All or Nothing

Why is there this perception in our culture that you must do something all the way, be completely immersed in it, and be the best, or it’s not worth doing at all? It’s everything or nothing.

I’ve seen this time and again on a variety of things. Why can’t walking for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, make everyone happy? This is what science says is great for our health. At least, so say the New England Journal of Medicine. They don’t mess around with faux science there. Why does our collective society look down on walking and instead believe we have to be doing hours of grueling cardio and intense weight lifting before we feel like we’re really excising?

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This does NOT count.

I don’t have an answer for this need for all or nothing, but I’ve seen the same thing in writing.

Stephen King, one of the preeminent writers of our time, wrote a book called On Writing. Yeah, I know, you’ve already heard about it. Maybe even read it. But in that book, he says he writes 2,000 words a day. And, I believe him.

I’ve only read a handful of his books. There’s a reason for that. I’m a coward.

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Please, no! I want to sleep again!

However, that seems to have translated into everyone out there who is writing thinking they need 2,000 words a day, too. I’ve heard it over and over again. Watched people tout this goal. Watched them try to live up to it.

Interesting, though, how few achieve it more than a few days a month. Even more interesting is how many of them stop writing altogether because they “failed” at being a writer. Not mocking them, as I’m not writing 2,000 words a day either. But then, I stopped holding myself to that criteria about 30 seconds after I finished reading Stephen King’s book.

See, he was making that word count as a full time writer. As one of the most prolific writers alive today. As a man at the top of his field.

Trying to hold myself up to that is like trying to hold a flashlight up to the sun. Yeah, I think my writing is pretty good, but there’s only one sun. I can still illuminate the darkness and make people happy without being the sun.

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I can dream.

Sort of like I can walk thirty minutes a day and still get the health benefits. No, I’m not going to look like a Hollywood celebrity doing it, but then even dedicating myself to exercise isn’t going to accomplish that.

I set my goal at 500 words a day. Yep, 500. It’s enough that words get on the page, but not so much that it’s daunting to even sit down at the computer. And here’s the thing. When I have a goal I’m pretty sure I can achieve, I’m much more likely to start it.  Sometimes, I sit down hoping to eke out 500 words, and I get a 1,000. Sometimes more. But what got my butt in the chair was the knowledge it was just 500.

 

How about you? Do you set smaller goals for yourself and then try to surpass them? Or are you more motivated by larger, grand goals that may be very challenging to reach?

Top 5 Reasons Science Says Why We Lack Patience

Throughout life, we’re told to be patient. It’s a virtue, after all.

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Patience is especially touted for authors when what we want to get paid to tell stories. Instead, we must be patient and:

  • Write book after book, without any promise of being published or paid. But be patient as you have to write a lot to get better, and it takes a large backlist before (read if) you can quit your day job.
  • Commit to social media to increase your presence, but be patient as you have to invest a lot of time before you see any rewards.
  • Commit to blogging to connect with other writers and potential readers, but be patient because it takes a long to time to be “found”.

 

If anyone had told me any of the above about “breaking into” my day job, I’d have laughed at them so hard I’d have had to wipe away the tears as I changed majors.

One thing I’ve learned about virtues from raising my own children is that they are not the natural state of human beings. They are something sought after, something you aspire to achieve.

The amount of self-help articles out there professing to teach patience is impressive. But one thing I’ve learned is that the more articles there are to learn how to do something, the harder that something is and the less likely those articles are to help. Google “how to tie a shoe” versus “how to lose weight” and you’ll see what I mean.

So, why is patience so hard?

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Patience is putting off something you want right now for the promise of a bigger reward later.

Think of your dog. He doesn’t care if you promise him three treats tomorrow if he doesn’t eat the one balanced on his nose right now. He’s going to eat the one on his nose as soon as you turn your back. You see that across animal behavior, and as this study shows, humans aren’t that far off from our canine friends.

I wanted to understand more about why we aren’t patient to see if I could figure out a way to be patient. Top 10 reasons according to science of why we aren’t patient:

 

1. Evolution – Our instinct is to seize the reward now, and resisting our instincts is hard. Check out any infant or toddler. We believe survival favored those that took immediate rewards. It wasn’t like there was a grocery store a mile away that we could stop at after work and get a tub of triple chocolate ice cream whenever we wanted. You took what came your way when it did.

 

2. Uncertainty – If you’ve been taught throughout life that waiting gets you better things, you might learn to wait. But if you’ve been taught that people aren’t going to follow through, that you can’t trust them, then you’re more likely to grab for the sure thing. All those stories about “living like you’re dying”? They are a case study in lack of patience because you’re now uncertain how much of a future you have.

 

3. Age – The younger you are, the less patience you seem to have. Toddlers and impulse control, anyone? But life teaches us (most of us, anyway) to control those impulses. The more life experience you have, the more patient you become. Until you’re facing your own mortality, and then you’re back to point two above.

 

4. Conceptualization of Future Self – Ever stay up way too late knowing you were going to regret it in the morning? Being impatient has a similar root cause. The inability to connect your current self to your future self. The more you can visualize your future self either suffering (after staying up too late) or enjoying a large reward (after exhibiting patience), the more likely you are to choose the path that benefits your future self.

5. Sense of Time – You know how time flies when you’re having fun, but put you in the corporate tax class I took in college, and minutes seem like hours? This has actually been proven by scienceproven by science. What this means is you have to be even more patient to get something you’re waiting for as time will seem to go even slower than if you weren’t waiting.

 

As I look through this list, the only thing that really seems within my control is working to visualize my future self. To know that if I keep plodding away now, that future self will be happier.

Can apply this to things other than writing. Like parenting. Losing my patience with them gives me a momentary outlet for my frustration, but my future self pays for it with more intractable children and a damaged relationship. Not that I should give into them, but losing my patience is not the right choice.

 

How about you? Are you patient? Impatient? If you’re naturally impatient, anything you do to try make yourself more patient? Does it work?

Finished Manuscript

I finished a manuscript. Not my first, but my first in 15 years.

I have “wanted to be a writer” since I was ten. My family was poor, and they neither understood nor supported this strange passion. I plunked away for hours in ratty notebooks or on ancient word processors. When I got to college, I managed to get a computer and pounded out two full novels between classes. But I never found real support for my passion even in college, and financial necessity (read looming student loans) sent me down a very different path. I became a CPA. Yes, you read that correctly. From aspiring writer to CPA.

And I was good at it. Not great, but damn good.

I worked in public accounting for three years, putting in grueling hours at distant clients. I went back to my lonely hotel room and pounded out a few words every night. But lack of success in publishing wears on you, especially when you are experiencing success in your “other” career, and eventually, I sidelined writing for other pursuits. Sure, I would pick it up and dabble with it here and there, but never seriously.

When I was home on maternity leave last year, I watched a lot of TED talks. One of them was on passion. What was your passion? What would you do even if you weren’t paid to do it? And why aren’t you out there pursuing it?

For me, that passion was writing. Always had been. So, I picked up pen, paper, and iPad and got to work.

A year later, I have finished a manuscript, revised it seven or eight times, had 2 beta readers read it and give me feedback, and then revised it another two to three times. I feel like it’s as good as I can make it right now.

What I haven’t achieved is thick skin. Not yet. Perhaps I shall save publishing for later.