get out yer yardsticks

I've noticed something lately in the interwebs, specifically the YA writer-related interwebs. And I'm not talking about this stupid supposed feud between bloggers/reviews/readers and writers (you probably already know where I stand on that). Although, that could be a symptom of the greater problem I'm picking up on.

What I'm really talking about is this growing wave of discontent, bitterness and disappointment creeping in like a Wisteria vine and threatening to poison other people's (and our industry in general) success. And, worst of all, the systematic tearing down of other more "successful" writers for achieving the things we haven't (yet). Like that's perfectly acceptable human behavior.

Well, it isn't.

Would I love to be published by now? Um. YEAH. Is it < fill in the successful writer's name here > 's fault that I haven't? Um. NO. And friends, we have got to stop acting like it is!

It's no one's "fault." It's just the way the chips have fallen to this point. And personally I'm okay with it because my yardstick of success is my own. Not John Green's. Not Amanda Hocking's. MINE.

Let's say you wanted to run a half-marathon. Would you measure your success (and your end time) on the Kenyan dude who can run 4 minute miles? Well, if you did, you'd think my 2:12 minute time was shite. But see, my goal wasn't to win the race. My goal was first, to finish, and then, to finish under 2 and a half hours. And because I kept my eyes on my own goal, I was beyond thrilled with the outcome.

So, I'm going to give you the secret to contentment WHEREVER you are on your writing/publishing journey. In just three easy steps (and a fourth if all else fails) you, too, can choke out that ugly, bitter thing and celebrate other people's successes that have NO BEARING on your own.

Okay. Ready?

Step 1: Figure out what YOU want to achieve.

Is your primary aim to write for the love of it? Do you want to write for friends and family? Is your goal to publish commercially with a Big 6 (or another traditional publisher because let's be honest, these days, the BIG 6 aren't the only ones putting out kick ass books)? Make money from your writing? Make enough money to justify not working another job? Be honest with yourself. No one else will see your goals because the point is you're not measuring against anyone else, remember?

Also, be aware that what you want when you first step on this crazy merri-go-round may not be the same thing you want when the ride is halfway through. Things change (um, hello Amazon? iBooks 2?), your interests change, your writing might change and it makes sense then that your goals can change, too. You may think you want to publish traditionally but then you meet this zany cool indie pub at ALA and it's a game-changer for your vision.

Step 2: Set small, specific, measurable goals that you can ATTAIN. 

Lots of people say, for example, "I want to be published in 2012." Well, okay. But that's very vague. Published in your church newsletter? In a literary journal? Publish a novel? See how the answers there set up more goals-- you have to have written in order to publish and where you want to publish, determines what you must have written. Here you get specific and measurable.

"I want to write and publish a short story in 2012." You could even name the specific journal if that's part of your goal. Tin House, ho!

But the other flaw with our broad aim is that if it's a novel you seek to publish, it can be unrealistic. If the novel is not yet written, is a year enough time to write it, polish it, edit it, and either query it or self-pub it? (More specific and measurable goals) If you go the query route, then once you find an agent, you've got to polish it some more before you sub to editors. And even if the first editor to pick it up buys it, you're still looking at at least a year before it's "published," which means you won't get it out before the close of 2012. Ah, see: attainable. It is simply unrealistic to set out to write and traditionally publish a novel in a year.

You can have big sweeping goals, sure. You should, in fact! But be sure you also have some tick marks along the way that are attainable (For example, "find representation" might be a tick mark on your way to publication). When you're running a marathon, each mile marker along the way matters, perhaps none more so than the last 2/10 of a mile!

Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Learn it, use it, love it.

Step 3: Keep your OWN goals front and center.

If you know what your goals are and where you are on the road toward achieving them, you won't be phased when other people achieve ALL the THINGS and you'll be better able to celebrate with them without that ugly bitterness creeping back in.

So, write them down. Stick post-it notes on your computer. Use a dry erase marker and write them on a mirror your look at every day. Etch them into the front of your moleskine. Put a stick on your dashboard. Whatever works to give them top of mind awareness.

This might be excessive use of the post-it note. But you get the gist. 

OPTIONAL Step 4: This is an in-emergency-break-glass scenario. If you can't get past your bitterness and it's starting to effect your writing and/or daily life, GET OFF THE INTERNET. Seriously, ABORT THE MISSION.

There are a lot of writers and messages and announcements in the interwebs and if you need to, take a break from it. Shut out all the noise, regroup and re-center yourself. We've all had those moments/days/weeks. Allow yourself to step away for a stint. Because bitterness is a slippery slope that can and often does seep like poison into your life. And that is NO GOOD for you but also for the people around you who are happy and content with where their journey is taking them.

I've been there. It's a hard road we travel but it's not really different than any other industry, hobby or profession. Some people get ahead quickly, some have to work at it for a while. But the bottom line is that if YOU can control your measure of success and are prepared to work your tail off to reach your specific, measurable and attainable goals, you can't not be content.

No, go forth and achieve your goals!


  1. So smart, Lindsey! Sometimes it's hard to forget that we won't all reach the same destination at the same moment or in the same way... Thanks for the reminder. :)

  2. It is hard but so, so crucial! Because I've seen *so* many people talking about themselves as though they're failures just because they aren't "there" yet and someone else is. Sad face!!

  3. Love this post, Lindsey!! I have goals but I haven't written them down or made them visible, so I'm gonna do that today! And you're right, when you have confidence in your own mission, the successes of others don't phase you as much. We all want good books to be out in the world, right?

  4. Awesome post Lindsey! I always write down my goals at the start of a new year and usually I get close to finishing them. I've never set a huge goal like I must get published by such and such a time. Usually it's just, I want to have this book done and start querying it soon. It's much better to look back on all that you HAVE accomplished instead of looking at what you haven't. Again, awesome insights here. :)

  5. I think the writing down part is crucial because you can then really see just what you've done. Makes the goals (and successes!) more tangible.

  6. Lovely, lovely post Lindsey! I especially love yardstick of success analogy. Success is measured differently for us all.

  7. Lovely is right! I thought I wanted traditional, and I don't know what I'm missing, per se, but I am happy that I found an indie publisher who believed in my heart and mission, and that was better for me than attaining the traditional pub goal and automatically having my book in every bookstore. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I kept submitting new works over and over again, but I know I made the right choice for my own journey.

  8. This is so true! And really, one of the problems with being on the internet and in a community of people with similar hopes is that you start to forget what your goals are and instead replace them with what you're supposed to want. If everyone wants publication and money, isn't that what you want?

    Being on the internet has gotten me used to the idea of instant gratification, of the idea that you can write something 'to sell.' But when I started writing these novels, I wasn't writing to sell. I was writing to change the world with words. I was writing for my little cousin, to show her how to believe in herself more and not rely so much on boys. I was writing to make people feel things and think about the world in new ways.

    I need to keep reminding myself of those goals. Because publication is not the measure of those goals. It's a much much higher yardstick. And compared to actually bringing my writing up to the level where it does what I set out to do, the publication bit looks easy.

  9. Great post Lindz! I needed a burst of inspiration :)


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