Authors: Stop comparing yourself to others–only you can tell THIS story…

SnowKenya_resizedWork has really been kicking me in the shins lately. You know what I mean. It’s painful, but not debilitating. It’s irritating, but not terminal. I feel bruised and battered by the end of the day, but I can crawl out of bed and stagger back into work the next morning.

It’s been like this for months. My ability to continue dealing with this level of stress is wearing a bit thin. My creative energy is completely drained by this kind of daily workload and I’m not getting much writing done right now, which is always depressing.

Sunset_resizedLast night, I read a debut novel that captivated me from the first sentence. I was staying at the cabin again, which was bittersweet. The property will be sold soon, and the cabin had been stripped and cleaned. Normally I would have tried to get a little writing done in the peace and solitude the woods, but it was too hot and there was no furniture, and besides, the book beckoned. As the light outside faded, I sat on my air mattress with a battery operated lantern, reading in the dark like a small child. The author kept me guessing along with the protagonist as to what would happen next, and I followed her same journey. My interest, like hers, was piqued at the discovery of some old letters. I became involved in her investigations. Her hopes and dreams became mine, and my fear for her safety was intense when I realized that she was headed down a path of danger.

It was utterly brilliant. I finished the book wanting more, something that is rare these days. If you like rebellious Victorian heroines in romantic suspense stories–this is the book for you. Read it. And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander. I just found out that there are others in the series–I am off to buy them now.

In the afterward, author Tasha Alexander quoted from my all-time favorite novel, Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. She said she was reading Gaudy Night and these words leapt from the page at her:

If you are once sure what you do want, you will find that everything else goes down before it like grass under a roller–(and all other interests, your own and other people’s.)

It was on reading this that she knew it was time for her to fulfill her dream of being a writer, and so she did.

Cabin road_resizedI confess, I was more than a little depressed when I finished the story. For a first time novel, it was a stunning achievement. It made me look at my own work with a jaundiced eye. My writing seemed amateurish and childish in comparison, not to mention that it would appeal to such small audience that ten, twenty, thirty years from now, no one would be reading it. I began to question what I’m doing with my writing and why I even bother trying.

I shared this feeling with a few of my fellow authors and friends. Susan Mac Nicol (who has been on my blog several times recently, first with a post on writing M/M romance and her love for Benedict Cumberbatch, and then yesterday, with a post about her bestselling new release, Stripped Bare) offered some excellent advice. She said she had to learn early on not to compare herself to others. That yes, there were great writers out there, but that’s not to say they are better than you are–simply in your head they are.

She went on to quote as well, sharing with me these words from Neil Gaiman: The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.

Wise words indeed.

I know that it is difficult not to compare yourself to others. We’re taught from an early age to do so. It is the yardstick by which we are all measured–in comparison to something or someone else. Sometimes it is hard to remember the joy lies in the process, not the accolades. In the journey to Ithaca more than the arrival.

CryingMoonBut just when I was at the point of telling myself that maybe I should just give up the idea of being an author and just go back to piddling around with my stories for fun, I remembered what a reader told me about how much she enjoyed my stories and how they made her life a little easier. And then I got a tweet from Rainbow Book Reviews praising Crying for the Moon. I didn’t even know the story was being reviewed–it’s been out for a few years now. Apparently reviewer Christy Duke loved it!

Yeah, so maybe what I write isn’t great literature. Maybe it doesn’t even qualify as ‘good’ trashy romance. But it brings me pleasure, and it brings other people pleasure, and if even just one person can read one of my stories and feel better about their day as a result, then it was worth it.

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “Authors: Stop comparing yourself to others–only you can tell THIS story…

  1. I know exactly how this feels. I’m guilty of comparing myself to other writers, too, and it does me a disservice, because I’ve heard from plenty of readers they love what I write and can’t wait to see what I do next.

