The Power of Comparison

How do you know if you suck at something?

At that same token, how do you know if you’re any good?

A tree doesn’t know it’s tall, until it’s standing next to a tree that’s not. ^_^

The problem with comparing yourself to other people, isn’t the comparing insomuchas the stewing. You sit and stew in it instead of using that enormous amount of energy to push yourself forward. It’s easy to wallow and not try as hard the next time because you think it doesn’t matter. You’ll never be as good as so and so. Or you keep getting rejected and you’re not good enough for people to tell you why. But after I finished that last awesome book I read, I realized something.

I already think I’m a good writer. What keeps me pushing myself, is that there are writers out there who are better. People can get complacent. I was for years. Oh, I’m good. I don’t have to work as hard. And I didn’t. It’s coming up against those people who are better writers than me that make me realize how badly I want to succeed. Not at writing something good, but at something great.

In my second writing class in college, I sat next to this guy, and to this day, I remember almost every detail of that first story he submitted for critque. I didn’t even feel worthy to critique it — his story was amazing. Now, I did think my story was good in it’s own humorous and slightly psychotic way (I got a lot of compliments on my unreliable narrator), but in comparison, I felt like my writing was crap. So I pushed myself. I can’t say I liked my next story better, but I worked a lot harder on it, and to this day, it’s the only short story I have that I think about submitting sometimes.

Of course whenever I’m faced with this comparison problem, at first I collapse under the weight of the despair because it’s crushing and it’s horrible. I look at what I’ve done and realize that no matter how many people tell me otherwise, I know it’s not good enough. This happens when I draw sometimes. And when I play music. I stare at my work, pensive and a little sad for myself. But I know I’ll never put in the work to get that good. So I shrug and move on, thankful to be as good as I am, because it’s good enough for what I do with it. For some reason when I sew, though, I think everything I make is fabulous and I’m always surprised at just how awesome it is.

But writing is so much more important than drawing or music or sewing to me. When I see I can do better with my hobbies, it’s like, who I’m trying to be Thomas Kinkade? Christina Aguilera? Michael Kors. Um, no. So I move on. But when I see I do better with my writing, it’s painful, and the competitive streak in me rears up and takes over. No way am I folding. This may be good, but I can do better. And then I push myself.

Yes, I sometimes wear myself out. Yes, I have the occasional breakdown. But I can’t stand it when I find someone better than me. That keeps me from being complacent. That forces me to keep working. I turn that dreary pain into action. I have to push myself. Because I’m the only one who knows that I’ve failed. And I’m the only one who cares.

Cassandra Clare tweeted this awhile back and I’ll just dig it up and share it instead of relying on my memory: “Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.”

This was Oct. 17. I was wearing myself out trying to finish up my last story so I would have some time off before NaNo. And I said to myself, “Self, this is stupid. I don’t want to write anymore. It’s too hard. Nobody cares. Let’s just quit and be miserable.” Then I saw that and I was like, “Oh…” Writers get each other, you know. ^_^

On a random note: Every time I put an excerpt into that I Write Like form, I get Chuck Palahniuk. Seriously, every single time. First person, third person. Long excerpt. Short excerpt. Male POV. Female POV. Different story. Doesn’t matter. I’m not familiar with his work, but Wikipedia makes him sound pretty awesome. On an interesting note, I pasted this blog entry in there and got H.P. Lovecraft…I just knew it would be Chuck again…

On another random note: I’m officially a winner of NaNoWriMo. I screamed. ^_^

6 Responses to The Power of Comparison

  1. Wahoo! Congrats on NaNo! So many wonderful thoughts here, and the one I keep coming back to is: the only evaluation that really matters is what the reader thinks. Truth, there’s any audience for everything. Yes, we need to be the very best we can, but we also need to accept where we’re at and see the good. =)

  2. This reminds me of being 14 or 15 and reading Cold Mountain. I should say, reading the first chapter of Cold Mountain. I thought the prose was so gorgeous that I felt sick and didn’t want to read anymore of it. I still feel that my prose could be better and I’m not great at describing things, but I’m better at other aspects of writing (I hope).

    • Every time we try something we get better at it, I think. I remember participating in a blog hop once and I went right after this girl who had this beautiful piece of flash fiction. I wanted to crawl in a hole. But it’s okay. Seeing things like that help me figure out what I think my weaker areas are. Can’t make them stronger if I don’t know what they are. ^_^

  3. It is such a tricky balance to look at other work to find ways to get better but not to get so down on ourselves that we quit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about giving up, but I always have to come back to it.

Hi! ^_^