Competition and Comparison
Staying Confident in Relationships with Other Writers
This is a post I did about eight months ago on my blog, but since I just had a recent run-in with this topic myself, I thought I should re-vamp it for Promocave.
I think that the topic of competing with other writers, making comparisons, yet staying true to yourself and keeping your confidence up is one of the most important and most difficult subjects to tackle. It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot, especially as of late, so I figured I’d discuss it in blog post form.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. We’re writers. We all have at least one friend who is also an aspiring writer. And that’s awesome, isn’t it? Someone who understands the stress, the pressure, and the whole nine yards of what you’re going through.
The drawback is that inevitably there comes a point where somebody starts making comparisons, and/or somebody starts competing to best the other. This is doubly damaging, as if negatively affects your relationship and negatively affects your writing life. I could spend a solid hour listing the pros and cons of having writers as friends. There are definite positives. That person can brainstorm with you, chat about the industry. He or she gets it. He or she also wants exactly what you want: a successful writing career.
When you have a relationship with someone who does exactly what you do, comparisons are natural. The problem comes when the comparison process makes you change how you feel about your writing in a negative way. It’s the same way with competition. If you feel like you’re losing, that also changes how you feel about your writing. I think this happens most often when writers with incompatible styles are friends in the habit of hashing out the minutiae of their writing.
In my experience, the writing community as a whole is wonderful. Fellow writers are supportive, encouraging, and willing to help one another. But you will inevitably run into someone who is simply not that way, and I find it often comes from a clash of styles.
Here’s what I mean by styles. In my opinion, there are four general categories of writers. These categories have absolutely nothing to do with what they write, how successful they are, or even their stage of career (published, unpublished, and the 8,351 other statuses.)
Instead, it has entirely to do with attitude and approach to the writing world in general. Now, obviously there is an infinite spectrum of attitudes and approaches to writing. Every single writer is different. Furthermore, these attitudes often change over time. But for the purpose of this post, let’s say these are the main four.
Big Fat Ego writers write and revise confidently, considering their own opinion to be superior to anyone else’s, and are of the type that seem to have little trouble with this whole writing thing. They seem to always know what they’re doing.
Trembling Rabbits are the exact opposite of Big Fat Ego writers. Rabbits are timid about everything to do with the writing process. They constantly question their own talent and pursuit of this as a career. (Also likely to insist it’s a “hobby.”)
Subcategory: Trembling Rabbit Facade. Writers who are confident but pretend not to be. This is a subcategory because I have encountered maybe one or two.
Big Ego Facade writers are those who have some level of confidence in their talent and skill level, but deep down there is some insecurity about whether or not they will succeed. Their outward attitude is that they are destined for success.
Teeter Totters are writers who go back and forth from being hugely confident to hiding scared. They acknowledge their talent and are self-deprecating. On any given day, a Teeter Totter might be writing voraciously, full-steam ahead knowing that this is “the one,” or on the couch binging Netflix because he/she will never make it.
Now, very quickly I want to say that there is nothing wrong with belonging to any of these categories. I think it’s a combination of your personality, personal influences, and what you’ve been told about writing as a career.
I am a Teeter Totter. I have writing days where I am 100% confident I will be published someday. I know I’m a good writer and I think I have some good ideas. I have faith that something will come of it. Other days, I’m a sad pile of sludge. Obviously, I’m a terrible writer. I will never be published. I now have no idea what to do with my life beyond eating ice cream on the couch at 10 in the morning.
Take just a second and figure out which of these you belong to (or come up with a new category or subcategory. Like I said, this is not exhaustive.) Then take another second and consider your writing pals. Where do they fall?
The reason this is important is that it allows you to analyze how your writer friends impact your own writing process. Are they encouraging? Are they so confident in their own skill that they make you feel like a hack writer in comparison? Are they competitive with you, as opposed to supportive? Are you the one in a position to build them up? Are you exactly the same?
I think it’s important to find writer friends who are compatible with your own attitudes and approaches to this whole journey of writing. A Big Fat Ego writer, for instance, probably wouldn’t be the best writer friend for a Trembling Rabbit. It’s not because either of those styles is superior, but because writers with distinctly different attitudes can potentially negatively impact the other.
In my personal experience, it’s led to some competition and comparison (see, we’ve come full circle!) I’ve had writer friends who have been extremely supportive. They’ve offered me thoughtful critiques and suggestions, but have always been very supportive. On the other hand, there are the writer friends who have torn my confidence to shreds. They’ve made me question my choices, my ability, and my future in this field. I have teeter totter-ed to the extreme of the Trembling Rabbit spectrum because of these people.
If you’re like me and you’ve had people in your life (directly or indirectly) who have had a negative impact on you as a writer, here are my pieces of advice.
1. Stop Making Comparisons.
I know. I know. Easier said than done, yes? But it is crucial. Comparing yourself to another writer will not do anything for you, because you are not that other writer. You are you. Comparisons can and will shake your confidence. What you’re doing is completely different from what they’re doing, even if you’re both on the path of Getting Published.
2. Never let what someone else is doing change what you are doing.
This can relate to anything, and I purposely worded it vaguely so that you can fit it to whatever issue you might have. Writer friends all write thriller, but that’s not your thing? Don’t write thriller. Writer friend is going to self-publish, but you want to go traditional? Do what you want to do. Whatever the case may be, just stay true to yourself and what you need to do.
3. Build a support system of non-writers.
This has been the single best thing that I have unconsciously done in my writing life, so I’m recommending that you consciously do it. My husband is my biggest supporter, and he has no interest in writing whatsoever. This is a plus in so many ways. There’s no comparing. No competition. No backhanded compliments or advice. It is pure support. As wonderful as it is to have writer friends (as long as they’re supportive!), it is just as wonderful to have non-writer friends there to give you a boost when you need it.
And most importantly…
4. Don’t ever give someone else the power to make you question yourself.
To get at the point I’m making here, please listen to Will Smith. This sums my thought up perfectly.
Go out there and protect your dream.