Why You Should TOTALLY Compare Yourself.

17 Sep

At long last, heeeeeere we go!

FINALLY, right?

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m writing a series on writers, the tendency to compare ourselves with other writers, and how we can use that tendency to our advantage.  You 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 Yourself.”).

Today makes post number three.

Throughout this series, I’ve been comparing comparison to a knife: it’s only a helpful tool if you know how to use it.  If you don’t know how to hold it right, it can be useless at best and dangerous at worst.  (There’s your little recap.)

So, how do we use it?  How do we hold that tricky little tool and use it to carve our work into pretty things instead of stabbing it to death?  (Um, ow.)

For MOTIVATION.

I’m breaking away from the knife for just a second to give you another painful analogy: step class at the gym.  One day, I was 45 minutes in to an hour-long class.  I was a) sweating like crazy, b) about to fall over, c) cursing the freaking step that was only four inches off the ground, and d) all of the above.

The über-bubbly Miley Cyrus song to which I was sweating and suffering seemed ill-fitting.  I hated it almost more than the step of doom.  But, then it hit me: Miley would probably have no problem with such a class.  What if I pretended to be Miley or Britney or some other coordinated, energetic workout/dance bunny (i.e. anyone but myself) for the rest of the class?  What would Miley or Britney do in the middle of a show, after dancing non-stop for who knows how long?  Surely they wouldn’t fall over from exhaustion and kick the step and quit.

This sounds like the most stupid thing in the world, but I pretended I was Miley Cyrus performing for a crowd.  And you know what?  My entire workout changed.  The step seemed to be level with the ground, my legs stopped burning, my breathing evened out, and I even smiled.  Sparkled, you could say.  The other people in class probably thought I was a huge weirdo.  (They may not have been wrong.)

What does this have to do with writing?

It’s easy to get discouraged when you are exhausted, and see your novel as an obstacle too difficult or painful to tackle.  ESPECIALLY when you see examples of others who seem to do their work flawlessly and with ease, all while sparkling and not sweating.  (Note the word seem.)

But—BUT!!!  Sometimes all it takes to keep going is the belief that you can do it, too.  They do it—why can’t you?  The simple act of pretending you are someone who is competent in areas where you are weak can make you FEEL more capable.

It may or may not mean you actually are more capable, but what it does is this: it raises the bar for yourself.  It’s a challenge, a push out of your comfort zone.  The motivation to strive for your best and not settle for merely good enough.

For KNOWLEDGE.

What’s another advantage of comparing yourself to others?

YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.  And that’s not a bad thing.  It’s a fact, and it’s true for everyone.  There will always be people who know how to do things better, and you can learn from them.  If When you find yourself reading something that makes you go, I’d better just stop right now, because this author?  Is the epitome of everything awesome.  Everything!  I could never be that good.  Never, ever, ever!  I’m going to go bite my pillow, that’s what I’m going to do.¹ — flip it around.  Don’t despair over it.  LEARN.

Figure out what you think works, what makes it so amazing.  (This can work the other way, too.  If you dislike something, don’t leave it at that.  Figure out WHY you think it doesn’t work.)

Then—and this is important—remember that YOU are in control of your work.  If something about what you’ve written seems boring or blah or underwhelming and you feel like it’s total crap, DO something about it.  You can.  It will take time and effort and possibly some tears, but you can.

So, what?

So go forth and conquer, that’s what.  Take your exhaustion, your intimidation, your fear, and your despair, and forget it for a minute.  Look at what is possible.  Take a deep breath and know that you’re not the worst, you’re not the best, and those things are okay.  You’re you.  Now be the best darn you you can be.

Side note, I’ve been told a few times that I would make an excellent elementary school music teacher.  I have no idea why this might be.

Sunshine!  Rainbows!  Flowers!  Kittens!!!

(Ahem.)

Seriously, though.  I know some of what I’ve written today is a little cheesy, but whatevs.  Just because it’s cheesy doesn’t make it untrue.

And PS: I’m learning from experience here, and am no expert at these things.  Oh, and that whole me-pretending-I’m-Miley-Cyrus thing—that’s just between us, okay?

