Sunday, March 13, 2011

Anything's Better Than Nothing

Hi. Mark here, subbing for my darling Wendelin because she’s in the middle of dealing with Justice Jack, and hey—you know how it can go with those sorta-loser guys.

It seems like we humans can tend to set ourselves up for failure before we even start a new endeavor, because we feel like everything’s an all-or-nothing proposition, and somehow there’s something wrong with taking what’s referred to in corporate circles as a “graded approach”. (Code for doing something “good enough”, rather than close-to-perfect.) This can be problematic for productive/creative types. Like, say… writers and runners.

Let’s take running. (And running can be a metaphor for any activity in your life that you do because it’s both ‘good for you’ and makes you feel good.) Runners tend to follow a routine. Frequently a highly-structured routine, involving a written training program. (Talk to a guy who’s in his third month of a marathon training program. “Hey Steve, wanna go see that great new movie tonight?” “Love to, but I can’t. I have to do 17 miles at 10-K race pace +60 sec per mile. 800-meter intervals on Tuesday, lactate threshold run on Wednesday, and hill repeats on Thursday. But I start my taper in five weeks—I think I have a free hour then.”) And they frequently feel that they’re a failure if they miss or modify even a single day of the program. What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, I get the need to follow the program. Believe me, I do. Left to my own devices, I’ll run six days a week. Happily. (Yeah, I’ve been to those 12-step meetings. You know—the ones where you walk into the meeting in the church basement and everyone’s sitting on folding chairs arranged in a circle. They go around the group, and when they get to me I raise my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Mark. And… I’m a runner.” And all these skinny guys and girls in their Asics and finisher’s T-shirts smile and say in unison, “Hi, Mark!”)
So I understand the need for structure. But real life does NOT leave us to our own devices. It has plans of its own, and they sometimes don’t take into account our own plans. This is when you have to step back and re-assess. Take a deep breath and say it with me: anything’s better than nothing.

As an example, both Wendelin and I have been very busy lately, with work-related stuff. So much so that, for the first time in memory, I’m relegated to running only on weekends, for the most part. Is this optimum? No. Would this be what I’d choose, in that elusive ‘perfect world’ we hear so much about but never see? No. But, should I feel like a sorta-loser guy because I’m running two days a week instead of, say, five? Well, I shouldn’t, but the truth is, sometimes I do. Sorta. So as an antidote, instead of beating myself up for what I’m not doing, I try to consciously give myself credit for what I am doing. I tell myself, “Good for you… at least you did something!” Because (say it with me) anything’s better than nothing.

Same deal with writing. In that Fictional World of Loving Perfection, we’d sit down every single day and crank out our one-to-three thousand words of absolutely brilliant prose. Before lunch. And looking darned good doing it, too. Well, not me. Not today. Today life intruded and I hit a grand total of 243 words. (I know, because I just checked. And because I know you’re thinking it, I also checked and it turns out that I’ve already written over 600 words on this blog entry. And in significantly less time, believe me. Which tells you something about the nature of blogging vs. writing fiction. But that’s a subject for another time…)

Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s real value in writing on a regularly scheduled basis—keeps your head in the story, so you don’t have to re-familiarize yourself with your characters every time you jump back into it. But far more important is to do something—anything—rather than sit there and bemoan the fact that you have to try and cram your writing (or whatever your particular creative outlet is) in between all the chores of daily life.

Consider—many people have zero creative output. And get zero exercise. Don’t let yourself be one of them simply because you don’t have the time to do an “A” job of everything. Every single sentence you write, and every single minute you get your heart into its target range, is good for you.

So take it easy on yourself. Allow yourself to take that graded approach. Sometimes a B+… or maybe even a solid “C”… really is Good Enough.

Because really, anything is better than nothing.


Caradith Craven said...

Enjoyed the post, Mark...full of sage advice and nuggets of wisdom. You're right--sometimes it is easier to do nothing than to take the chance of not reaching perfection. So glad you and your "darling" Wendelin are willing to take risks and have touched countless lives by doing so.

Mel said...

For starters, thank you for filling in for Wendelin, Mark. Reading her blog entries at the start of the week is a routine of mine. Now, what you wrote this week is actually what I am struggling with in my own writing. I am such a perfectionist with my writing and having a perfect plot, characters, so on. But my girlfriend has been pushing me to keep writing, no matter what I produce. So, with your advice and her's, I'm going to write, because it's what I love. Thank you. And good luck!

Optimistic4ever said...

