What do you think is the single most destructive thing for creativity? Procrastination? Obstacles? Distractions? The imposter syndrome? A lack of time, knowledge, or skill? I wrote an earlier post about this, but have since discovered something even more damaging; comparisonitis. This is when you compare yourself to others, which can trigger all the above. Comparisonitis breeds shame that stops you from reaching the people who need to hear the message in your story.
It looks like “I’m not as good as ____.” For example, “I’m not as good as J. K. Rowling,”, or “I can’t write like James Patterson,”, or “I don’t have as big an audience as Stephen King.” It could also be the never-ending desire for more; If only I could get a movie deal like Elizabeth Gilbert, or get featured in Oprah’s bookclub, then I’d have more ___. While this may be true, you might not be ready for the changes it will bring.
Another form of comparisonitis is feelings of jealousy, envy or resentment at the success of another author. You’re comparing your lack of results with theirs, which is detrimental to your creativity, writing, and wellbeing. You don’t know what their backstory is, or what sacrifices they’ve made to get there.
In a world dominated by social media, it’s easy to forget that what we see isn’t the complete picture. We don’t see all the hard work and rejections the authors we admire have faced and overcome. We only see their successes.
We overlook the hours, and years it takes to practice and get better at writing. Everyone starts somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unemployed single mum, or a lawyer or teacher who’s unhappy in their job. What matters is that you write.
If you look around the writing community, it might surprise you the number of authors making a good living from their writing. People who may not be household names but keep publishing book after book to build a following and generate a sustainable income. Joanna Penn and Alessandra Torre are two of my favourites. Emily Gowor has also been an inspiration, as she’s built a business that involves writing, speaking and publishing other people’s books.
Writing full time is a numbers game. The more books you have for people to buy and read, the bigger your audience and income becomes. Only you can do the work required, though. J. K. Rowling said it best in her advice to a demotivated writer struggling to finish her book:
Don’t write me. Write like you. Nobody else can do that. Finish that book.
No matter how many books there are in your genre, there’s always room for yours. When you stop comparing yourself to other people, you realise you have your own voice, which sounds different to all the other voices out there. There’s value in the words you use and how you present or organise your thoughts, ideas and imagination. Your audience will resonate with that.
Comparisonitis isn’t an easy habit to break, but it is possible. It still happens to me occasionally when I read the posts and comments in the Facebook writing groups I’m part of. I think I’m not good enough, or smart enough, or experienced enough when none of that is true.
It starts with awareness, trying to catch yourself doing it in the moment and shifting the energy. I gently remind myself I’m on a unique journey and at a different point than they are. Another way is to be curious and ask, “I wonder what they did or had to give up to get that result?” You might even reach out and ask them. Also consider how long they’ve been doing this for as it’s unrealistic to expect the same results as a veteran author if you’re just starting out.
Gratitude is also a powerful way to beat comparisonitis. Being grateful for their success or the insights they’ve shared, you can learn from; both of which highlight what’s possible. Or being grateful for the opportunity to create and express yourself.
Who do you compare yourself to and how do you overcome it? Post your comments below.
Cheers to your writing success!