Too many writers compare themselves and their talents to other writers and authors. This is not only counterproductive but also soul sucking and ineffectual in the quest for success.
Think about writing as a sport. Now, I must confess, sports are not my thing—sweating is just so not me—but (miracle of miracles) I am a runner. And let me tell you, it’s hard and dang barn it—I sweat like…well, like a runner.
In the last few years I joined a lovely group of friends in six half-marathons (which are 13.1 miles each I might add). I still question how this happened, but I completed all of them despite my constant whining, procrastination, and the outright avoidance of the necessity of learning the art of running.
I should note, I trained weeks in advance to avoid injury and get my body into some semblance of shape (other than round), while also building stamina, strategy, and strength of character.
Interesting stuff, right?
Nah, it’s boring and who the hell wants to run, anyway. I’m a writer. It’s my job to sit my butt in a chair and pound out words—not pound the pavement. Sheesh.
What I need you to recognize though is that unlike running, football, or gymnastics, writing is not a competitive sport. It’s not a race or a spectacle for the world to jeer, cheer, or judge.
Writing comes from within.
You can not write what I write because you are not me. I can not write what you write because I am not you.
(Go back and read that last sentence out loud.)
Picture yourself with thousands of individuals in a designated space. Squeezed in shoulder to shoulder at the beginning of a marathon—being nudged for elbow room, antsy on your feet-ready to go while you eye up the competition.
The elite athletes are in the front so as not to trample over the wee peons who will probably walk half the distance (or get picked up by the bus of shame because they’re so far behind there’s no way they can finish under the allotted time—where’s that half-finished manuscript?)
Everyone around you has different equipment, varying degrees of skill and knowledge, and unique motivations to join, continue, and persevere.
The most important thing is that you’re in the race and not sniveling from the sidelines claiming to be the only runner in the world to get pushed out, ignored, and marginalized. That’s crap and we all know it. The fact of the matter is that everyone is allowed to play but if they don’t do the work—well it sucks to be you because you’ll never finish, end up injured, or simply quit.
It’s just like being a writer. Get in the race and quit whining.
There will always be someone better, faster, smarter…don’t let that stop you.
I must share this story of a conference workshop I attended. It was hosted by a literary agent who I’ll never forget.
I was so ready to get in the race—or so I thought.
The agent giving the workshop would have been one of the elite runners at the front of the pack wearing a fancy-shmancy watch to log her time down to a hundredth of a second—you know the type… But I’m sure she’s a lovely person.
Anyway, she stood in front of the class staring at us over her reading glasses perched on the end of her sharp pointy nose. She didn’t move until there was complete silence. She finally spoke in a hushed tone, and we all leaned forward as one to hear her.
In her hand she held a pile of papers—submissions, she told us—and she read from the top page. She read and walked as we hung on every word. Then she’d stop mid-step, crumple up the paper and toss it over her shoulder.
No one said a word. No one dared move.
She continued to the next one and did it again—over and over she rejected these stories but offered no explanation.
After the third or fourth one, I couldn’t stand it anymore. Me being me; I shot my hand into the air and waved it to get her attention. She finally saw me and gave a near imperceptible nod.
“Going back to the first one you read,” I stood so she could see me, “could you please tell me what was wrong with it and why you rejected it. I thought it sounded promising.”
The rest of the class shifted in their chairs, murmured agreement, and turned to wait for the answer.
She mumbled something about it not resonating with her. It was then I recognized the demonstration of power and dominance over those who were still learning. The fact of the matter was that she was the ultimate decision maker in some ways and that pissed me off.
It pissed me off that the agent’s actions were not positive and encouraging but spiteful and, for lack of a better word, bitchy. That is not representative of the industry, I assure you. She did however have an impact on me. It made me want to fight and succeed. I took that new knowledge and vowed to learn the craft and continue to be me.
Now, that particular agent is only doing her job and she demonstrated it in a very dramatic fashion but the pressures are immense to ‘get it right’ and it’s not easy.
The thing to remember is we’re all individual and we’re not on opposing sides. If you see someone struggling offer to help–and if you need advice or guidance don’t be afraid to ask. If the first person doesn’t have the answer perhaps the next one will.
There are tangible opportunities to succeed.
You can go to learn the craft of writing through formal education, trial and error, or by just jumping in and joining the world of writing. You’re responsible for your training and equipment but the difference is there’s no competition except for the pressure from within.
Stop competing and start writing.
It’s about the marathon, not the sprint.