Why We Compare Ourselves to Other Writers (and How We Can Stop)

 

by Lauren Sapala

For writers, there are two proven harmful effects of engaging in too much social media. (And let me say first that I’m guilty of overindulgence myself—it’s easy to start out with the intention of quickly checking Facebook and Twitter and then get sucked into a black hole and come out dazed and woozy on the other side.) But if you can keep these two harmful things in mind before you even go in, your chances of coming out unscathed are much better.

First, it’s a time suck. Every writer knows that. Social media is a hungry beast that wants to feed on your precious minutes. There are many ways to combat this, and many articles to be found on social media itself about how to combat the evils of time-sucking social media. That’s the easy one to overcome.

The other harmful effect of social media isn’t so easy to conquer, because it resonates so strongly with our existing levels of fear and self doubt.

It’s the comparison game.

Social media—if you’re on it long enough—always pushes a writer to compare her work (and her word count) with everyone else’s.

This susceptibility to falling into the comparison game is doubly reinforced by our culture, which not only promotes competition and separation as dominant belief systems, but also relies on the rational brain as a kind of magic miracle worker that can produce anything, as long as it’s working with the right formula.

In our culture, most of us truly believe that everything in existence comes down to science, and so there must be some sort of science behind every success story.

That’s why we keep reading crap like “How to Write a Bestselling Novel in 30 Days” or “How to Finish Your Book Using This 3-step Formula” or “How to Gain a Million New Readers Using These Proven Techniques.” Again, I’m guilty of this myself.

Writing is hard and I’ve been doing it for years. It’s the most beautiful, delicious thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s also maddening and has thrown me into despair more times than I can count. It is very, very tempting to believe that there is some sort of scientific formula out there that can break the creative process down into a series of mechanical steps.

Very tempting, but bullsh*t nonetheless.

Social media thrives on these kinds of articles because they’re eye-catching, easy to read, and they get a lot of clicks. That doesn’t mean they contain useful information.

And if you’re a writer on social media for too many hours out of the day, it’s extremely easy to fall into reading a bunch of this kind of stuff and then feeling like sh*t afterwards because you think you’re doing everything wrong.

Some writers only write once a week, some only once a month. Some writers come out with very low words counts after a writing session, like 50 words or less. Some writers have no idea what their hero or villain is doing, or if they even have a hero or villain.

All writers are scared. All writers feel alone. All writers are pretty sure that everyone else has their sh*t together and they are the only one still flailing.

THAT is truth.

And some more truth: Every single writer has a unique creative body. Your creative body functions exactly like your physical body. It gets hungry, it eats things, it processes things, and it emits waste products. It needs to rest and when it’s rested it then wakes up again and wants to play. It can shut down for a long period of time due to trauma and it can heal itself too. It is directly affected by your emotions and the energy surrounding you.

Your creative body is wise beyond your years. It knows exactly where it needs to be and what it needs to be doing. It knows exactly what it is here to create and the next step it needs to take right now, today, to create those things.

Your creative body would love nothing better than to get started creating right now, if you and your brain and all the dumb articles on social media would get out of the way and stop trying to push it in a certain direction and stop trying to tell it what to do.

This is why I urge my clients to think of their creative bodies in terms of the physical. When a writer embarks on the first round of big revisions I tell her to listen to her creative body in the same way she would listen to her stomach if it was feeling delicate. There is no need to sit down and force yourself to finish a big plate of food (or pile of pages) just because someone else says that writers should plow through revisions as fast as possible.

It’s okay to be good to yourself and respect your creative body’s cues. If you only feel like nibbling around the edges and picking at a couple things here or there, listen to that signal from your creative body.

And on the flip side, if you feel a huge burst of energy and you find yourself writing an entire novel in one week, go with that too. There’s no need to force yourself to slow down because someone else makes a comment that you might be moving too fast.

Every creative body has its own rhythm, its own shape, and its own expression. If so many people in our day and age can become body positive and embrace their unique physical bodies with acceptance and love, shouldn’t we writers and artists do the same thing with our creative bodies?

So the next time you’re on social media and you find yourself falling into the comparison game, remember to re-center yourself and pull away from whatever it is just as if it were just another glossy ad in a magazine.

