How to Avoid the Comparison Trap

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Bigger. Stronger. Faster.

We’ve all heard the claims of company after company eager to lure us away from the competition. Some advertisements are tasteful; others are not.

One of the quickest ways for us to become discouraged as writers is to compare ourselves to others. Sure, we enter contests. That’s competition, and it can be healthy if we use it to solicit feedback and to see where our work falls on the spectrum of freshman to senior, to use Randy Ingermanson’s divisions.

When we compare ourselves to others, though, we run the risk of becoming prideful if we deem our work better than another writer’s efforts. Or we can do a number on our confidence if we look at others’ stories, declare them better than ours, and decide our writing is rubbish. Discouragement can follow. Some writers who fall prey to the comparison trap become so down they quit writing.

Three Tips for Avoiding the Comparison Trap

Realize that we’re at different places in our journeys. Often our first indication of where our work ranks when compared with others comes when we enter a contest. We receive a number, and if that number is lower than we’d hoped for, the tendency can be to see what scores others received. Some contests I’ve entered provided spreadsheets with the information on all the entries, and I could see exactly where my scores put me. Coming in 22nd out of 26 can sting a bit. And yes, I know from personal experience.

What’s important to remember is that the writers submitting those entries aren’t at the same place. Some have been writing for a number of years. Others have just begun. In other worlds, it’s not possible to make accurate comparisons because of the variables. Therefore, doing so can be detrimental.

Focus on improvement, not competition. The first contest I entered when I was a fluorescent green newbie writer was the Golden Heart. I didn’t realize what a prestigious contest it is, or I wouldn’t have subjected the judges to my freshman efforts. My entry came in the bottom half, which is exactly where it deserved to be.

If I had fallen into the comparison trap, my confidence could have taken quite a hit. Instead I chose to use my score as impetus for improvement. I pushed myself to learn craft and entered subsequent contests with the intention of seeing if my entries would fare better than previous ones had. When we choose to compete against ourselves rather than others, we can feel encouraged as our scores gradually improve.

Keep our eyes on our goals, not on others’ accomplishments. Writing takes hard work, courage, and perseverance. Getting an offer of representation or a publishing contract requires a concentrated effort. When we allow ourselves to focus on others successes instead of our progress, we can become discouraged. Worse than that, we can become jealous, even though we wish that weren’t the case.

When we keep our goals before us and learn to celebrate our successes, be they big or small, rather than putting too much emphasis on the successes of others, we’ll experience more enjoyment and satisfaction. Our positive attitudes will be reflected in our work, and our stories will improve, bringing us that much closer to our goals.

* * *

Have there been times on your journey when you’ve been caught in the comparison trap?

What are some ways you prevent unhealthy comparisons from getting you down?

Does the comparative aspect of contests bother you?

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curvesโ„ข and reading.
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9 Responses to How to Avoid the Comparison Trap

  1. Wendy says:

    God has been teaching me so much about this and thankfully, I’m learning. Hey, I wrote over on Rachelle’s blog–You. Me. Whack-a-mole. Germany here we come. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Have a great weekend!
    ~ Wendy

  2. candidkerry says:

    Hi Keli,

    I definitely battle the comparison beast. But it’s those FB statuses saying, “10,000 words on my WIP” today that get to me. I would never have time during the day to write that many words. Or, when someone gets a “writing weekend away, etc…” my eyes can start turning unusual shades of green. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I have to keep myself in check so that I don’t get jealous of the TIME they have to write. However, many of the people posting these statuses are past diapers, preschool, kids’ sports teams, and homework, so I remind myself that they’ve earned the time they do have. I also remind myself that in 5-10, or even 15 years, I’ll have even more time on my hands to write.

    Remembering that we’re each unique creations and have specific talents helps, too.

    Great post! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Kerry, you make a great point. When I read those word count statuses or tweets, I feel a twinge of jealousy. Some writers are sooo fast. Me? I’m part of the Tortoise Writers Club. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Each of us is in a different place on our journey. We’re also in different situations. Those in the midst of their child-rearing years won’t have the time to devote to writing that an Empty Nester like me does. I admire busy moms who manage to fit writing into snatches of free time in an around their parenting duties.

  3. Beth Vogt says:

    You just have to be honest: There’s gonna be days you’ll compare yourself to another writer. Or two. Or three. Or every other writer on the planet. And they’ll all be better than you.
    And then you have to refocus.
    For me, that means talking myself off the ledge. Instead of wanting to be as good as someone else, I cling to one of my favorite Scripture verse: “Not to us, not to us, oh Lord, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Psalm 115:1.
    That reminds me it’s not about me anyway–writing (and living) is about glorifying God.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Beth, keeping our focus on what matters most is the best advice of all. When those inevitable twinges of jealousy come, turning to the Lord and to Scripture is the best remedy of all.

  4. Wise words indeed, Keli. I love your suggestions to focus on improving and goals, rather than where we aren’t (and how much faster everyone writes!).

    And for the record, I’m a card-carrying member of the Tortoise Writers Club. Tight deadlines make me cringe! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Julie, it’s comforting to know there are others for whom the words come more slowly than they do for those fast writers who can make me wonder about my output. (Not that I ever compare myself to them, you know. =)

      I tend to spend a lot of time searching for just the word I want, thinking up clever turns of phrase, and making sure I have all the necessary elements on the page, such as sensory detail and description.

      I have a feeling speedy writers splash the words on the page and catch more during revisions. I’d love to hear about the writing process of some of those in the Rapid Writers Club, wouldn’t you?

  5. Excellent post, Keli. ~ For a while, it seemed that everytime I got on my computer, I was reading about someone receiving a contract, winning awards, etc. Although I am always THRILLED for other folks’ success, I started feeling as if maybe I wasn’t “supposed” to be writing. However, the Lord has gently reminded me (through the support of family and friends, and great posts such as yours!) that YES—I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing at this season of my life. I have finally stopped comparing myself to others—knowing that we are all different and have different experiences, abilities, etc. – – I need to strive to be the best I can be. But when I need a reminder, I’ll go back and read this post again (yes, it’s another keeper!). ๐Ÿ™‚

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