Monday, January 22, 2007

Keep Your Hands Off My Yardstick . . .

. . . and I won't borrow yours.

It's that time of year again--a new year, a new beginning, time to start fresh, begin anew, etc.

Resolution time, if you're into that sort of thing.

Time to once again measure ourselves against whatever yardstick applies. Some measuring sticks are pretty standardized--is your BMI in the healthy range? How's your cholesterol, your blood pressure, your blood sugar? Bringing these health measurements within the medically approved standards accounts for a number of New Year's resolutions, but at least the ranges and limits have some scientific backing (at least until the next bit of groundbreaking medical news comes to light). We don't set the standards, but our own results are, to some extent at least, within our control.

So, too, are many of the other yardsticks people drag out on Jan. 1st--be better organized, keep better records, stop smoking, start exercising, swear less, call Mom more . . . I could go on (and on :-)), but I'll spare you. You know the drill as well as I do.

However, there are many other ways we measure ourselves--our degree(s) of success, whether we believe we're working hard or hardly working (and all the variations in between) . . . If only we could do more, do better--if only, if only, if only . . .

If only I compare myself to you . . . or maybe you over there. You, the person who has it all together. We all know you, or someone like you--your house is clean, your laundry done (and ironed!), your kids always finish their homework without being told and never lose a book or forget a permission slip. Since you're one of us--a writer--you also write a minimum of two chapters every day, 24/7/365 (none of which needs a bit of revision or editing), your editor loves every idea you pitch and never rejects anything you send her, agents are falling over each other in a bid to add you to their client list, you final in every contest you enter and make every bestseller list in the continental US (and a few foreign ones, as well). You always know which hat you're wearing, and you never break a sweat as you effortlessly switch one piece of headgear for another.

You're that person who can make me feel like a failure, as if I'm lacking in some way because I can't keep up with the sterling examples of perfection you set. You're Romance Writer Barbie, Superwoman . . . a goddess from on high. If I measure myself by your yardstick, I'm probably never going to measure up.

Which would be a shame, since you don't actually exist. I can never know every detail of what makes up your yardstick, any more than you can truly know what goes into mine. Yours won't be of any use to me whatsoever--unless I want to torture myself and set myself up for failure. As writers we know POV is important--what is revealed, what is tucked away out of sight, all the motivations that form our inner and outer selves. The scale I use to measure myself changes a bit each and every moment, shifting and adjusting for my life's ups and downs (see, this does relate to today's topic :-)). It's as fluid as a river, and just as a river changes course and charts new territory to account for the obstacles in its path, I need to accept that sometimes things don't work out as I planned, figure out a way to learn from my mistakes, set new goals, keep on moving. I can only be a failure if I accept that something didn't work, then sit there and feel sorry for myself instead of adjusting the scale on my yardstick and starting over again.

Am I telling you not to make resolutions, set goals (both personal and professional), or expect anything of yourself? Never--none us got where we are today by doing that! We're published authors, people who have succeeded in a business that's not for sissies or the faint of heart. When we're knocked on our backsides (or flat on our backs), we somehow find the strength to pull ourselves to our feet and give it another shot.

Due a series of events I couldn't (and certainly wouldn't) have made up if I tried, today is my "new year"; my resolution is to only use my own yardstick to measure up my life. Otherwise I'll just make myself crazy and not get anywhere at all. I'll keep my hands off your yardstick--for both our sakes, please keep your hands off mine.


Samantha Hunter said...

What if I like your yarstick better than mine? LOL Can I borrow it?

Kidding, but I get your point. I've noticed that this is a problem particularly endemic to writing, it seems, the habit of comparing ourselves to everyone else. Maybe it's because there are so many yardsticks placed against us -- we're often sort of shoved up against the wall and measured whether we want to be or not. I'm sure everyone would just as soon write without worry (WWW -- a new group? LOL), but I guess all it takes is one year where nothing sells because your numbers were down, or your reviews were bad, or whatever external thing "they're" measuring us by.

So I think the obsession with internal measuring, always checking ourselves to see if we measure up, comes a lot from the external measurements we're always trying to live up to, to keep our jobs, our incomes, our readers, etc. I mean, there's all the bestseller lists, bookscan, online rankings, reviews, etc -- you can't really ignore it (can you?) but I agree, we all have to find healthy ways to deal with it if we want to be happy and enjoy the writing life.


