Elizabeth: There’s No Comparison


I had a different topic planned for today, but then I saw this blog post by Chuck Wendig about comparing ourselves to others and thought it was a message worth sharing.

Take a look. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Great post, right?

“You will never get anywhere comparing yourself to others.” ~ Chuck Wendig

It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. I came back from RWA nationals last month with a lot of useful information and a renewed commitment to my writing, but I also came back with thoughts of “I’ll never write as many books as Author X” and “I’m not nearly as far along in my writing career as Author Y.” Even yesterday I was feeling a bit disappointed over my 750 word writing day (which really was a nice breakthrough) after hearing that my friend had surpassed 30,000 words this weekend (ack!). A pointless comparison, since all it did was decrease the joy of my own accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s something that is regrettably easy to do.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

As writers, we’re all on our own paths. Writing the stories that only we can write, and in a way that is unique to us. Comparing ourselves with others does little more than take some of the fun out of our creative process and can, in some cases, stop creativity dead in its tracks.

“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.” ~ Francis Bacon

Avoiding the comparison trap is a challenge for me because, as I found out during a recent personality assessment at work, I’m a bit competitive. I don’t think of myself as competitive, but when I asked some independent observers for confirmation (i.e., family members), they responded with comments like “oh you absolutely are” and bombarded me with examples. Sigh.

I, like my manuscript, am a work in progress, and there’s no time for comparisons with others.

10 thoughts on “Elizabeth: There’s No Comparison

  1. Comparing your work or achievements or progress is usually self-destructive, largely because no one ever compares themselves to their Uncle Bill, who thinks he can write a romance novel in his sleep. Usually writers compare themselves to Nora Roberts, a comparison you can never recover from. I like to think of Cherry Adair, who didn’t sell her first book for 17 years and then wrote for another five before she sold her second. But now she’s on every list, every time. I’d rather not wait 22 years, but I’ll take it.

    • Kay – that’s a good point. When you see books on the shelves in the store, it seems so easy, but a lot of those authors went through a lot of writing, waiting, and rejections to get there.

  2. I love that you have been ‘assessed’ to be competitive, although you didn’t see yourself as having that trait. It can be really useful in driving success, but as you said, it has its downside as well. That reminded me of a post Jenny Crusie did recently about characters, and how their good traits can be flipped to also be their character flaws.

    I hear you about the word count comparisons. As much fun as it can be to do something like NaNoWriMo with its sense of community and word count challenges, it can also be overwhelming and daunting. I try to remember that sometimes fast writing isn’t good writing, and a lot of 30,000 words from one week could be thrown out in the end; at least, that would be the case for me, possibly not for your friend because that might just be her pace.

    I got over being shorter than almost everyone years ago, although I still have occasional height-envy, say when I’m in a crowd or need something from a high shelf. But mostly I’m ok with it. I need to make that kind of peace with my writing progress and goals. My process is my process, and while I can train and up my consistent and try to improve, I need to compare that improvement to my past self, not other writers. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Nancy, the funny thing was that my co-workers assessed me as competitive, which I don’t feel like I am, but not creative, which I do feel like I am.

      Looking at your own writing process and focusing on how to be consistent and improve, rather than focusing on what other writers are doing is plan. I’ll keep that in mind whenever I find myself falling into the comparison trap.

  3. Kay, the Cherry Adair example is a good one. It gives me great encouragement. And Elizabeth, I wouldn’t have pegged you as competitive. For personal work, such as writing, it is rather unproductive to compare yourself to someone else, especially if it ends up that you come out wanting.

    • Michelle – I wouldn’t have pegged me as competitive either 🙂 I like to think of it as wanting to do my best, rather than competing against others.

  4. As an ex-CFO and CEO, I’ve spent much of my life responsible for pay and bonuses, and I can tell you an unexpected side benefit is that when you know what everyone in the company makes, from the Chairman to the post-boy, you learn very quickly to decide whether you’re happy with your own lot (or not) without comparing yourself to other people. The alternative would be to drive yourself crazy every day.

    That experience makes it easier to concentrate on doing my best without worrying about what other people are doing – most of the time. I have to confess I suffer pangs of word-count envy every time I read of people writing 2k in an hour, or 10k in a day, or 30k in a weekend 🙂

  5. My freshman year in college, some girlfriends told me I was competitive, and I was astounded. I don’t feel competitive, either . . . but I also attach some major baggage to “competitive” because the competitive girls in high school were somewhat mean about the whole thing.

    So, I’ve come to think that maybe being competitive can be a good thing, if it means “gets things done, and uses others’ achievements as inspiration.” It’s a bad thing if it means, “uses others’ achievements as reasons to be depressed and jealous.”

    I have felt exactly like Chuck Wendig . . . that was a great post to link to! But in general, I usually rejoice in writers’ successes, and revel in a really well-written book. It’s not a zero-sum game, and there’s enough good writing to go around. (It’s really hard, though, when I haven’t written anything good and flowing in weeks. But, it’s a matter of changing focus from “me” to “him” or “her.” I hope.)

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