    Readers keep me going. That, and the voices in my head. πŸ™‚
    fenraven recently posted..Another Excerpt from TransgressionMy Profile

  2. Sarah, my friend, I’m so glad to see this blog post. You do count in the writing world – I re read ‘The Boys of Summer’ only this week and still loved every word, and there were things in there I wish I’d written – and to quote the immortal words of Linda Ronstadt in the Disney movie, ‘An American Tail’
    ‘Somewhere out there,
    Beneath the pale moonlight,
    Someone’s thinking of me,
    And loving me tonight.
    Substitute ‘me’ for your book and you get the idea πŸ™‚
    We might not write ‘literary masterpieces’ (pshaw, who the hell needs more of those!) but by George we entertain. And that’s what it’s all about when you love doing it and have a passion for something.
    Susan Mac Nicol recently posted..Cover reveal- Saving Alexander – Release date October 2ndMy Profile

    • Aw, thank you Susan. It pleases me to no end to think someone might like a story enough to want to re-read it. To me, that’s the highest compliment.
      Hah, now I can hear that song in my head! It was one of my favorites when it came out. That’s very kind of you to say. πŸ™‚

      The harder I work, the more I realize the value of sheer entertainment. I had a friend tell me the other day that because of her chronic pain, she reads to take herself ‘out of herself’ for a little while–and that was so very important to her. So yeah, it’s not Shakespeare. It’s not Jane Austen. It’s not even Dan Brown. But not everyone wants to read *those* stories, right?

  3. Sigh. Yes. I hear you about how hard it is not to make comparisons. One of my best friends here has just had the first book of a long series accepted by Five Star – it’s a western. They loved it, so much. They’re excited, having read her synopses of the rest of the books, and say they can’t wait to read them. They’re talking about film rights.

    I love her dearly and I’ve helped her with editing her first book and in writing all the synopses. I’m so very happy for her. But at the same time, the mean little me inside is whining that I want it to be me. I want it to be me who sells a book, gets that sort of validation. We’re very different kinds of writers so comparing myself to her is madness, but still I do it. Still.

    And yet, I wouldn’t swop Bennet and Flynn and the slow dance they’re doing in my head to write what she’s doing, not least because her stories are hers and hers alone. They carry her DNA in them, the way my stories carry mine. And you know, my DNA may be different, but it’s just as good. As you say, the rewards may seem smaller and the achievements slow to come, but they’re all the sweeter because they’re ours. Gaiman’s right.

    • I don’t think we’d be human if we didn’t feel that little pang of jealousy when something like that happened to a good friend. How very exciting for her! I know that you *are* happy for her, even if that ‘mean little you’ is wondering why her and not you?

      You know what? Your Bennet and Flynn are marvelous, and I have no doubt one day we’ll all be saying the same thing about you. πŸ™‚ Your writing is brilliant. My fishpond is going to be even smaller, I suspect, but it will be mine and my little fish will hopefully thrive in it.

  4. As a reader, and not a writer, all I can say is put your heart out there. My favorite writer is Thomas Harding, but I haven’t touched anything by him in years. This after having tracked down a rare book by him in the early 90’s, which required me to put down a deposit and my driver’s license to check out of the public library.

    When I requested it, they discovered it was a rare volumn. They didn’t know they had it until I requested it. Literally, almost a hundred years had gone by since it had been checked out.

    It was nice, an early novel, and now 20 years later available everywhere, but I haven’t re-read it. I love his works, but, damn, they are hard. “Jude the Obscure” is still my all-time favorite novel, and I haven’t read it in at least 12 years.

    I read to expand my mind, consider new ideas, and most of all, escape, but with stories that make me think.

    Maybe in 200 years no one will read your works, but right now, they offer so very much to your readers. If forced to make a choice, I’ll take your writings, and quite of few of your recommended authors (my credit card company LOVES you), over Harding. Why?

    Because you and yours write beautifully, and offer escapism, ambivalent-to-happy endings, and intelligence the whole while, whereas writers like Harding, or even Austen, offer those same things, but with a huge side of “THINK, THEN CHANGE THE WORLD!”

    Without the fluff and serious stories in fandom, I know I would have given up my favorite pastime these past 2 years,while unable to seriously ponder what I read. To be honest, with the internet, I most likely would have stopped reading altogether without good fanfic. I read to many Mary-Sue published stories before discovering intelligent fanfic writers.

    Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy forays into the Pit of Voles to point and laugh, but I did that with published novels before. I only wish I could write as good you do.

    Tl;Dr: You write good!

    • Without the fluff and serious stories in fandom, I know I would have given up my favorite pastime these past 2 years,while unable to seriously ponder what I read.

      You make a really valid point here. There was a long period of time during which I was incapable of reading anything serious or deeply thought-provoking because all I could handle at the time was light fluffy stories. I *needed* the escapism. To this day, if things are really bad, I reach for the horse and dog books of my youth. πŸ™‚

      It strikes me that I have peanut butter and jelly talent. Well, not everyone likes caviar. And of those people who do, not everyone wants caviar at every meal. PB&J is nutritious and filling and sometimes *exactly* what you want–and simple enough for every day. TBH, most days I chose PB&J over caviar anyway.

      Your Harding story is awesome. I am honored to be chosen over him–even as I know exactly what you mean. There are television shows and novels that I just can’t enjoy on a regular basis despite knowing how good they are. Like you, I need something that doesn’t make me work so hard. Something I know won’t hurt while enlightening. πŸ˜‰

      Tl;Dr: You write good!

      Aw, thank you! *blushes*
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Authors: Stop comparing yourself to others–only you can tell THIS story…My Profile

  5. Sarah, I’m a lurker here and I don’t think I’ve posted in some time, but I read all of your posts since I can follow on email. I think it’s only human to compare ourselves to others, but it certainly isn’t terribly helpful most of the time. I do it a lot and I would say 90% of the time, it just makes me feel worse about myself and really for no logical reason. From any measure, I have a good and successful life. But when I compare, I tend to focus on those things that I really don’t like about myself or that I have always been made to feel bad about or lacking in some way – whether it’s my once again single status, my weight, my age (no changing that one I’m afraid), the gap between my front teeth, etc. Silly and in the long view not terribly important things, but still annoying as hell and really self-defeating.

    I’m not an author, so I don’t have any skin in that game, but I’m a reader and I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed here. Some of my favorite books have certainly not been bestsellers and in 30 years nobody will read them or care about them. But I got something really meaningful from them as I read them. Some of them I’ve read again and again. Some I just remember fondly with a warm heart. But the truth is they meant something to me and I love them. I know there is an effort/return that needs to be balanced but truly if you get joy from the writing and your readers get joy from the reading, then already you’re a winner πŸ™‚

    • I’m so pleased you decided to weigh in on this discussion! Sometimes I feel like I’m placing notes in a bottle that I’m never quite sure anyone ever sees. πŸ™‚

      I tend to focus on those things that I really don’t like about myself or that I have always been made to feel bad about or lacking in some way

      Oh man, I know what you mean here. I’ve said it before but I think Facebook is one of the worse forums for promoting this kind of negative comparison behavior. It’s so much about ‘look at me!’ that it can’t help but foster a sense of inadequacy in comparison. And yet we come back for more.

      Since I grew up, as many women do, with this idea that nothing I could do would ever be good enough, even when I do something well, I tack on qualifiers or glance to the side and realize that someone else is doing it better. Well, there is always going to be someone better at whatever it is you’re doing. There will always be someone worse. The race isn’t with anyone else but yourself. What I should be focusing on is that each new story be better than the last. (Though right now, I’d settle for completing a story!)

      Some of my favorite books have certainly not been bestsellers and in 30 years nobody will read them or care about them. But I got something really meaningful from them as I read them.

