(Part One of a three-part series.)
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.
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.