4 Reasons We Should Stop Comparing Ourselves to Other Writers

If you’re reading this post, the odds that you have at least one social media account are pretty decent. And if you’re a questionable human being like me, you’ve probably had at least one friend tied to your social media networks whose carefully curated daily musings, or perfectly lit photos, or outrageously comfortable life, have provoked some uncomfortable comparisons in your mind. Do you do this as a writer, too? Here are some good reasons to stop.

Credit: b_lumenkraft

Credit: b_lumenkraft

Confession: I do this comparing thing constantly. I have a few friends who travel frequently for work, and they (lovely human beings all) always seem to be landing in fantastical locations with the Spanish Steps in the background, debating the quality of ski season in Colorado versus the one on New Zealand’s South Island, or reminiscing about that one time they went to Antarctica.

Then, there are the folks who seem to be gliding around, scooping up great breaks, beautiful houses or loft apartments in Brooklyn. They’re constantly adopting adorable puppies or kittens, they’re posting about their great new jobs or the beautiful nursery they’ve just decorated, and on and on.

Comparing my life to theirs always ends the same way: I sit back, fully aware of my empty passport and my house with the leaky roof and drafty windows and cracked, frost-heaved garage floor. I see the litterbox that needs to be emptied and what my hair looks like after a long day at work and the globs of green toothpaste left in the white bathroom sink and I think, I wish that was me. 

Basically, comparing my life to other lives makes me the shallowest, most self-centered, annoying human being on the planet. So I strive to do it less. And since I’ve been striving, I’ve noticed that I do it when I write, too. Do you?

Perhaps an author your age just got a three-book deal with a pretty big house, and you’re not there yet. Perhaps a blogger you thought was greener than poison ivy in springtime just won an award and you didn’t. Perhaps you simply admire the style of another writer’s prose, they way they casually string their ideas together like power lines through the desert. It’s all just effortless, and your work isn’t effortless. Then what?

If you’ve caught yourself doing this, here are four thoughts to help you stop.

Credit: suvodeb, flickr.com

Credit: suvodeb, flickr.com

4. Constant comparisons impede your ability to be awesome.

When you’re so focused on another’s accomplishments, whether in writing, traveling or life in general, it’s easy to quit moving forward in your own life. Because you’re preoccupied with the progress of others, you won’t even notice your life has ground to a halt.

3. You can’t learn from other writers when you compare yourself to them.

Bitterness shuts down the parts of your mind that are otherwise open, observing and adapting. If you envy the way another writer in your group disciplines himself to write first thing in the morning and last thing at night, you’re less likely to ask him how he does what he does, and less likely to do it, yourself.

2. You’re comparing the best things they’ve ever written to your raw materials.

This is perhaps the most insidious working of social media: You’re comparing your everyday to someone else’s highlight reel. What you see on your Newsfeed is a carefully curated barrage of items that are usually intended to show off the poster in the best possible light. They’re not going to post the play-by-play of the agonizing ride on I-95 that gets them to their sparkly new job (hopefully), or take a picture of the steaming turd their cute new puppy left in their favorite pair of L.L. Bean shearling slippers (you know, the ones on their feet every time they take a “just relaxing by the cozy fire!” selfie).

So it is with writing. You’ll never see the egregious misspelling of the word “public” in the first draft of their article at the regional glossy mag, their stuttering, stammering first pitches to the agents who rejected them before they landed their agent, or that one time they got into an online pissing match with their first negative reviewer on Goodreads. But that happens, because it’s life, and life happens to everyone.

As the old saying goes, everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.

1. Comparing yourself to other writers makes you incredibly boring.

When you don’t keep your eyes on the road, you often miss where you’re going. When you keep your eyes on what other writers are doing, your creative drive loses its steam and direction.

You get kinda boring. You’re not making new observations, creating new stories, or even playing with words. You’re just trying to get ahead of the next person. And even if you fall victim to the comparison monster every now and again, you have to admit—that’s mind-numbingly dull.

 

Do you struggle with comparing yourself to other people? What have you done about it (besides think about quitting Facebook)? Share your experience in the comments. 

  • Byron Edgington

    Great stuff as usual Shanan. I’ve never quite done the egregious misspelling of ‘public’ but there’s a first time for everything we do in pubic life, I mean… Maybe it’s a function of age, but I’m guessing all writers must be at the craft a certain length of time before we realize that one attribute we all share–from Amis to Zola–is insecurity.

  • anon_coward

    i also like to read average books from unknown writers that were mildly successful. say in the top 1000 of kindle sales.

  • Marie Bailey

    I am always comparing myself to other writers, especially young writers (that is, those half my age) who have already successfully published several books. I think, “Gee, if only I had had computers and the internet when I was their age. Then I too would have been successful at 28 instead of still muddling at 56.” After pinching myself severely and reminding myself that I have those tools now so “shut up and use them,” I try to get on with my writing 🙂 Love these lines from your post: “When you don’t keep your eyes on the road, you often miss where you’re
    going. When you keep your eyes on what other writers are doing, your
    creative drive loses its steam and direction.” So so true!

  • writerrobynlarue

    I do struggle with it because I feel out of time with what seems popular in novels today. I go forward telling myself that my gentle, internal stories also have an audience, that my work is good because critiques say so, and just get on with it with fingers crossed.

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      I identify with this feeling, because I tell myself the same thing. I wouldn’t characterize my writing the same way exactly, but it’s a similar outside-the-pale place to be.

  • Pingback: Top 25 Writing Blogs | Positive Writer | Watson's Blog()

  • Pingback: Top 25 Writing Blogs | Positive Writer()

  • Pingback: Of Note (February 6th, 2014) | Chris Weston()

  • Zenobia Southcombe

    Huh. I hadn’t thought of number one – a very good point. Something to ponder. Thank you.

  • Jenna Kinzler

    Hi, I’m a writer and lately I haven’t been able to find any good agents or publishing companies for my soon-to-be finished novel. How do you get started and how do you find a publishing company that will accept you?

    My website is http://booksjmg06.webs.com for more details 🙂

  • Pingback: Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers | New York Media Works()

  • Laura Bonano

    Mr. Obvious never knocked me on the head in reference to #2…that theory changes everything for me now I think. For me, my compare syndrome manifested in nasty comments to people with genuine talent (was a borderline internet bully with my comments at Sloane Crosley, who is in fact lovely). But Elizabeth Gilbert had another interesting angle when it comes to being jealous and comparing yourself to others in her new book Big Magic, oftentimes I’ve been angry because I swear another writer stole my idea, when really, I just never took the time to let the idea come through me, I turned it right around at the door and so the ideas just find someone else to bring them into the world…Thanks for this post Shanan, needed it.

  • Mallory Miles

    Thank you for sharing this message! I have been a passionate advocate (well, as much of a passionate advocate as a shy, soft-spoken person can be) for making a switch a comparison-free lifestyle for some time.

    And yet, for some reason, I never applied that life skill to my writing. I continued to lament over the genius of JM Barrie, F Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Hardy, and the like. Thanks for the wake up call!

%d bloggers like this: