Lower Your Standards!

The shrieking you hear is Perfectionista in the background. “Lower my standards? Never! You want me to write dreck?”

Etc., etc., etc.

No, dear. I want you to write, period.

Expectations are good. Goals are good. When they’re unrealistic, however, they’re not so good. When I’m stuck or stalled, unrealistic expectations are usually the source of my troubles.

Consider: You’ve resolved to write for two hours a day, but day after day you don’t do it because you can’t find two hours to write in.

Revise your goal. You’ll write for one hour a day. If you can’t find one hour a day to write in, make it 30 minutes. Or 15. Or 5. When you’re meeting your goal, start revising it upward. Be sneaky if you have to.

After I’d completed a draft of The Mud of the Place, I freaked out. OMG, thought I. I might actually finish this thing.

This raised all sorts of scary questions, like “What if it sucks?” and “What next?” I dillied, I dallied, I stalled.

I made a resolution: I will write every day until it’s done. At that point I knew myself well enough not to specify a length of time or a number of words. Just I will write every day until it’s done.

And I did. Sometimes I didn’t start till 11:30 at night. A few times I didn’t open the file till five minutes to midnight. But I wrote every day till it was done. In the process I learned that when I’m working on a long or scary project, writing every day is important. Hell, just looking at the thing every day is important. If I don’t, I quickly convince myself that whatever I’m working on is unsalvageable crap. Then I don’t dare look at it. What if I look at it and discover I’m right?

Thanks to Travvy, my Alaskan malamute, I got into dog training. He needed it. So, as it turned out, did I. One of the basic principles of the training I do is Make it easy for your dog to succeed. If your dog isn’t learning what you’re trying to teach, try breaking the task down into smaller parts. When the dog gets one part, move on to the next.

Works for writing too. Try it.



8 thoughts on “Lower Your Standards!

  1. A bit behind on posts & emails – unrealistic expectations is a key to failure & abandonment of goals. They may come from some (unintended) programming in childhood (Larkin principle – They Fuck You Up your Mum & Dad…..) & “getting” this & learning to abandon them is a key step in life. Great post – now to catch up on the rest…..


    • My father (with whom I have plenty in common) used to pounce on my mother whenever she didn’t know something. I learned that it was safer to be the pouncer than the pouncee — IOW, get your goddamn facts right, Susanna! — and also that it wasn’t safe to take risks or look stupid. Which makes it pretty impossible to learn anything new because in learning something new you pretty much have to go through a stage where you feel like a fool or a klutz or both. Once I understood that I was both the pouncer and the pouncee, I started to make progress.


  2. Planning to lower my expectations this minute! I tend to set unrealistic writing goals and then fail completely. If I can find two minutes to comment on this post, surely I can find two minutes to work on my book. Thanks for the kick in the butt!


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