If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re either related to me (hi, dad!) or you’re a writer. Or maybe you just really want to be a writer. If you’re the latter, first read this. Now, if that sounds good, I’ve got a warning for you: Writing can be stressful. So can ANY creative career, or even hobby. Us weirdo artistic types (aka “all humans,” but that's for another post) have a tendency to form some toxic habits when we’re growing in our art. Habits that will only bring us down in the long run, my friend. I’m here today to rant--er, talk with you--about one particularly cantankerous habit: The Comparison.
Let me open with a simple suggestion:
STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE.
Ahem. Allow me to clarify.
Writing is not a competition. I know, I know--a lot of times it feels like a competition. That other person is better than me (dang it!). This person sucks and I rock (aw, yeah! *high-fives self*). Every time we see another artist’s work we instinctively want to line ourselves up in order of best-to-worst like cattle on market day (sorry, actors. Been there).
But I’ve got a news flash for you, guys: ART ISN’T A COMPETITION.
Then what, exactly? What are you so worried about? Listen: In football, only one team can win the Superbowl. That’s the hard truth. Only one college basketball team is going to win March Madness. Only one little eighth grader is going to take home the blue ribbon at the national spelling bee. And after we get through this strange circus of a campaign season, only one woman--er, one person--gets to be president. THOSE are competitions. But art--say it with me now--is not a competition. Even if someone is better than you, that doesn’t mean you don’t get to make art any more, does it?
FINE, YES, I know, there’s fellowships and jobs and roles and those things feel competitive. You got me. But even then, it’s different. How you compete in any of those things should not be affected by the other contestants. It’s still just you and your work, right? And you’re going to do your work no matter what, aren’t you? Sure you are. So forget what anyone else is doing and just do your work. If you don’t win the contest, you’ve still got your art. You got to spend time working on that art. I know it sucks to lose contests or face rejection (trust me, I know) but in the long run, you’re a writer because you love writing. And the great thing about writing is no one can take it away from you. You don’t have to be the best. You don't even have to be better than your friend Macy. You still get to keep writing!
You just have to be willing to write.
And constantly comparing yourself to other artists is toxic, by the way. What's the point of it? If, for instance, you see (or you believe) that some other writer is better than you, it’s only going to make you feel crappy. If you see (or believe) that they’re not as good as you, that’s just going to make you feel cocky. And no one likes a cocky writer (again--TRUST me). Art is objective, anyway! So when you take time to compare and contrast, you accomplish very little except TAKING TIME away from your actual writing.
Repeat after me: It’s not a competition.
If you’re one of those competitive types who gets jazzed at the mere thought of winning, I feel you. You are I are kindred spirits. As any of my friends or family reading this will tell you, I am also kind of (okay--very much) one of those competitive types. But as one final "trust me on this," let me just say: When it comes to art, it’s still a freakin’ bad idea. If you must compete, compete against the artist you were yesterday--don’t compete against other artists! Enter a contest, sure. Apply for that fellowship. Submit to that agent. But all the wonderful bells and whistles like contests and fellowships and agents are the icing, not the cake. If writing all on its own doesn’t give you enough joy in the long run to keep going, without any bells and whistles, you might want to consider doing something else. Yes, I know it takes work, and some days are tough, and it’s not always rainbows and blah blah blah--my point remains. The meat of writing, and of any art, is the joy in actually doing it. So don’t get yourself down with comparisons and competitions.
Just keep writing.