I was at a writing workshop last week. It was a fiction workshop, where I am still learning my craft. I still learn my non-fiction craft. However, my learning curve has flattened—I understand my writing voice and I find non-fiction easier to write for now. I am not as good at writing fiction yet. I am working on it, which is why I take fiction workshops.
I was in a room with 50 other writers. Some people have been writing fiction for 20+ years. Some, like me, are at the 2-5 year experience level. I can see (read) the differences.
Now, there’s a comparison for “it’s possible to do this.” And, there’s a comparison for “I’m not as good as they are.”
When I think about “It’s possible to do this,” I think of people who’ve written hundreds of short stories and novels. For my non-fiction, I think of people who’ve written more than 20 books and hundreds of articles, etc. I can see their accomplishments. I know it’s possible.
Then, there’s the “I’m not as good as they are,” that comparison-itis. That’s the one that hit me between the eyes last week. I had a little crisis (okay, a big one) about my abilities as a writer.
When I suffer from comparison-itis, I ignore my readers. Here’s why.
- Everyone has genre preferences. I like romance and mystery, so I try to write romantic suspense or mystery with some romance in it. Not everyone likes that. If an editor doesn’t like what I wrote, it might a genre that doesn’t match their preferences.
- Everyone has different tastes. Even if someone likes the genre I wrote, they might not like the story because it’s not to their taste. I’m not big on elves (a form of fantasy), even though I like urban fantasy. Elves are just not my taste.
- Writing is practice. I might not have made mistakes with this story-as-practice. The editors might not like that practice. And, my readers might like my practice.
I learned a ton last week, seeing what the editors liked and didn’t like and compared that to my reactions. I learned things about the craft of writing (some of which I can take into my non-fiction, too) that I didn’t know before.
When I think about comparisons, the first, where I realize “it’s possible” helps me. I can see how these people accomplished what I want to do.
The second kind of comparison, where I think I’m not good enough—that’s not useful. That kind of thinking diminishes me (especially my emotional resilience in the form of self-esteem) and ignores my customers. Not very helpful for anyone.
I suspect that we all suffer from the second kind of comparison-itis, often at the most inopportune times. And, that is the question this week: When do you suffer from comparison-itis?