It might look glamorous, but the real you is so much better.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Lauren Sapala. Lauren is a writing coach who specializes in personal growth and artistic development for introverted intuitive writers. She is the author of The INFJ Writer and currently blogs on writing, creativity and personality theory at www.laurensapala.com. She lives in San Francisco.

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24 thoughts on “Why We Compare Ourselves to Other Writers (and How We Can Stop)”

  1. Reblogged this on The Chaos Pen and commented:
    This is EXACTLY what I needed to read and process right now. I do agree with the idea that our creative energy has a “body” of sorts in similar fashion to our physical body and they each have their specific needs. However, as of late I feel like I have fallen into the trap of thinking that my work isn’t good enough compared to anyone else. Scribophile technically isn’t social media but I do feel that the same risk is present there and on sites like it. Perhaps in some ways more so since we are surrounded by fellow writers and we flood the forums with discussions about writing rules and formulas.

    So I’m going to apologize in advance. I currently do not have anything left in my blog queue waiting to be posted here. For those of you following my personal life blog, then you are aware my mental health isn’t any where near optimal right now and I have been hyper focused on my sons’ IEPs. It’s just that time of year for us and I finally got my youngest son approved for one. So it’s a big deal and super stressful and I dropped the ball over here and over at the Writing Hallow as a result. My personal blog has been neglected as well to some extent.

    I plan to pick up the pen and launch into finishing the Tarot prompt posts I’ve started once Special Olympics is over and the school year finally winds down. I’m hoping to get back to revising my novel as well but I’m feeling a bit stuck on how to address working in small pieces of the info dump I have sitting near the end. My worry is that I will disappoint everyone by making them wait too long.

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  2. Thank you. This happened to me just yesterday, I fell into that comparison trap and honestly it just felt toxic. So this is a timely reminder to just focus on my self and my process.

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  3. Fantastic post!

    And this – “Social media thrives on these kinds of articles because they’re eye-catching, easy to read, and they get a lot of clicks. That doesn’t mean they contain useful information.” – is SO true! 😉

    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Your creative body would love nothing better than to get started creating right now, if you and your brain and all the dumb articles on social media would get out of the way and stop trying to push it in a certain direction and stop trying to tell it what to do.” THANKS FOR THIS INSIGHT!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Among all the things I struggle with as a writer, this is the worst. You’re right in saying that social media has a lot to do with it. I read Facebook statuses and tweets from writing friends, telling the world how close they are to completing a novel, getting an agent, being published. I feel like I’m so far behind. I feel like I’m never going to reach those highlights in my life. But I need to tell myself that’s fine, and stop comparing myself to everyone else. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your advice is brilliant because it’s both honest and inspiring. One of the units I took at university, with the ironic name of Theorizing Creativity, came to the conclusion that there’s no right or wrong way to create. Everyone’s process is unique, even when they appear similar. Wonderful post. Thanks! 🙂

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  7. It is tricky. On some level we tend to understand most things through relationships and relative comparison. I myself often understand things better through half a dozen examples than I do through an abstract rule or definition.

    I agree with you that there are no magic formulas when it comes to creativity, but there are lessons to be learned.

    I think one of the biggest challenges is recognizing that a person who’s achieved a measure of success may still struggle with the same doubts and insecurities that I do.

    Of course there is also that mythical rational element that you’re referring to, this idea that even when we say something happens “randomly”, there are details that allow us to create a chain of cause and effect, allowing us to believe that there are reasons, which if understood can grant us some measure of control.

    There’s an odd riddle to life, a way that even as we strive earnestly to achieve a goal, we must be comfortable with falling short of our ambitions, even as we strive with all our might to achieve them. Of course there’s the counter argument of “it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters,” but goals also help us to gauge how hard to work each day, and provide a natural stopping point.

    There’s no two ways about it, it’s hard, and we’re often struggling to find the balance between extremes.

    I like your concept of the creative body. In many ways the main comparison that matters is comparing ourselves to ourselves. “Today I’m competing with the person I was yesterday,” though I hesitate to use the word compete.

    I think one of the challenges for me is spending time working earnestly at writing, to the point where I feel worn, maybe a little ragged, definitely tired, and then visiting with friends, but knowing that they don’t understand or want to hear about that.

    That’s where I feel like blogging really helps. It is a good exercise in writing shorter pieces with greater regularity, but it’s also a way to find a community of peers who understand and want to engage it.

    Like

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