Writers are awfully prone to comparison, and I don’t just mean in the way of crafting good analogies. I’ve been thinking a lot about the crippling effects of comparison as I’ve gotten stuck in my own grooves lately. Why didn’t I prepare more? Why did I let anxiety overcome me? Why didn’t I apply to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop/ Move to New York in my twenties/ take an internship at a publishing house!?
Normally my next statement would be, take it from me, avoid comparison, it’s a waste of time (and it is). But instead I’ve started thinking that there’s something to be gained, not from the act of comparison itself, which does generally makes you feel like crap, but from awareness of to whom and what you compare yourself.Before I tell you how to mine the dark seam of wisdom caught inside your webs of envy, let’s briefly discuss the symptoms of comparison:Facebook is an insidiously good source of the Perfect Lives of Others and their Adorable Genius Children, Great Careers, and Disposable Incomes. You see: mediocre writer who gets a book deal at your dream publisher; mean girl from HS having yet another drug-free birth with her handsome CEO husband/the ex who dumped you at his annual trip to burning man surrounded by half nude girls half his age… Whatever your comparison poison, you have one, possibly several, areas that make you feel:
- As if you wasted time
- Losing your brilliance
I could go on but by now you probably already feel badly enough.First, as in all things, you must accept what you are doing. Admit that you’re burning green; you’re bloated with wanting; you’re lacerated by the mea culpa whip; or locked in your own shame closet. And it hurts. It’s crushing. It makes you want to wear a ski mask out in public, or simply have all things delivered to your door so you never have to leave the domicile again.But I ask you to stop and look: what are you really longing for/ comparing yourself to? Follow the trajectory of what you envy or compare yourself to, and you’ll find a seed crystal of your purpose. Why do you compare yourself to THAT PERSON? What does she have you want for yourself? What piece of what she has do you, possibly, already have? If you’re longing, you probably aren’t doing. If you’re doing, taking steps toward what you most want, then you may be falling into the trap of impatience, urgency. Take some breaths, come back to what you love about what you’re doing. If you’re beating yourself up, you aren’t putting energy into how to find the strength that does exist in you.
Any time you invest mental or emotional energy into wishing you had what someone else has, you drain away vital creative energy that can bring you closer to your desires.We all make mistakes, fumble, waste time, screw around on the internet when we should be working. But guess what? You can stop at any time and turn that energy back toward your own passion.The antidote to comparison is to find what you love, and what you’re good at, and then invest even more energy into that. The more you work at something with genuine passion, the less time or energy you have for comparisons, for self-flagellation. An object in motion tends to stay in motion said Isaac Newton. I say an object under motivation tends to stay motivated: you, doing what makes you happy.
What gives you toe-curling pleasure when you work at it? What makes you feel almost guilty with joy when you get to do it? And I’m talking work here, not binge-watching Orange is the New Black. For example: When I write fiction, when I write it and revise it, and dream up new avenues for my characters, then polish and perfect and find places to submit to. That right there is my happy place–all aspects of that bring me effervescent bliss. Yeah, I have “hard” days but the hardest day writing fiction is still a better day than most. What is your writing bliss?
There will always be people who arrived before you, who had more money or pushier, wealthier parents and greater opportunities. There will always be someone more something than you.But what is your special something? What is your little shiny corner of real estate? Find it, name it, polish it, love it. Work hard at it; there are people out there who are battling a green dragon over wanting to be you.So be the most awesome version of you that you know how. First step: stop counting other people’s blessings. Make and count your own.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. And check out my Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015.