The other day I found myself at a social gathering. We all know how much I love those. Actually, this particular gathering was small and consisted of friends. When the one new face in the crowd was introduced as a fellow author, I was excited to connect. I talked a bit about my book and how exciting it was to finally have my first novel out there in the world (after 7 long years of struggle.)
“What about you? What do you write?” I asked.
“I teach Victorian literature at Stanford.” Cue awe, envy, and comparison. “I just released a book, too. It also took me 7 years! It’s a critical analysis of Victorian poetry. Right now I’m working on a book about narrative.”
“Oh.” A tumbleweed tumbled past. (You have no idea how bad the drought is in California.)
Another woman jumped into the conversation. “Athena, did you bring me a copy of your book?”
My book found its way around the table, pausing for a few moments in every pair of hands. As Lady Professor flipped through it, reading here and there, I had to resist the urge to snatch it from her fingers. Speaking of narrative, the particular narrative going through my head at that time was pretty dismal. The comparisons had launched themselves into full flight.
I’m nothing compared to her.
Stanford. Seriously? I think she’s younger than me.
What does a book “about narrative” mean anyway?
Oh God, I’m a total fraud!
As the evening progressed, and in the days following, I got a handle on those comparisons by remembering three simple things…
1. Only we can tell our story.
So what if someone else does this or that, has a fancy title, or has written a thousand best sellers? We are on our own journey and it would serve us to remember that. Often. No, I can’t teach Victorian poetry (reading it is challenging enough, thanks.) But I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have written Dharma and Desire, either.
“Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”
Our mind, hearts, and souls are our own. No comparison is possible.
2. We tend to compare our behind-the-scenes to other’s highlight reels.
How do I know what this woman’s struggles are? Maybe she wants, more than anything, to write a formula romance novel. Or an erotic novel. Or a sci-fi novel. But she’s terrified. Who knows? We tend to presume that everyone else has it amazing. That other authors have it easier. It’s just not true.
3. You’re only in competition with yourself.
I wrote a novel. Period. No, it’s not high-brow literature, but I wrote it. And I continue to improve my writing all the time.
And if you’re reading this, comparing yourself to me, thinking “I haven’t written a novel,”… so what if I wrote a novel? You’re writing and that is more than many will ever attempt. You are moving toward your goals. That’s what’s important.
If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time recognizing how far you’ve come. But I’m willing to bet if you really look at it, your writing has grown by leaps and bounds. You’ve accomplished a lot. Honor your achievements.
I’m pretty sure the greats out there (authors, leaders, teachers, etc) don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how they measure up to someone else. They are too busy focusing on helping others while being the best they can be.
When it comes down to it, Lady Professor and I probably have more in common than I realize. We’re both writers. We both want to share our minds, hearts, and souls with the world.
It’s okay — actually, it’s pretty damn cool that we do it in different ways.