Why You Should NEVER Compare Yourself.

30 Aug

(Part One of a three-part series.)

Comparison.

Today, we will take a completely one-sided look at it: why you should NEVER, EVER, EVER compare yourself with other writers. Ignore your instinct to think about the merits of comparison—I’m saving those for next time, when we take another completely one-sided look at the topic.  From the other side, naturally.

Last week, I compared comparison to a knife.  Going along with today’s one-sided perspective, we will look at the ways said knife can be absolutely useless, and even harmful.  Next time, we’ll look at how amazing and helpful a knife can be.

But not today.

Imagine you have a knife in your hand.  If you grip it by it’s handle, it can be helpful.  Forget helpful.  Imagine you’re holding it by the blade.

Holding it by the blade is dangerous at worst and useless at best.  The tighter you grip it, the more dangerous it becomes.  Like the knife, comparison can be a useful tool, but only if you know how to properly hold it.  The problem with comparison is that it’s all to easy to hold it by the blade, where it becomes useless.  Dangerous.  Painful, especially if you wrap your hand around it and cling so tight you bleed.

Here are things we cling to that have the potential to make us bleed:

There will always be someone WORSE.

This one’s tricky.  On the surface, it looks encouraging.  Surely I can’t be the worst person to ever try this, we think.  If THAT got published, my novel can, too. It’s too easy to take that and proceed with confidence.

Problem: it’s false confidence.  It’s a one-sided view that forgets that books on the shelf—any books on the shelf—are the product of much time and money, many stamps of approval.  That view ignores what books do right and looks only at what we perceive to be flaws.  All of this leads to the potential for deluded attitudes, which can lead to deluded writing.

In this sense, comparison is useless, because it does not challenge your work and it can lead to false confidence.  It can all too easily foster a well, it’s good enough! attitude, instead of a how good can it be? attitude.

There will always be someone BETTER.

Also true.  Very, very, very true.  It’s probably not too hard to see where this mindset can get dangerous.  We compare.  We despair.  We read something amazing, something mindblowing that resonates with us, and we think: that author is a superhuman genius and I can never be that good, ever, Ever, EVER, so I should just stop now and someone please pass me the trash can so I can forget I ever tried. Trash can. NOW!

Forget the years they spent developing their craft.  Forget the innumerable drafts that go into the finished product on the shelf.  Forget all the rejections it took for them to get there.  We want to be them, we want to be them NOW, except we kind of just want to be the easy published version of them who just magically whipped up a perfect book in no time.

That will depress anyone.

This kills your writing, and maybe even all the heart you’ve put into it, because it’s so dang depressing.  Like the thoughts about there’s always someone WORSE than me, it’s unbalanced.  Instead of only looking at the flaws, like we do when we perceive ourselves to be better than someone, we focus only on those areas where the superhuman geniuses succeed.  We forget that even superhuman geniuses put sweat and tears into their work.

So, what?

Don’t cling.  Not to the blade, anyway.  When you hold fast to the wrong things—only the flaws of some, only the raving successes of others—you’re likely to bleed.  Hold on to whole truth, not the skewed half-truths that so easily slip in under your skin.

After writing all this, it seems almost impossible that comparison can be helpful.  It can be, though.  Really.  Next time, we’ll look at the knife from the other unabashedly one-sided perspective: why you should TOTALLY compare yourself to other writers.

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9 Responses to “Why You Should NEVER Compare Yourself.”

  1. Melissa Monday / 30 August 10 at 12:20 pm #

    So fabulous to have this running so shortly after Mockingjay released. After reading that series, I had insane bouts of ohmygoshIwillneverbeasgoodasCollinsevereverforaslongasIlive.

    THEN, I read her biography and found she had been a screenwriter for 25-27 years, and spent the last 10 on books. THIRTY SEVEN YEARS. Dude, I’m not even that old! That’s a solid 12-13 years my senior. OF COURSE she’s going to be miles and miles better than my pathetic squibbles.

    Ok, they aren’t pathetic. Often, I find them pretty awesome.

    Anyway. I often wish writing had an Easy Button. But then it probably wouldn’t be as sweet (I’d imagine) when success finally arrives. Really, nothing is as delicious as when it’s earned through hard work and love.

  2. Linda Cassidy Lewis Monday / 30 August 10 at 1:02 pm #

    I confess, I’ve bled from both, so hurry up with Part II so I don’t do it again.

  3. Agatha82 Monday / 30 August 10 at 1:13 pm #

    I’ve done the “I can do better” and the thing is, it’s hard not to do that, especially when there’s authors out there (okay I am particularing thinking of only one when I say that) whose writing style is rubbish as far as I’m concerned, and yet, they’ve made millions and you can’t help but think if they managed, then so can you because you are a better writer. False confidence? Not in this case, I know I am a better writer than the specific writer I am speaking about BUT that doesn’t mean “I” will ever be as successful as they are…bleh

  4. Carol Ann Hoel Monday / 30 August 10 at 1:32 pm #

    Very helpful post. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Leigh Kay Wednesday / 1 September 10 at 10:52 am #

    Ready to see more! :) Good thoughts.

  6. liza Wednesday / 1 September 10 at 11:20 am #

    I was just thinking about comparisons because of a whole slew of recent releases, like Mockingjay, Paranormalcy, Clockwork Angel…but, I thought about it more in terms of how those works compared to each other rather than how I would compare. These recent titles are basically in the same genre, but are so different and yet equally loved (at least in terms of my twitter timeline ;) ).
    I also view published authors’ works/lives as more like a “how-to” guide (finish the manuscript, query, write another story while waiting, etc). Seeing others being published (really, being paid for doing what they love) is so motivating to me and fills me with hope that I, too, can join their ranks.
    I’m happy to have stumbled upon your blog, and I’m looking forward to the other two parts of this series :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Little Detour from the Plan… « Owl and Sparrow - Wednesday / 1 September 10

    [...] telling you this because I had planned to do Part II of my comparison series (see here and here) this morning/afternoon.  Today has been wicked productive, so I’m going to keep on rolling [...]

  2. Why You Should TOTALLY Compare Yourself. « Owl and Sparrow - Friday / 17 September 10

    [...] can click here to find the first post (“Comparison: The Writer’s Knife”) and here to find the second post (“Why you should NEVER Compare [...]

  3. Comparison: The Writer’s Knife « Owl and Sparrow - Tuesday / 21 September 10

    [...] Why you should NEVER, EVER, EVER compare yourself to other writers, [...]

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