Comparisons and competition
Back in school, what were you told every time you took a test? Eyes on your own paper! And yet, as we test the waters of our writing life, we can’t seem to resist taking a peek at what our neighbor is doing.
The following is an adapted excerpt from Building a Writing Life: start a writing habit, find time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams available now in paperback and eBook.
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Your favorite books have been through hundreds of rounds of editing and revision in the hands of professionals. It’s ludicrous to compare them to the first draft you just finished. A writer who’s been at it longer has built up writing experience and honed skills you can’t realistically expect to mirror when you are just starting out. What looks like an overnight success to you is almost always the result of years of hustling behind the scenes. What we call success is often a combination of privilege, connections, and pure luck as much as hard work and talent.
We’re all on our own journey and have our own process. Everyone you meet is fighting invisible battles or hiding secret weapons. Most of the time, you don’t even realize you’re comparing apples to anacondas.
Never measure your success by the accomplishments of others. That way lies misery. Focus on achieving your own goals and ignore the rest.
Jealousy is a natural and human reaction, but it’s also counterproductive to the writing life. There are plenty of words to go around, and the world is infinitely hungry for stories. Other writers are not your competition, they’re your coworkers. The writing life gets so much easier when you can be genuinely happy for the triumphs of your peers instead of retreating into resentment or bitterness. Celebrate everyone’s achievements with them, and they’ll be that much more likely to celebrate yours when you get there too.
The only exception to this rule is if you’re the type to find a little healthy competition between friends motivating. For example, writing buddies often challenge each other to word wars, bursts of writing where they compete to see who can write the most words in a set duration. If everyone’s starting and stopping their writing at the same time, it evens the playing field. A friend with a similar writing speed can also be a great pace car, giving you a challenging but realistic standard to keep up with as you both dash to the end of your writing project together. While it’s not for everyone, getting your competitive spirit engaged is a great way to push yourself to get a little extra written when you’re stuck or not in the mood.
But driving yourself batty because your friend just got another book deal, and you didn’t? That won’t do you any good at all. Give your friend a heartfelt high five and then get back to it. Your turn will come.