands. So a bestselling novel is maybe not in my immediate future; doesn’t matter a whole lot, it’s closer now than it was a year ago. So you’re not going to run a marathon next month — but last month, you couldn’t even run a mile, and now look at you. Last month you nearly put the dog’s eye out with your knitting needles, and now you almost know which end makes the scarf.

The only person worth comparing yourself to is other versions of yourself. Compare your current self to a past version of yourself and make sure you’re moving in the right direction, and if not, FIX IT. Compare your current self to a potential self and see if you like where you’re headed. If not? FIX IT.

Even the slowest marathoner is miles ahead of the guy who never gets off the couch. Even the worst writer in the world is pages and pages ahead of the girl who dreams of writing a novel but never quite gets around to it. Even the most unfortunate knitter… you get the idea.

Somehow we got the idea that if we’re going to do something, that it has to be perfect. That there’s some absolute standard out there for any given endeavor, and if we can’t reach that standard, we might as well not bother. Bollocks. The standard for personal success should be relative success. Am I writing as much, or better, or more creatively, or more comfortably, than I was a year ago? Then I’m doing all right. Am I running farther, or faster, or with less injury, than I was when I started? Then it’s all good. Am I… okay, I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about knitting, let’s just assume I had something clever to say about the relative improvement and progression of a career in knitting, and call it a day, yeah?

Focus not on that faraway, nigh-unreachable goal that feels so intimidating. Focus on small victories, tiny relative leaps, and just keep pushing the needle.

Now it’s time to get some sleep so that I can go back to work on my slightly-less-than-awful novel.

This post is part of SoCS.

Some Unsolicited Advice for Anybody Making a Life Change (a reflection on 100 posts)

About a month ago I saw a video on YouTube from Numberphile (okay, the secret is out, I’m a nerd and I sometimes watch videos about math on YouTube when I have nothing better to do).  It’s a fascinating little examinaton of the methods we use for counting and it explores what our everyday interactions would be like if we had twelve fingers instead of ten.  (Spoiler alert — counterintuitively, numbers and computations and especially measurements and conversions get simpler by factors of oh-my-god-numbers-hurt-my-brain.)  You can check it out below if you’re so inclined.  They make some fascinating videos if, like me, you’re fascinated withthe way math impacts us even if we’d like to pretend it doesn’t.

But this isn’t a post about math, not really.  It’s just a little reflection.   Now, in the scheme of things, even though one hundred seems like a big deal, it’s an arbitrary number, which becomes incredibly obvious after watching a video like the one I linked above.  Nevertheless, it’s a significant number because we’ve all agreed that it is; we measure years in decades and centuries, we have the metric system (which nobody uses, PFF, SILLY REST OF THE WORLD), and our currency is nothing without hundreds.  Ultimately, however, it’s just one way out of many to count stuff, and as we all know, everything is relative and there is no best anything.

I’m hung up on one hundred today, though, because I recently passed the 100 post mark here at Pavorisms.  I’m pointing it out, not to toot my own horn or to massage my ego, but honestly just so that I can have another landmark to look back at.  Landmarks matter because they show us where we’ve been, but perhaps more importantly, so that we can tell other people where they’re going.  This particular landmark is a pretty monstrous one for me.

I started the blarg here the very week I decided I was going to finally get around to writing a novel.  It wasn’t meant to be a major undertaking; just a spot for me to reflect on the writing I was doing on the novel and to stretch my legs on writing some non-level fiction vis-a-vis my short pieces.  It wasn’t a big deal, but I committed to it just like I committed to writing the novel.  Now it’s four months later, and I’ve nearly finished the novel and I have made over a hundred posts here at the blarg.

That’s one hundred times I’ve sat down to write outside of working on the novel.  That’s one hundred times I’ve found something to say even on those days when I started out thinking I didn’t really have anything to say.  (Spoiler alert: I still don’t have much to say, but I do have fun saying it.)  The point is, I found ways to write even when I didn’t think I could.  I kept writing even when I was exhausted from writing.  I kept writing even when I was sick to death from the thought of writing.

My dad told me many, many years ago — and it’s a piece of wisdom that I’ve repeated many times throughout the years to myself and others — that you can do just about anything for a few weeks.  And I’ve found that to be pretty much true.  Anything you end up doing — however unpleasant, taxing, difficult or challenging it might be — you can muscle through it for a few weeks.  You can force yourself to get up at three in the morning for a terrible job and not crash for a few weeks.  You can try out a new diet and not hate it for a few weeks.  You can give up beer, chocolate, sex, or whatever other guilty pleasure you might have for a few weeks.  But there comes a point beyond which muscling through it cannot carry you.  A point that, for better or worse, you have to find a deeper drive to get past.  You can keep working the job that gets you up at three AM, but you’ll have to give up staying up to watch late night TV.  You can stay on your diet, but you’ll have to find replacements for the food you’re giving up, and make lifestyle adjustments so that you don’t keep craving the old stuff.  You can stay off your vices but you have to really know why you’re staying off — giving them up for Lent isn’t going to keep you clean.

My point is, muscling through can get you to the brink.  It can get you through the salty first days of something and show you what life is like with this new change you’re trying out.  But muscling through won’t get you through the days when you’re so exhausted you can’t bear to think about your three AM job, your diet, or your sudden lack of cigarettes.  What gets you through then?  For me, it’s an eye on the prize.

I tried running three different times in my life.  Twice I did it for a few months and then gave it up — it was too hard.  Two years ago I started it up again (for the last time) because my son had just been born and I wanted to work to stay healthy for him, and I am still going strong two years later, despite some serious setbacks of late.

Now, I’m writing because I have always felt that I could tell a decent story but never tested myself.  Well, I may still be in the muscling through stage, but I have a hundred blarg posts and almost ninety thousand words banked on the novel that say this is a habit I just might be able to stick with.

Jeez.  I start off talking about math and then I get all preachy.  Could I meander any more?  The point is this (and I write this, both for anybody thinking of trying out writing or trying out anything new as well as for myself when I lose gumption somewhere down the line, as I know I will): Making a change is about two major turning points.  The first is when you decide to do the thing.  People think that’s the hard part, but I don’t think so.  Look at the numbers for gym membership sales in January for your evidence: making the commitment is — I don’t want to say easy — not the hard part.  The hard part comes when you’re no longer riding the high of just having started, you no longer have the accolades of people clapping you on the back and saying “good for you.” When you find yourself in the trenches, covered in mud and blood and tears and sweat, clinging to your rifle like it’s the only good thing left in the world and you’re faced with deciding whether to press on through even more mud and blood and heartache and pain or to cash in your chips and go back to the easier life you were leading before.

So pick a milestone.  Shoot for it.  “900 words today.”  And write it.  “Run three miles today.”  And run them.  And then go for a bigger milestone.  “6000 words this week.”  And write it.  “Run twenty miles this week.”  And run them. And grow and evolve and improve and keep changing and don’t get comfortable and keep setting new milestones and enjoy the landmarks as you sail past them and leave them in the rearview.

If I can do it, you can do it.

I’m talking to you, Future Me.


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