Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Life's Not Fair!

No, this is not a rant about my latest rejection, about the troubles in my life, or about how my teenager and preteen can't stop poking each other until I squeal. It's just a stray thought I had and it's been a while since I've written one up to share.

At this very moment (yes, I shouldn't be wasting this word count), I am participating in one of my favorite Forward Motion challenges, the May Story A Day. Each year, I promise myself I will participate come Hell or high water, plans, deadlines, even conferences. And each year since the first I've come away mildly disappointed, my story counts dropping from that original success either because of self-imposed edit deadlines, money work deadlines, or even the dreaded word count increase (because a 500-word story and a 5000-word story both still count as one).

Why? Because life's not fair.

There's a whole process out there for businesses called SMART for employ goal setting. I can't remember what all the letters stand for but the critical ones are measurable and achievable. I know that sounds like its coming out of left field, but bear with me for a moment. I watch people compare themselves to others every day, and often find themselves coming up short. Those that come up happy are arrogant and despised. In other words, you can't win.

So I, in my grandest wisdom, decided I couldn't compare myself to others. To do so would be insane. I'll never be able to write as much as Sheila Viehl or Lazette Gifford. I can improve my craft as much as I want to, but in the tangibles, the measurable goals, I'd chosen models that produce at a level beyond me. That way lies burnout, not success.

Sounds pretty put together and mature, doesn't it? Oh, wait for it...that's right. Life's not fair.

Remember that mild disappointment? The first year I wrote 20 stories for SAD, the second 15, the third 10, and I'm hoping to match the 10 this year but may end up with eight. Here I am carefully comparing myself to...well...me, and coming up short. Sadly, I'm not the Dali Lama, Mother Teresa, or Gandhi. I have not achieved Nirvana or any other form of peace. And no matter what I do, I'm slipping further from those goals that I thought matched the SMART logic perfectly.

So being me, I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, depressing myself, wondering if I peaked three years ago and now could only face the slow decline into exhaustion and ultimate failure. (By now some of my friends are laughing themselves silly while kicking me under the table :p.)

No, I still haven't found that inner peace and balance. My emotions haven't caught on to what my head has discovered no matter how much I try to pretend that's true. However, I thought I'd share what I have learned in case one or two of you are teetering on that same brink and letting your apparent slippage get you down.

You can wander over to my website for some specific statistics, but they'll show you exactly what I'm talking about. They'll show a steady decline in word count, writing challenge participation, sheer production numbers of novels and short stories. If you read carefully, there's an increase in edits and submissions, but they don't really balance out the deficit.

Don't get me wrong, I still believe in SMART. I still think having measurable goals gives me something to work towards and something tangible to hold on to. However, what I've had to admit is that while my tangible counts have gone down, my intangibles have gone up. I read the stories I wrote three years ago and want to edit them from ground up because I can see the heart of what I was going for, but I didn't get there. I look at the huge number of short stories I completed for the first SAD and most of them are short sketches that qualify for the word story by the barest of margins. I read the novels I wrote this year at a grueling 500 words per hour compared to the 1k+ numbers I used to achieve and they're closer to publication quality than the others are after 2-3 edit passes. Another immeasurable is the number of rejections that seem to be near misses or "doesn't play well with others" as opposed to the standard form letters.

That's just me and my developments. None of these are things that I can use for goals either because they cannot be measured or because they are out of my control. What I'm trying to learn is to recognize them anyway. I need to say that 500 an hour is actually an improvement because the skill of the words on the page is that much greater. That the fewer numbers for SAD mean nothing compared to the quality and completeness of the stories I create. I'm not there yet, but recognizing the problem is half the battle, right?

So anyway, I'm using myself as an example, not of a paragon but of a person who consistently undermines herself :p, but this isn't really about me. I'm trying to reach out to everyone who looks at the tangible and dismisses the intangible because it's hard to measure.

Hang in there. Not only are you not alone, but I'd wager a guess you're (and so I'm) in pretty good company. I'm trying hard to stop taking the easy way out by focusing on the numbers I can post on my website. Instead, I'm trying to look at the bigger picture of where I am now compared to where I was then. Please, feel free to join me and leave that self-condemnation behind. Oh, and if you come up with a way to measure the intangibles? By all means share :D.


Holly said...

Totally with you. Me? I'm working fewer hours, writing fewer books, but the books I'm writing are better. Contrarily, I'm having a harder time with edits, and doing more in each one. I don't have the ability to sit for fourteen hours at a stretch anymore lost in writing, but I do manage to spend more and better time with my family because of it.

Life's a trade-off. Everything you can't have, or do, or be, just means something else you can.

Random Walk Writer said...

I would like to point out that the R stands for "realistic."

I will now merrily go back to laughing and kicking you (and myself) under the table.

bonniers said...

Oh, Mar.

Here, have a hug. Have two.


Margaret said...

Thanks everyone. It's nice to know I'm not completely alone.

Holly, I'd have to agree with you. I've always loved your writing, but Talyn was something else :D.

And how can it not be (R)ealistic if I could do it two years ago? Yeah, therein lies the problem. And OUCH btw ;).

Hugs back, Bonnie. I know, I'm a headcase, but at least I can figure out why, eh? Still working on accepting that last year's numbers don't correlate to this year's place.

Dad said...

What about those of us who look at your production - quantity AND quality - and wish we could (realistically) match you. And I'm talking about the recent stats. Share some sympathy, you over-achiever.

Margaret said...

LOL, well, see, that goes back to the R piece. What's realistic for me may not be for anyone else, or what's realistic for someone else may be too little or too much for me. That's kind of why I stopped trying to compare to other people. Our circumstances are so different and the factors are so unique that they're not really comparable.

For example, I don't work. I don't have small children that require hand holding. I have my own computer. I have a typing speed of over 100 WPM on a good day.

On the other hand, I have damage to both arms. I am mildly dyslexic so reading/editing doesn't come easy. I have a pre-teen and a teen.

See, not comparable at all and those are just things off the top of my head. I know many people who can do 1500 words an hour easily. When I'm on a roll, I get more words than they do just because I can devote more hours, but it takes more hours. And then the question is does it take fewer edit passes or more? Is my story closer to submission quality compared to theirs?

The more comparisons you make, the less it makes sense. If there's nothing else of value I can teach, let it be that the only one you can compare yourself to is you. What's important is that you are working to your potential and pushing yourself, not what anyone else is doing, worse or better. Cause ultimately you succeed or fail on your own merits. No one is going to care if you are better than Suzy or worse than Michael. They only care what you can do :).

Jay Penney said...

Hi Mar,

I'm with you. I decided to stop comparing myself to others and try and set goals that work for me. I set goals that were lesser than I had done in the past and I'm still struggling to figure out why I'm failing at them so miserably.

When I first started keeping numbers I found them a great comfort, now I look at them and make me want to scream. For now, I've stopped comparing myself of today to myself of the past in terms of output. Things around me, outside myself, and out of my control are different, and so am I. I'm not saying the blame lies externally, but I am trying to take it into account.

If it makes you feel any better, you've always been a great help to me. In fact, this post is another example of that. I feel a less alone.


Margaret said...

Hugs. Yeah, I had this strange feeling I wasn't the only one to have this issue.

It's rough and hard to articulate in any way that doesn't make like-minded folks look at you funny, but the important thing is to recognize when it pushes you down and fight back :D.