JoAnn Ross said...

Sharon, congratulations and I'm wishing you your most fabulous "new year" ever!

Wise words. I have always said, that to compare our careers with any other writer's -- in a business so dependent upon luck (both bad and good) and serendipity -- is a sure path to madness.

Nancy Morse said...

Great post, Sharon. There's always going to be someone thinner, prettier, richer, smarter, or in the case of us writers, more prolific than I am. If I compared myself to everyone on the PASIC loop, for example, with all the wonderful news going around lately, I'd shoot myself. Am I happy for everyone else who's selling? You bet I am, because it reinforces my belief in a business that is fraught with rejection and criticism. Do I feel sorry for myself if I'm not selling? No way. Feeling sorry for myself takes up too much time and energy that can better be used to forge ahead. Comparing yourself to others just brings out that little green monster that loves nothing better than to nibble away at your psyche and undermine your confidence. Am I envious when my friend walks in wearing a brand new pair of $1200 Manolo Blahnik's and looking oh-so-chic? Now, that's a different story. I'm only human, after all.

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking, Sharon. And so much needed. You're, indeed, a gifted writer.

JoAnn Ross said...

>> I mean, there's all the bestseller lists, bookscan, online rankings, reviews, etc -- you can't really ignore it (can you?)

Forgot to say. . . Yes, you can. Absolutely. (Though the top two lists -- NYT and USA Today -- are admittedly tough to ignore because editors keep track of them.)

I even let my subscription to various reader/fan magazines (which are, as we know, mainly PR vehicles) every few years when all the "super star" razzle dazzle hype starts depressing me. Although I really like all the folks at RT, I managed to survive 12 years without the magazine and have gone the past three months without it again and am doing just dandy. :)

I think developing the ability to avoid comparing careers is one of the reason those movie stars who live far away from Hollywood always seem so much happier and centered.

Anonymous said...

A fabulous and very wise post, Sharon.

And along with it goes the whole "goal-setting" conundrum...not only should we not compare ourselves to others, but we should take care not to set goals over which we have no control over attaining.

It makes for a lot less angst.

Thanks again for a thought-provoking post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon,

I just found your blog — nice! And I love this Post (I’ll tell you why in a moment).

After many years of success as an author of textbooks, pop psych books and self-help books, a couple of years ago I took a leap and started writing romance novels. (After 33 years as a licensed psychologist specializing in marriage and couples counseling and teaching a graduate seminar in marriage counseling at the university, it fit and has been fun.) My second contemporary romance novel just came out (and I’m currently working on the final editing/proofing of my third). My Website should be competed and up in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I’d like to invite you to stop by my blog:

Now regarding your Post… it is comforting to see that I’m not the only one peeking at others and holding up a yardstick. As a relative newbie to the romance genre, I suppose it’s somewhat natural. Nonetheless, I’ve played that “angst game” before (ala Colleen’s Comment) in other venues and my secret to maintaining some semblance of sanity has been to (1) use it as an indicator of the perceived worth of what I produce and do, but (2) not allow it to be “the indicator” of my sense of worth as a person (e.g., I’m more than just a writer… a father, an athlete, a professor, and to my grandchildren one heck of a “pop pop”).

Thanks again, Sharon!

Ciao for now,


Anonymous said...

LOL--Romance Writer Barbie!! Love it.

I think one of the challenges for writers is that we spend a lot of time living in our heads. We're very good at imagining what ifs--and we look for drama. I've been going through some health issues recently. When the doc calls, I don't think, oh, well, I need to do more blood tests, darn it. I think...OMG, I've got terminal whatever, at least my kids are older, will they even miss me, will anyone come to my funeral...sigh. There is definitely a time to rein in the imagination.

I've often wished I did something more tangeable--like build birdhouses. But birdhouse builders probably have their own yardstick agnst.

Christie Craig said...


This is so true. It's hard not to compare ourselves with others in this business. Thanks for the reminder.


gailbarrett said...

Yes, I completely agree with everyone. The problem with measuring yourself against others is that there is ALWAYS someone higher up on the scale. And it is so hard to think positively when others around you seem to be succeeding fantastically and you are getting rejections, etc. This year I did what Colleen suggested -- I made some resolutions that I knew for sure I could attain. That has helped my self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.

Oh - and welcome to the romance world, Bill! Nice motorcycle in the photo - one of my heroes rode a Harley:).