Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Comparisons

Kay hates for me to shop with her. I shop like a man, she shops like a woman. Say she's looking for shoes. I see a style I think she'd like, she tries them on and they fit, I think she's through. Wrong! She wants to check out other styles, even other stores. She wants to compare.

Men may not be much on comparison when it comes to shopping, but since I've embarked on this road as a writer, I've certainly found myself comparing...a lot. And it kills me when I do.

Social media have changed our society. (For those of you thinking, "He's on his soapbox again," you're right). Like all authors, I have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Goodreads--all opportunities to interact with readers and fellow writers. But when I open my Twitter and see another author sharing about a new contract, I can't help thinking, "What am I going to do when my present contract runs out?" If the news is of a book that wins an award, my thoughts run toward, "I've had several nominations, but never won something that allows me to use the term, 'Award-Winning.' When is it my turn?" And so on.

Beyond social media, there's the temptation to compare my writing with that of others. I like to read novels from the general market, as well as Christian fiction, and there are times when I close one of those books and think, "I can never write like him/her." Comparison rears its ugly head.

One of the things I like about writing in  Christian fiction is that, by and large, fellow authors are willing to help, to praise, to rejoice with the success of others. And that's great. But when I see such success all around me, there's always this little voice from behind me that says, "Why not you?" And the answer is, "I can't be James Patterson or JK Rowling. I shouldn't try to emulate anyone else. I have to be Richard Mabry and produce the best work I can."

The problem extends beyond writing, of course. Someone--it may have been my friend and mentor, James Scott Bell-- said, "Comparison is death for a writer." I'd change that to "Comparison can be death for anyone." If someone else at work gets a promotion you think you deserve, how do your react? If another church has a larger attendance, bigger screens, better music, do you find yourself thinking of changing?

How about you? What's your take on comparison? I'd like to know.

10 comments:

Anne Mateer said...

This is such a timely post for me. I fight comparison issues all the time--and since publication it has been constant. I've even found myself drooping in comparison to myself when I hit a story that was more complex that any I'd ever tried to write before. I compared my struggle through that one to the relative ease with which I wrote the others. And that comparison sapped my energy for a time. One of my friends always boils it down to this: comparison is of the devil. And I think that's true. Even the disciples had to deal with it and Jesus had to tell them to stay focused on His plan for each of them and not worry about how it compares to His plan for someone else. Easier said than done, but I'm trying!

Richard Mabry said...

Anne, Thanks for chiming in. I think that Twitter and Facebook have poured kerosene on my fires of comparison and...yes...jealousy. Every time a fellow author posts about getting some writing done while I'm struggling to keep my head above water, each tweet and post about a new release or new contract, lots of things make me take a deep breath and recall that I can't keep up with everyone.
Appreciate your comment.

Erica Vetsch said...

So true! Comparison always leads to discontent, whether by increasing want and doubt or inflating our egos.

And I struggle with it.

Richard Mabry said...

Erica, There are two types of authors: the ones who struggle with comparison and the ones who will probably fib about other things, as well. : )

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oh, I totally agree with Bell. Comparison can be death for a writer. It takes everything that's unique about us, and says it's not good enough.

I just posted on another blog that I hid my writing voice for a long time because I was trying to be like other writers, to do it the "right" way. I figured instead of comparing myself to another author and saying I should try to be even more original than that, I was saying to myself I should be just like that. It took me a long time to realize being myself would take me a lot farther than being like someone else.

I'm still working on the rest, though. :)

Richard Mabry said...

Cindy, you've hit on an important point. Trying to keep up with other writers can include trying to write like them. And that can lead to a disaster.
Glad you're now on the right track. Thanks for your comment.

Adam Blumer said...

Your post so resonates with me. I had one novel published and really struggled to get the second one out. Meanwhile, a few authors who got started almost the same time I did signed three- or four-book contracts. It's not that I'm not happy for them, but I feel like a total loser in comparison. And then I start wondering, "Why even bother?" Yes, comparison can kill in a big way.

Thanks for the encouragement. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with feelings of envy and jealousy from time to time. God forgive me, but it's true. I know I just need to be happy being me and doing only what God has enabled ME to do. Even if that means going at my own pace and not getting multi-book contracts.

Richard Mabry said...

Adam, We've all been there. Glad you found encouragement in the post. Thanks for your comment.

Deb said...

Well said in this post! I did want to set my hair on fire when my agent asked for "comparables" in a submission package. I wanted to say, "There's nothing comparable. My writing is in a class all by itself" but I knew she wouldn't let me. Truly, why should I compare my work with anyone else's? I don't think it's up to me to do that -- let the readers do it. If they say "if you like so-and-so's work, you'll like Deb's." That's enough for me, provided so-and-so's work doesn't totally stink.

Richard Mabry said...

Deb, although the comparisons to which I was referring were those of the success of other writers as compared with my own, I can understand your frustration in coming up with "comps" for your proposals. My understanding is that this isn't to compare your work as better or worse than others, but to allow publishers to see where it will fit into their marketing schemes.
As always, appreciate your comment.