Admittedly, I took one look at this post an thought, "Oh, Wendelin didn;t write this. Mark did. I guess I'll have to wait till next week." Then I thought that maybe this post would be okay, and that I should give it a try. Honestly, that is understatement. You are full of wonderful advice. Someday, when I'm older and more interested in non-fiction, I'll be sure to check out your books.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Mark--you are the best! I really love having you and your consistently great advice in my life. Lucky me!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark.I totally agree. Anything is better than nothing, I'd rather have one book than none.:) Plus I want to thank Wendelin for writing me back.Thanks so much Ya'll!

bookworm said...

Thanks, Mark, for filling in fr Wendelin - I'd be close to devastated if I couldn't read at least one post from either you or Wendelin. And truly, Mark, you really do have great advice, like a felow blogger sate so well. But no thankyou for the torture that Wendelin is working on another book in the SK series when we don't even know when SK14 is coming out........ Wenelin or Mark, PLEASE give a hint as to WHEN the next SK comes out!!!!!! I keep on looking at my bookshelf and sighing when I see all of my SK lined up together! SK is my best friend of a book friend!

(by the way, I bought myself a skateboard, and in under a day I discovered I have a knack for it!)

Info on SK14, please!!!!!

bookworm said...

*no thank you
(I should seriously consider reviewing my typing before I post it on any sort of blog.)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

SK14 is set for release in October! I hope to have art-related news for you on Sunday. See you then!

Alexa said...

Anything is a whole lot better than nothing, that's for sure. And I even struggle with that sometimes; trying to do an "A" job on everything I do. And I'm afraid to try some things because I don't want to mess it up. Which really limits opportunities. I try to get over that fear, but it's a hard thing for me to do. I guess I feel like I disappointed myself and others when I don't do something right. But it's always important to remind yourself that something is better than nothing. I'll try to do that.

Great post!

N3WYORKD3VIL said...

Oh God no. OCTOBER AGAIN?'ll make suffering in the high school worth it. But I might be dead by then...Not the from the wait, though. I got a skateboard like bookworm. But I have balance problems and lazy problems and athleticsism problems. And falling problems. I've gotten very accquainted with the cement.

The sad part is that my dad can skateboard. He said I have to balance myself and hold onto something...but my sister doesn't like it when my weight is pulling her hair...

It's against my morals to give up. Maybe I'll be better by October :)

Anonymous said...

I read Runaway!It was Super-fantastic! I loved it!I love it when i get finished reading an amazing book!But i will(probably)want to scream and shout when the series is over.I thought when you are writing a book the Title comes last?Or are you just reviewing what you wrote?
Anyway,Thanks a bunch,

g said...

Great post!!!!!

Elizabeth said...

This post almost made me cry… I am crippled by perfectionism, and I know I should be able to stop myself from thinking the way I do, but so often I choose not to do something, solely because I don't think it will be perfect when I'm done. It causes me to dread doing my homework and put it off till the last minute, and it caused me to almost have a certifiable mental breakdown over getting my college application essays done on time. It's because I'm so used to academically excelling, to having 100% perfect grades all the time, through all of my years of school… then last year I started to break down, and this year it's hit me hard with the pressure to maintain that perfection which is now expected, with my entire future riding on my shoulders… and because I know I can't do each assignment perfectly within the time allotted, I'm screwing up left and right because I'm too SCARED to do my homework. I've grown to hate myself because of my inability to do everything perfectly, even though I'm just a human being and know better than to expect such from myself. It's eating me alive right now… but you're so SO right, ANYTHING is better than nothing. So instead of putting off that essay I have left for an application to an undergraduate initiative at my first choice college, and putting off that essay on Guatemala… I'm going to finish that accursed essay for the application TONIGHT. Or, I guess, this morning… since it's 1am where I'm at. Thanks for the reminder it's okay to not get everything done at once and perfectly so… I desperately needed it tonight… or this morning :-P. (and said 'anything's better than nothing' out loud when you said to say it :) lol). Thanks for filling in Mr. Mark! I feel lucky that you did :).

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Elizabeth! I just posted this week's entry when your comment chimed in. I so want to HUG YOU and tell you to not be so hard on yourself. Everything is a work-in-progress, especially ourselves. So just work and progress on your essay and on letting yourself be human. It's OKAY!

Elizabeth said...

Now I AM crying :'-)... thank you so much :). You're right, and I'm definitely going to work on letting myself be human... I can't keep living like this. And I'm sending you a mental hug right now :). Those words mean so much more to me than you know :'-).

Mark Parsons said...

Wow… Thanks to everyone, from ‘Saint’ Caradith to Elizabeth (and everyone in between) who posted kind words in reply to my substitute blog entry.

