Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Never, Never, Never Compare


Why is it so bad to compare ourselves to other writers? Compare our books to other books?

Because quite often, we compare our WEAKNESSES to other people's STRENGTHS. (Or, the equally consequential method of comparing our strengths to others' weaknesses.)

Not only does it make us feel like crap (or in the opposite case, make us feel like everyone else is crap), but it STOPS US FROM GETTING BETTER.

No book is perfect. Let's just go ahead and get that out there. Those books you rate a 5 on Goodreads-- the authors just did the same things we're trying to do. Make our weaknesses not be negatives, and make our strengths shine to their fullest potential.

If we read a book and think, Holy wow! This author is SO GOOD at [fill in the blank], there is NO WAY I will ever be this good! I might as well stop right now. Well, um, yeah. They're amazing at [fill in the blank]. That's their strength. Does that mean we should stop? NO! That strength of theirs might not be our strength. In fact, it might be our greatest weaknesses. But did we notice the things they weren't so strong at? Maybe not, because we were so blown away by the thing they WERE good at, but those weaknesses were still there. No author has strengths in everything. But do you know what? YOUR BOOK CAN BE THAT SAME WAY. You'll just have a different strength that shines. A different thing that will blow others away.

But that bad feeling we get when we look at a strength of theirs that we don't possess, only has the power to discourage. And when we're discouraged, we turn off all ability to improve. Just say to yourself, I am comparing my weakness to their strength. It helps you put things in perspective! Then you can think, A master is at work here. If I pay attention to how they did things, then my weakness will become less of a weakness.

And by the same token, if we read a book where the author's weakness is our greatest strength, that critical Oh, my gosh. This got published?! feeling carries the same power. Yes, it got published because of the author's strength. If we spend the whole time noticing all the deficiencies in that area where we rock, we can totally miss out on learning from that area where they rock. Comparing our greatest strength to their greatest weakness has just as great a power to keep us from learning as does the opposite.

And that's what it's really all about, right? Getting better. Improving every day. Making our greatest weaknesses stronger, making our greatest strengths shine all the more, and making everything in the middle the best it can be.

And that's never going to happen if we compare.



Much gratitude to inluvwithwords at Out on a Limb for passing along the Sunshine Award to me. Thank you!

43 comments:

Jack said...

Bravo! Great post, Peggy!!!

Comparing is the worst thing any writer can do. As you said, comparing weaknesses with strengths is not a fair fight. There is just so many other better things to do in life.

Steph Sessa said...

This is great! I never thought about it in this way, comparing our weakness to their strengths, but its def something I try not to do (compare at all). Though it's hard not to get frustrated sometimes, but then I'll just remember everyone has different strengths :)

Loralie Hall said...

So very well said. Something that always wounds me is hearing "I read this *published* book, and it was crap. The author is obviously stupid. Why can't I publish my crap?" from other writers.

And you're right, either way we don't learn when we make those comparisons. Great post!

Sarah Pearson said...

Comparison is human nature, as much as we try not to do it, but I hadn't thought of it as my weakness versus another's strength. You make an excellent point, woman :-)

Nick Wilford said...

Great points here - no one can be the best at everything... and if you think "well, that book was rubbish, I could definitely publish mine," you're hardly thinking how you could improve your work to be at its best. Learning good, comparing bad... I'll remember that!

ladonna watkins said...

Great post and so true, but that shouldn't stop us from writing. We should learn from the strengths of other writers.

Kristine said...

Great post! That is true in life too, not just writing!

Kyra Lennon said...

Fabulous post! I often find myself comparing, and I know it's not good for me. Your post has made me realise I should be using the differences as a learning experience, not a reason to rock back and forth in a ball on the floor! :D

Jessie Humphries said...

Yeah, I shouldnt compare myself to you at all, because you are steady, and patient, and driven, and totally brilliant. In fact, I was thinking you should be an attorney because you would be a dang good one!

JeffO said...

Great post. I definitely have to work on the second half of that. When I read a book that I think is 'bad', I tend not to look at the things that got it published. I tend to focus on "My God, this is bad!" I'll work on that!

cherie said...

Well said, Peggy. And so true.

Delia said...

Good advice, Peggy. Very true.

Chris Fries said...

Wonderful post, with a perfect message.

Looking to improve, striving to emulate those we admire, and learning from the masters are all desirable, but when it becomes self-defeating "I ain't good enough" self-talk, it is horribly destructive.

Learn from those who do it well, but compare your work only against your previous work -- if you're improving then you're doing it right!

Angela Cothran said...

I think this is great advice in general, even if you aren't a writer!

Cassie Mae said...

Oh I need to shut off my comparing self when I read. It's so tough sometimes, lol.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Ugh, I found myself doing the backwards compare when I was editing. I had to stop reading because I knew I wasn't being fair to the author.

It is really hard not to compare our weaknesses but you are so right, we won't get anywhere if do that all the time.

Donna K. Weaver said...

You're absolutely right. This business is SO subjective. I may love a book and my hubby hate it or vice versa.

Krista McLaughlin said...

Great post! I compare myself as a writer to other writers and it can just make you feel so terrible about yourself. We don't need to compare, but to have confidence in what we write because different people like different books.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I hope I'm good at not comparing myself to others. In my day-job I'm always telling people not to compare themselves, so it's advice I really should know.

Jaime Morrow said...

Such a great post chock full of great advice. I think the last time I really got the feeling "Holy cow, I suck" was after reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (AKA The Book That Launched A Thousand Doubts). I was just so blown away by her writing that I honestly started to feel like crap about my own. I got over it, and now it's given me something to aspire to. I know my writing will be entirely different, but there's also a lot I can learn from what she does so well.

Great post, Peggy :)

Jay Noel said...

Guilt as charged...it's tough not comparing myself to others, as I'm a hyper-competitive person by nature.

But I had to leave the ego at the front door. Otherwise, I'd go insane. Now I find myself inspired by others.

Cristina said...

wise, wise words. You are a wise woman!!!!!!!!

it's hard sometimes not to compare. I read something brilliant and think.. gosh! why can't I write like THAT?

but then I think, well at least I know what it is I want my writing to be like (and not that I to sound like others, but I want it to be at least at a certain level)... it helps me work harder at imrpoving

Colin Smith said...

I agree with you 100% Peggy... except in the case of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. As we all know, TKaM is the perfect book. But, like Shakespeare, we read it, we acknowledge the greatness, we learn what we can, and move on. With books like that there's nothing more you can do. I'm just glad it was Harper Lee's only book. If she had written 20 books that good, I might have taken up gardening instead... ;-)

Susan Kane said...

You are right, absolutely right.

Joshua said...

This is why I tend not to read in the genre while in writing mode, otherwise I start worrying that I'm stealing things, even unintentionally.

Leigh Covington said...

Awww! This is one reason why I love you Peggy! You are so uplifting and motivational! I love it! And you're right. We can't compare our weaknesses to other people's strengths. That's the perfect way to look at it. Thanks for this :)

Bethany C. said...

Wow! Such a simple statement to cover such a HUGE topic. I love this and will rely upon this now. I just have to do the best I can do...

Carrie Butler said...

Is it sad that I grinned every time I read the word "strength" in this post? (A.K.A. My book title.) :D

Great reminder, Pegasus!

Becky Wallace said...

If only I had a mute button for my internal editor! This is something I think I'll be working on for a VERY long time.

Angela Brown said...

It's a hard task, not comparing. As much as we don't want to, sometimes, it can't be helped. But what I love about this post is that you some "post script" to consider.

Yeah, someone's pretty good at something. You - self that keeps putting yourself down - may be good at something else. And if there is one thing I've learned since devling into the writing world, what is seen in the final draft took a lot of work to get there.

Cynthia said...

Great post. Sometimes I think the need to compare oneself to others comes from a place of insecurity, whether one is at an advantage or disadvantage.

Nancy Thompson said...

Haha, I do that all the time! I know it's bad, and stupid, but I can't help it. But at least I see my shortcomings and aspired to improve. Great post, Peggy!

Trisha said...

I think that one statement: "we compare our weaknesses to others' strengths", is extremely important and so true! We all need to remember that this is what we're doing, and it's a bad idea ;)

Kelley Lynn said...

Well said Peggy. I completely agree. I will admit I do the...'this got published?' thing. I also do the 'oh man, this book is awesome. How can I ever get published?'

I've got to stop thinking that way...

Nicole said...

Sometimes comparisons give me something to strive toward. :)

S.P. Bowers said...

Not comparing ourselves is hard. Especially during those down and discouraged moments. It is important to look at writing and learn from it, but we need to do so as ourselves. I wouldn't want to write like (insert amazing author here) I may want to be as respected or loved as them, but for myself, my style of writing and my stories. Did any of that make sense? It's been crazy here.

Ruth Josse said...

It's true, everyone has weaknesses! I've never thought about it in that way. That we often overlook them because they are far outshined by the strengths. Love this post!

Elodie said...

Arrrghhh my entire blog comment just disappeared :D Anyways!
WONDERFUL post Peggy. While sometimes comparing ourselves to others can propel us forward if we just have a small voice telling us: "we can do it too". Focusing on somebody's strenghts to the point of forgetting our own is detrimental to our writing just like the opposite...
Thank you so much for sharing!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

This is such a good point, and I am very guilty of it - comparing my weaknesses to others' strengths I mean. It pretty much never occurs to me that I might have a strength :)

Tara Tyler said...

i try not to and most dont write in my genre that i know...
i will keep wondering if i am any good until i am approved by someone in the industry/paid

when you are paid for your work, that shows someon likes you enough to part with something valuable to own what you made!

Tonja said...

I agree. Looking at the strengths of others can be inspiring though, something to work toward.

Susanne Drazic said...

Hi Peggy! Great post.

Valerie Hartman said...

Words to live by. Maybe because I am still in classes analyzing anthologies, I tend not to compare. I am all about learning, stretching, growing. Even with classmates, I find the editing/critique sessions highly fulfilling just trying to help bring out their best work.

As I move into more experienced writing circles, I appreciate the awareness this post offers. Definitely something to keep in check; I have enough distractions already!!!!