Comparison will Kill Your Craft by Sarah Madison

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An author friend of mine has been facing a crisis of confidence lately. Because of some of the conversations I’ve had with her, I’d already decided to make my monthly post here about the evils of comparing yourself to others, when I came across this post earlier today. My initial reaction was, ‘Darn it! Someone beat me to this.’ I thought the post very well done, and seriously considered changing my topic as a result.

Ironic, right? I was going to let an article on not comparing yourself to others prevent me from writing an article on not comparing yourself to others. What’s the first thing we say when we find out someone is writing a story with a similar plot to ours? We tell ourselves no one else can tell a story in the same way we can–that no two authors are going to tell the same tale, despite similarities in plots. And we go ahead and write our story anyway.

So that’s what I decided to do here, because while I think the author of the linked post makes some very good points, I think some were overlooked. The post talks about taking pride in your accomplishments (how many people successfully publish a book?) and concentrating on the things you can control rather on those you cannot. But when the little green monster of envy raises its head–take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Most of us feel that way too. We wonder why one person’s novel takes off and becomes a bestseller, while ours languishes unnoticed. Or we get a review that makes us think our writing is crap or a rejection letter that has us considering bagging the whole idea of writing.

Here’s my take on it. Comparison to others is one of the most crippling actions we make as creative people. We all do it–we can’t help it. It’s probably programmed into our genetic code–a flip-side to the part of us that categorizes people into groups of ‘us’ versus ‘not us.’ That’s not the healthiest behavior either, but we all seek our tribes. However, this same instinct to check out those around us and lump them into tribes, also has us assessing those within our tribes to determine their rankings. That’s really all it boils down to–but we often take this too far. Not only do we determine where others fall on the totem pole, but we want to know how everyone stacks up to us too.

Therein lies the problem.

I’ve written before that I think Facebook can make us depressed. We writers are taught we need to spend time on various social media outlets engaging with our audience. But in doing so, we also spend a lot of time on those same sites with our fellow authors, and I have to tell you, some days it’s tough seeing everyone else’s successes. As I said in my previous post, most days we haven’t lost 50 pounds, won the lottery, hit the top of the bestseller list, vacationed in Bali, or swum with a pod of dolphins while receiving an award for the best novel ever written. At the same time.

What we tend to forget is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like are frequently where we put forward our best face. None of us know what may or may not be going on in the lives of those we think have it so much better than we do. We might want to remember that when we are sure everyone else is more successful or a better writer than we are. What I think we also forget is in today’s world, we are constantly being bombarded with images of other’s success. We stack up these successes against our own and often decide we come up short.

I’d encourage you to remember this, however: when you are feeling down because everyone seems to be going to the latest convention when you can’t–when you are bummed because someone has released a new story to accolades–today that news belongs to your friends. But last week, or last month, it was you in the catbird seat. Remember? You just got back from a cool convention. And it wasn’t all that long ago that you launched your own book. Yes, it was a few weeks ago, but unless you’re a writing fiend who writes 24/7, you have no new book out. And you shouldn’t expect yourself to have one!

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But I think that’s what social media does to us. Funny, isn’t it? Writers tend to be introverts. Social media gives us a chance to interact with fellow authors–our tribe mates–all over the world. But the same sites that bring us support and friendship place us in the position of making comparisons to others. That rush that comes from launching a new book, sharing new cover art, squeeing over reviews, taking pride in awards bestowed is addictive too. Like any addiction, it takes more and more for us to get our fix. It’s not enough to publish a book–now we need to break the bestseller lists. It’s not enough to be nominated, or get an honorable mention, we want to win awards. Anything less than a five-star review feels like a failure. Likewise, if it takes us a year to write a story when we know others who write several books in the same time, we’re sure we’re never going to keep an audience.

Well, believe me, it happens to me all the time. This is what I do to rein in those feelings of inadequacy.

  1. Spend less time on social media. Maybe it means taking a break for a while. Maybe it means limiting your time per day–make a post, share a post, congratulate a friend on their most recent success but then leave. Don’t get sucked into comparing your life, work, and perceived lack of success with anyone else.
  2. Give yourself credit for the success that you have. So you haven’t written 57 books in the last three years. If you’ve published a story at all, know that you’ve done more than most people who dream of being a writer. Celebrate all your successes–not just the big ones. (This applies to life in general too, you know)
  3. Read your best reviews. We all know we should avoid the bad ones, the ones that sting. But collect your best ones and put them in a folder so you can take them out on bad days and remember that at least once, you touched someone’s heart with your story. Likewise emails from fans. Someone took the time to tell you how much they liked your work. That counts for more than you realize. It’s everything.
  4. Read the bad reviews of your favorite books. Realize everyone gets slammed from time to time, and know that if someone can hate a book you think is sublime, there is no accounting for taste. You’re not going to please everyone all of the time.
  5. Write the next story. Put your heart and soul into it and write the best damn story you know how. Know that there will always be better and worse stories out there. Write the best story you can write at this moment in time with your current life experiences at hand. It doesn’t matter if you do it in a week or six years–write the best story you know how. The comparison you should be making is to the last story YOU wrote.

 

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