¹Movie reference, anyone?  It’s pretty much my favorite movie, so if no one knows it, expect a post extolling its awesomeness sometime in the near future.

16 Responses to “Why You Should TOTALLY Compare Yourself.”

  1. Linda Cassidy Lewis Friday / 17 September 10 at 12:33 pm #

    Yes, finally! :-) You’re so smart. Though I couldn’t get through a step class no matter who I pretended to be, I wonder if I could write more confidently if I pretended to be one of my fave authors? I will have to try it.

    I know what inspires me most as I read. It’s the phrasing and word choices. I love when the language is lyrical, but only subtlety so. If it’s too overt, it reminds me I’m reading and jerks me out of the story.

    Good series!

    • Linda Cassidy Lewis Friday / 17 September 10 at 12:41 pm #

      Oh, yes, forgot to add, I don’t know what movie you referenced.

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 12:57 pm #

      Hehe, thanks Linda! :)

  2. Agatha82 Friday / 17 September 10 at 12:38 pm #

    I want to know the movie reference because it’s not familiar to me so I’m off to google it :-)

    I tend to always read my fave authors with an analytical mind and try to figure out why something they’ve written appeals and at times, why it could also make me cringe (most of the time is cringe-enducing dialogue)
    I’ve thought “Wish I could write like so and so…” but I realise it’s best to just go with the flow and write how it feels good for me.

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 1:04 pm #

      Here’s the post with the answer, in case you didn’t see it yet! :) http://owlandsparrow.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/bite-my-pillow/

      “I’ve thought ‘Wish I could write like so and so…” but I realise it’s best to just go with the flow and write how it feels good for me.”

      Yes, I definitely agree. Only YOU write like you. What I meant (and I’m pretty sure you know this, but decided to clarify anyway) was not that you should try emulate the exact writing/style itself, but rather the habits/attitudes of the author (persistence, determination, follow-through, all those other things it takes to persevere through this long process) and the tried-and-true elements that are common denominators with respected authors (how they build tension, characters with depth, smooth pacing, etc.).

  3. Melissa Friday / 17 September 10 at 1:27 pm #

    NAME THAT MOVIE!

    I failed. I have no idea what you are talking about. Great advice, great post, now I wanna be Miley…. or atleast have her bank account.

    I’m glad I took away the important things here.

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 1:06 pm #

      Yes, I’m SO glad you took away the important things!! ;) (Oh, and I included the link under Agatha’s comment, in case you haven’t seen the answer yet.)

  4. Carol Ann Hoel Friday / 17 September 10 at 3:49 pm #

    Great post, Kayla. I’m not sure I’m a writer anymore. I don’t have time, but I’ll get back to it and be refreshed. Thank you for inspiring me.

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 12:51 pm #

      :) I’m so glad you felt inspired by this, Carol. Thanks for saying so, and good luck on your next project!

  5. Merrilee Friday / 17 September 10 at 5:27 pm #

    Well said.

  6. joyofdawn Saturday / 18 September 10 at 7:13 pm #

    Very good post! I love to imagin I’m other people. Glad to know I’m not alone… It does make things easier, as long as I’m imagining the right person for the task. :)
    I’m off to try Linda’s idea about a favorite author!

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 12:53 pm #

      Good point – imagining the right person for the task DOES make things a little easier, haha. For example, an Olympic gymnast would be in real trouble if she tried to get inspiration from someone like me. (Ha.)

      How’s the writing?

      • joyofdawn Wednesday / 22 September 10 at 5:16 pm #

        Writing turned into a much needed study on the topic. Now I’m using all those notes I took to a)teach a writing class to homeschool students b)put all that good information into use. I’m preping for a run at NaNo.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bite My Pillow « Owl and Sparrow - Sunday / 19 September 10

    [...] just going to go bite my pillow, that’s what I’m going to do!” in my last post.  Alas, I thought someone, anyone, might know this fantastic movie without first Googling the [...]

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

    [...] Why you should TOTALLY compare yourself to other writers, [...]

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