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.
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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?