      Ah, this is really nice to hear. Because that is a goal I can probably achieve, at least with one or two people! πŸ™‚

      I know there is an effort/return that needs to be balanced but truly if you get joy from the writing and your readers get joy from the reading, then already you’re a winner

      What a very nice thing to say–thank you!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Authors: Stop comparing yourself to others–only you can tell THIS story…My Profile

  6. This is the first time I’ve visited, but your post is so timely. Just yesterday, I was feeling the same way. I’m taking an online class and many of the other students have put up really nice bits, so I started my “I’m not good enough” mantra. Seems to be a constant fight. I have to keep reminding myself not to compare.

    • I’m sorry it took me so long to respond–work has been keeping me extra-busy lately! I’m so glad that you took the time to respond here–thank you!

      I think a little bit of competitive spirit is a good thing–I liken it to inflammation. We absolutely need inflammation to heal. It’s what triggers certain biochemical reactions that cause white cells to migrate into an area of damaged tissue, and what stimulates fibrinogen and collagen and other building blocks of repair to be formed. But when we get uncontrolled inflammation, we get distortion of the original tissues, and loss of function along with scarring.

      I frequently have to remind myself that a envy is good–it keeps us from being complacent about our work, it causes us to take classes, like the one you’re taking now, in order to improve our writing. All good things–until we take it too far and let our awe of someone’s work stymie us.

      TBH, I’d much rather fall on the side of ‘not good enough’ than the crowd that thinks their work is so fantastic, it needs no improvement. But it does seem to me that the other guys are often more successful because they don’t let this concept of ‘not good enough’ hold them back.

      Ashton Kutcher did this acceptance speech for a Teen Awards thing recently that was pretty different for him–he spoke of how *none* of us were any less intelligent or less equipped to do big things (obviously I’m paraphrasing big time!) but that the difference between us and the other guy is that they went out and did whatever they had dreamed up. And we didn’t.

      I’m starting to wonder too, if using ‘not good enough’ as an excuse to letting the work of others intimidate us out of trying our own stuff isn’t more endemic among women than men. Sure, men have a lot of pressure to succeed, but I think women are taught very early to be self-effacing to a degree that men are not. A confident woman is often perceived in a negative light. Anyway, this is something I struggle with all the time–this balance between being confident in my writing and not wanting to be seen as ‘cocky’ or thinking I’m better than I am.

      Since I cant master confident yet, I’m settling for not comparing myself to others! πŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Authors: Stop comparing yourself to others–only you can tell THIS story…My Profile

  7. Thanks for this post, Sarah. I really needed to read it. I know I tend to do the comparison thing, and often have the same reaction when I read a good book. I think we all need that reminder that only we can tell our stories and that it is important to keep telling them. Now I just need to practise what I preach….
    Anne Barwell recently posted..Welcome Alex KidwellMy Profile

  8. Thank you, thank you so much.
    I’ve recently gone into translating books more than writing them myself. Even if, as a ESL speaker, I’m used to translate what I read in my head to some extent, writing down the translation makes the reading experience that more intense. And I’m shamed. I keep thingking, why couldn’t I come up with that amount of creativity/wit/tension/eroticism? My writing is flat, amateurish, banal in comparison.
    Your post came at exactly the right time for me. Thank you for writing an uplifting encouragement to my drooping spirits.
    BTW your writing isn’t childish. Far from it. I, for one, love what you write, so please don’t stop putting it out there.

    F.

    • I am SO sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment here–life has been crazy-hectic on my end lately.

      I keep thinking, why couldn’t I come up with that amount of creativity/wit/tension/eroticism? My writing is flat, amateurish, banal in comparison.

      I’m currently working with a new critique group and every time I sit down to read the stories of the other members, I think the same thing. I’m coming to the realization that perhaps we aren’t the best judge of our own works. πŸ™‚

      I’m also coming to the realization that it takes about ten years of serious practice to really get good at anything. I’ve only been writing again since 2006, so I figure I’ve got a way to go before I have a handle on it. Your words here are very encouraging though–thank you! I really appreciate it. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Fall into Romance… Author interviews, excerpts, prizes, and more!My Profile

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