Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Beware, Don't Compare

Did you hear about Susie? She began writing only last year and sold her very first book! I’ve been writing and submitting for five years and haven’t even had a request.

I heard that Sally just got a three-book deal with a big New York publisher. She and I used to be critique partners and everyone said my writing was better than hers.

Janie told me she writes 15 to 20 pages a day. Well of course she does! She doesn’t have a husband or kids to interrupt her.

When I set goals each month, I’m forced to not only examine past goals and whether I achieved them but I am also tempted to compare myself to others. Did I write as many pages as they did? Submit as many stories? Make as many sales?

Comparisons are by their very nature a recipe for failure. Desiderata author Max Ehrman wrote “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

In the case of the statements above, maybe Susie’s really been writing in secret for years and was afraid – or even ashamed – to admit she wrote romance novels until she’d honed her craft. As for Sally and her critique partner, that’s one of the deadliest traps to fall into – comparing your writing to someone else’s. Each author has a unique voice and to weigh one against the other is like comparing apples and oranges. And what about Janie? Did you know her children are grown and live across the country where they can’t visit often? And Janie’s husband passed away year before last after a long battle with cancer. She wasn’t able to write a word during his illness or for a year after he died; the spark just wasn’t there.

An old Native American proverb states, “Before you judge another man, first walk a mile in his moccasins.” Have you always been willing to tell everyone you’re a writer? Have you been through a life-altering or life-threatening family health experience?

As writers, we are taught to read and study our target market. Reading expertly crafted writing hones your own skills. There is also no deadlier trap than quitting because you believe your writing falls short of the work you’ve read.

Nido Qubein, author, educator and businessman, wrote, “Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people.”

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop reading. It does mean that instead of comparing myself to the latest New York Times bestseller, I will compare what I’ve achieved against the standards I’ve set for myself. Did I meet my daily page goal? My monthly submission goal? If so, I’m as much a success as that Times bestseller. If not, perhaps I set an unrealistic goal, failed to consider possible obstacles or just didn’t do the work necessary to hit the mark.

And what is the solution? It’s certainly not to gauge myself against someone else. I must re-evaluate, re-consider and work harder because I can’t be someone else; I can only be the best me.

Are you tempted to compare? If so, how do you combat the urge? If not, tell us your secret!

P.S. One of the Playfriends is posting this for me since I'm out of town visiting with former guest blogger Roxanne St. Claire who is attending a promotional event in Birmingham. I don't know if I'll have internet access or not. I'll be back home Wednesday afternoon.

Yesterday's winner is ayla because she too has been saved by her geek--gotta love 'em. Email PC ( with a mailing address to claim your prize!


Problem Child said...

Guilty as charged. Let's see...who could I possibly be comparing myself to? Could it be SP? The girl is kicking my butt in the writing challenge and dropping poundage to boot.


What's that saying about "With friends like that..."

Good thing I really like her...

Nini said...

Guilty too...i've always been like that and am trying not to...

I'm off to school early today, so i can't write more, but i'll try to peek during the day...i'll leave you with this:

I am Me
I will always be
The second best somebody else
Because I'm the best Me there is


Jen said...

Thanks, PM, I needed this!

Instigator said...

Oh yes! It's hard not to compare my writing and my career to other writers. The problem is that doing so never, ever accomplishes anything productive.

There are so many variables in this business that are out of our hands. Unfortunately, sometimes its hard to remember that the only thing we can control is the writing. Especially for a control freak :-D. We try to find things we CAN control and comparing ourselves to others gives us something tangible to use as a guage. Although, the guage isn't accurate, is it?


Kathy said...

Stimulating post, PM. Comparing comes naturally. But it's how we deal with that comparison that matters most. The key is to be encouraged by other people's success, not threatened by it.

I've been tempted to give up lately and have been experiencing doubts of my own. What's helped is that I keep looking at the 4 D's on a sticky note above my computer.

Desire. Determination. Dedication. Discipline.

We must ask ourselves this. Faced with insurmountable odds, what drives us to continue to pursue this dream? Why, when almost anything could be easier, do we dedicate so much of our time and thought to writing? What aged lesson lurks deep inside of us aching to be explored? And who do we think will listen?

Like one kid passing along a message to the other end of the room, stories evolve from one person to the next. We each have a story to tell. We MUST not give up!


Smarty Pants said...

I try not to get discouraged and just know that the only career I have control of (and limited control at that) is my own. All I can do is work hard to put out the best writing I can. The rest is about timing, market, editors and publishers. All I can hope is that one day I might be one of those authors people hope to model their own careers after.

And PC - sometimes it's better to be the hunter than the hunted.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Great post, PM! I've been guilty of this plenty. Lately, I've managed to squash that little voice when it crops up. I try to compare me to me. :) Doesn't always work, but I keep trying.

Ayla said...

Eee! that was a shock. there i was just happily reading and then i see my name! I will email now!

Angel said...

I not only have this problem when reading, but I also have it in general. I often feel guilty because the other playfriends seem able to juggle a lot more on their plate than me. They get a lot done, while I'm struggling just to write at all, much less anything else. I have to remember I'm doing the best I can with what time I have. That's the best I can do.