“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“Compare Yourself To Who You Were Yesterday, Not To Who Someone Else Is Today.” – Jordon B Peterson
“The curse of comparison will scare you from attempting anything.” – Bangambiki Habyarimana
Why am I posting quotes on comparison when the title says “Trying to compete”? Part 7 of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s posts on “How Writer’s Fail”, (of 9 as of writing this) is titled “Competition”. So my post is titled similarly. But oh how quickly I learned that the post isn’t really about competition, it’s about comparison. It’s comparison in writers that feigns as competition. And comparison is deadly.
Yes, this is yet another of my ongoing series where I turn a self-critical eye in response to Kristine Rusch’s own series as mentioned above. She wrote 9 segments on the various things that cause a writer to fail. Now for the links:
My last post: Why I am Failing as a Writer: Part 6 – Too Close…
Kristine’s original post: Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part 7) Competition
This is another one of those things that I struggled with throughout my writing life (as though it isn’t the struggle of every writer, artist, human… you know, everybody). Oscillating between wanting to be like this writer or that writer, or wishing I could have written this book or that book, it took me a long time before I eventually understood something:
If I wrote that book, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be said writer.
To take that further, I realized recently while re-reading the Harry Potter series that if I were to write it, it would be completely different in many ways, and as such, not as good. Did I want that?
Well, part of the reason we may compare ourselves to other writers is that we wish to be like them, or rather we wish to have their level of success. I saw that in myself early on after choosing to forever try to make it as an indie writer and I near worshiped Hugh Howey. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fantastic writer, but like all of us, not without his flaws. I watched him as he had a boat built and then went to sail around the world meeting all wonders of people and having many adventures. Then he was working with Hollywood to get is books turned into shows or movies. It all sounded wonderful.
But if I stepped back for a moment, I could see something. I am not Hugh Howey. I am not even really close to being like him. Let’s look at just a few of the surface level things: I am a big introvert, so going out into strange lands and meeting all kinds of people will only zap my energy, if I even try it to start. Boats? They’re cool, yes, but I know little about them and have only a modicum of interest in them — let alone loving them enough to choose to sail around the world in one. I didn’t grow up how he grew up; I didn’t work the same jobs as he did; and we don’t share many of the same passions. So why did I find myself so envious? Why did I want to emulate him?
This goes into a projection-like issue. Whomever we choose to compare ourselves to will have something that we want. Financial success. Book deals. Licensing contracts. A “cool” car. A “nice” house. A “sexy” partner. “Hip” friends. “Better” stories. (I put them all in quotes because it is a self-delusion thing — “The grass is greener on the other side.”)
All this comparison truly does rob us of our ability to have at it ourselves. It robs us of the ability to appreciate what we already have – many of them matching the exact descriptors above. The thing is, it’s just that the other writer’s things are different. They only appear better because of person doubt.
Then there’s the dark side of this where you don’t think a writer is deserving of the praise they got. Think “Twilight” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” to name two massively successful series that are often panned for being atrociously written. I don’t wish I wrote those books, but I do want that success. Where it gets dark is in believing that those writers shouldn’t have that success. Why not? People loved the stories. Well written or poorly plotted, those stories struck a chord in a population who threw cash at in by the bucket load.
Success goes to those who deserve it and those who don’t. The difference between the two isn’t the quality of their work, rather how they manage it. It’s in their definition of it. One’s championship is another’s failure — in a manner of speaking. What is it that we are chasing after, anyway?
It’s easy to get locked up in that. People that have some facet of the success I desire catch my eye, then I find myself doing that dangerous dance of comparison. My writing suddenly isn’t good enough. My plot and story become sub-par. And with every visit to the story’s pages, rather than getting lost in the world I am trying to create, the thieves of comparison enter my brain and bring havoc.
That is not to say that tricks can’t be learned. Techniques can be absorbed in looking at others. But that is the limit I must tread close to and not cross. Learning from other writers is good, but taking the portrait of them and trying to hold it up in place of a mirror is a shitty way of making progress in my writing.
Only in recent times has that abated enough that I believe I can better launch forward.
It took me a long time to learn to distance myself from those voices of comparison. Yet, even as I have come so far, those habits still do come back. I am working on getting rid of them. It may be a long, tough journey to get there. I can read many of these stories and enjoy them, why ruin that by trying to compare my own stories to them?