What to do when “one size” doesn’t fit you

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Does receiving advice ever make you uncomfortable or suspicious? Here are some easy strategies you can adopt to transform one-size-fits-all advice you get into something that’s actually helpful to you.

Have you ever tried on a hat — billed as “one size fits all” — and found the brim of it buried your eyes and perhaps even squished your nose so you couldn’t breathe very well? Or maybe you’ve tried on a “one size fits all” pair of pants and found your hips rambling around in yards of superfluous fabric — or, worse, perhaps you’ve discovered that the waistband is far too tight!

One size fits all is a marketing slogan. It’s the name of a 1975 rock album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. It’s also the title of a 13-episode TV series released in 2000.

But the bottom line is, one size almost never fits all. Ask most theorists and they will tell you that individuals are all, well, individual, that small details can make a huge difference and that it’s perfectly okay if you say tomato and I say tomato.”

For all these reasons, teachers who don’t buy the “one size fits all” model use something called “differentiated instruction” in their classrooms. That is, they create lessons giving a wide variety of options for students. This means that students may have choices in what they learn (content), how they learn (process), or in how they demonstrate what they have learned (product).

This model should apply to writing as well. Much as it pains me to admit it, some of my advice might not suit you. Much of what I suggest will work for many people, but not others. We’re all different. But if you find an ill-fit, does this mean you should totally ignore what I have to say?

Well, if you guessed I was going to say ‘no,’ you’re 100 percent right. The point is, you can still get writing ideas from advice that doesn’t suit. For example, consider my passion for mindmapping. If you’ve given this strategy an honest try (you’ll have received a free e-book on mindmapping when you signed up for this newsletter) and you don’t think it helps you, then ask yourself the following questions:

* Have you tried to create mindmaps that focused on metaphor and stories rather than just ideas and facts? (This is changing the content.)

* Have you created mindmaps in a variety of ways and settings? For example, have you tried both pen and paper mindmaps and computer-generated ones? Have you tried different coloured inks and papers? Have you tried producing them in your office and also in a coffee shop? (This is changing the process.)

* Are you being overly critical or focusing on organization while you produce your mindmaps? If so, you can try being “looser” and less structured. Don’t worry too much about which circles are connected to which. If your mind is blank, simply draw some doodles. (This is changing the process.)

* Is there a way other than mindmapping that will help you tap into the creative, non-linear, non-critical part of your brain? (This is changing the end product.)

When you receive advice that you don’t like or that doesn’t seem to work for you — whether about mindmapping, writing or anything else — see if you can find some small kernel of usefulness in it. Try changing the content, process, or product to make the task more suited to you.

This is not only making lemonade out of what some would call lemons, it’s also a good way of making your life much more pleasant.

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