Elizabeth: It really sounds like you have a handle on your issues and the path to a solution, so you’re 90% of the way there! Good for you!

Some things to keep in mind: When in high school, no one ever asks what grade you got in 7th grade history, right? And once you’re accepted into college, no one cares about how well you did in algebra as a high school freshman. And after you finish college, NO ONE will ever ask what your GPA in college was – they just want to know what your degree was in. And finally, in the ‘real world’ after academia, there aren’t specific letter grades at all for most activities, even work-related ones.

The metric that really matters is, how happy & healthy are you and the ones you love? And sometimes, the more you can let perfection go in favor of balance, the happier you might be. So… a lower grade can actually lead to a higher grade, if you can let things go. ‘Letting go’ doesn’t mean you don’t care. It just means you realize that there is a finite amount of time and energy to dedicate to any one project, so when you’ve done the best you can do at that particular point in time, you pat your project on the head and put it out there into the universe with good wishes, then you get on to the next thing.

Saying you’re ‘imperfect’ is simply saying you’re human. Welcome to the club - we are all imperfect in some way or another. And sometimes those little imperfections are what give us character and uniqueness, so hooray for imperfection! (And speaking as a musician, perfection = boring.)

I think Wendelin has it exactly right – we are all a work-in-progress. As long as we care, and we try to improve and explore and grow, we’re on the right path. No matter how imperfect the results at that particular time.


Anonymous said...

I am more of a neat freak than I am perfectionest I try to tell myself 'everything is not perfect!' but it is just hard.I get verrry frustrated when my room is a mess I cannot stand it one bit.I share a room with my sister Carlie she is the total opposite of that case if course is bad.I'll be told to clean and dust the room on weekdays and ends, I'll end up cleaning,dusting,and vaacuming it.she,of course is just left the make her bad and put her clothes away.I know everyone has their flaws and being a neat freak is one of mine.I have been homes schooled almost three years now and my all A grades have jusp slipped right out of my hands,like history and launguage arts.poof.gone well b's but to me, gone.I know that some things will and won't change.but I will always try.

Thanks a bunch,

Elizabeth said...

Thank you so much :). Again, I really needed to hear that... you two might be glad to know that I finally submitted that application(which I've labored over for a couple months), and completed my project on Guatemala (and the teacher loved it!), and finished ALL of my homework for the first time in a while (and I wound up getting a 100 on a physics test, even though I didn't let myself stress! :D). I really took your words to heart and chose to just do the best I could, and be as productive as possible, even though it might not all be perfect in the end... and I'm overjoyed that this week has started so well :). I'm determined to be on a roll, and be just as productive for the rest of this week as I was those couple days! Again thank you both so much... hey, I know a couple of my followers on my blog have perfectionism issues too, and could probably benefit from hearing what you've told me. Do you mind if I repost this (and send people your way)? A hug for you both (and a sigh of relief!),

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Elizabeth! It's so good to hear you sounding better. I don't know how 100% on a physics test ISN'T perfect, but we're so glad you were able to pull back and strike a balance. Thank you for letting us know!

And sure, repost away :-)

Elizabeth said...

I just wanted to drop by and give you an update, in case you'd like to know--my application to the undergrad initiative at my college of choice was accepted! So now, I just need to survive the interview on Thursday, and keep my fingers crossed they like me over the phone as much as they did on paper :). I've been taking a blogger break on and off for a while, so I haven't reposted this yet, but it should go up next week. I'm doing a lot better now, just so you know :). Thanks again you two!

Mark Parsons said...

Thanks for the update, Elizabeth. And good luck! :-)

Mark & Wendelin

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Elizabeth: I know Mark already posted on behalf of both of us, but I wanted to add that your update made me HAPPY. I hope things are continuing to go well. Thank you for letting us know!

Elizabeth said...

Sorry I keep spamming you two, but I just wanted to say that the interview went wonderfully, and that the head of the program said that after talking with me (it was a phone interview, about 20 minutes long) he could tell that I was just the sort of student they wanted (and that essay I was freaking out about? He loved it! He's an English expert, and was amazed about the growth of organs and the advances being made in tissue engineering, and we wound up having a whole conversation about it!). Long story short-I'm in the program! :D. My mom is really happy, because the initiative provides a living/learning environment, with advisors and professors on hand 24/7, which makes her feel that I am safe :). Thanks for being such an inspiration-without it, I'm genuinely not sure if I would have ever finished that application.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Elizabeth! Wow! Look how great everything turned out! Good for you! CONGRATULATIONS on getting into the program. We're very happy for you!