Comparison is the thief of joy
The saying is true. I’m not usually a jealous person. I’m not competitive, and sometimes I even hate winning a game because I feel bad for the other person or don’t know how to be happy for myself without looking arrogant or rude. I’ll even talk down about myself to avoid sounding like I’m bragging.
Internally, though, I am hard on myself. I want to succeed and be the best. When I first started writing as a kid, I dreamed big about being published as one of the youngest fantasy writers of all time. As I grew older, my goals became more grounded, but I still thought I would be further along than I am now. I don’t often compare myself to others, but I do compare my situation to where I want to be. And that summons other negative thoughts about how I’m not good enough, I’ve wasted my time, and I’ll never succeed.
Two days ago, these thoughts hit me hard when I was reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The writing is intelligent and thrilling, and when I saw a picture of a young, beautiful woman on the back jacket above a list of impressive credits, a rare jealousy spiked inside me. How had this young woman achieved so much? Why wasn’t I further along than I was, considering I had written throughout my teenage years, majored in English and Creative Writing, and graduated with an MFA?
Today I learned that Moreno-Garcia is actually 40, though I could have sworn she was in her twenties. She published her first short story collection when she was in her early thirties.
This doesn’t discredit all of the other writers who reached fame in their twenties (cough–Victoria Schwab–cough). But even Victoria Schwab describes the time and work she put into her career, and that being an “overnight success” is, for the most part, a myth.
The point is, after a bout of irrational anger and disappointment, I had to remember that everyone is on a different journey. I can’t focus on what others are doing. That’s crippling and halts my writing. I have to focus on what I’m doing by setting my own goals and working to improve.
We have to focus on what we are doing
I wrote recently that I can’t focus on the things that are not in my control, such as whether or not I publish a book. But I can focus on sitting down to write every day and enjoying the journey. As long as I’m writing, I’m growing.
This is a tough lesson for me. I still struggle with this. I want to be as good as Schwab and Moreno-Garcia and so many others. I want my first drafts to sound like their final drafts. I want it to be easy. But that’s not how it works. Every writer puts in countless hours of time into their work, and the only way for me to improve is to do the same.
It’s also important to remember how much we’ve grown. I have to constantly remind myself of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come, both as a writer and as a person. Nothing I’ve done was a waste of time, just like going for a run isn’t a waste of time if you never win a competition. Most people don’t run for competition. They simply enjoy doing it because it’s good for them and makes them feel good. Success for an amateur runner is about those daily goals and habits. Writing is the same way when we set aside goals that are out of our control and make reasonable, daily goals. We’re not limping behind writers who have gone ahead but standing on the same platform, cheering each other on. Every published author is doing what you’re doing today: sitting down to write.
I know. You’re probably thinking, “But I want to publish! I want to be read!” Yeah. Me too. And I want to be excellent at what I do. But obsessing over a goal outside of our control is damaging. When my goal is to publish, I think more about marketing and and finding agents/editors than I do about writing. All of those things are good and important, but it becomes dangerous when it takes up more time and energy than my actual writing. When my focus is on becoming a better writer, my focus narrows onto the page and the words and the craft, and I begin to enjoy the process again.
So today I’m choosing to focus on what I can do. I’m congratulating the success of others who have gone before me, remembering how far I’ve come, and, most of all, writing.
*Just as a reminder, these posts are all pep talks that I give to myself when I’m struggling with writing. If you deal with any of these things and want to share how you overcame/are overcoming them, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you!