You’ve just heard that someone in your writing group has a book deal or their story is about to be published in a literary journal—how do you feel? Are you happy for them, or do you think, “Why not me?”, “I’ll never get published.”, “I’m not good enough.”, or a combination thereof?
These thoughts are not uncommon, but they can be incredibly draining, and leave you frustrated, demoralized, and discouraged.
One of the first things I talk about in my workshops is our tendency to compare ourselves with others, often to our own detriment. Comparison keeps us separate, and it keeps us less than or better than; it doesn’t help us as writers, and it’s certainly not helpful in a workshop setting where we are there to support each other.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
It’s true; when we compare ourselves unfavorably to others, we feel less than, which leads to feelings of inadequacy, defeat, and unhappiness. In this age of social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making comparisons.
It’s only natural for a writer to share their successes on Instagram or Facebook, and it’s certainly an important part of marketing. Still, it can be challenging if you are constantly comparing yourself to the success stories you see on social media.
Here are some steps you can take to help you stop comparing yourself to others.
Take a look at why you compare yourself to other writers.
Take some time to think about where you get triggered.
- Is it in your writing group? When someone reads a work that you think is good, do you immediately start doubting yourself?
- Is it when you’re scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and see a post about a fellow writer’s recent accomplishment, accolade, award?
- Is it when you’re reading a book, admiring the writing, and suddenly find you’ve fallen into comparing your writing to the author.
Being aware of your triggers can go a long way in helping you avoid falling into the pit of comparisons. Your knee-jerk reaction might be to drop out of your writing group, avoid social media altogether, and stop reading, but that’s not the answer, at least not a productive one.
You’ll learn something about yourself as you study what triggers you. First, see if you can identify a pattern.
For example, do you always feel less than when:
- you’re with your writing group
- in a writing class
- on social media
- reading your work in front of others
- reading a beautifully written book
- attending a writers’ conference
Make a list of what triggers you.
Don’t labor over it. You know what they are; write them down quickly before your inner judgments kick in and you start editing them.
Then, beside each trigger, describe the feelings it elicits in you. You may find the simple act of committing your triggers and emotions to paper is enough to create a shift in your perspective, and you can let go of the negative feeling associated with that trigger.
However, most of us need a couple more steps to free ourselves from comparisons. The next step is to reframe how you view someone else’s success.
Overcome making comparisons by identifying with success.
Rather than compare yourself to someone’s achievement, see if you can identify with them on some level. Is there something in that person you see in yourself—for example, can you identify with how devoted they are to their writing practice? Look at the evidence of everything you do to support your writing life.
For example, do you feel defeated when you compare yourself to a writer who has the time and money to dedicate hours every day to their writing while you have a full-time job and small children to take care of?
Take stock and give yourself credit for the time you can carve out for your writing, whether an hour every night after the kids are in bed, 30 minutes on your lunch break or every Sunday afternoon. Identify with the dedication you see in that writer and acknowledge it in yourself.
By identifying with, you acknowledge a positive trait within yourself. If you can identify with that writer’s success and be happy for them, it will feel a lot better physically and psychologically than the toxicity of envy or resentment.
Find something you can celebrate about someone else’s success.
If you have trouble finding something you can identify with in the writer you are comparing yourself to, try being happy for them and celebrate their accomplishment—isn’t that what you would want if you were in their shoes?
See your competitor as an ally and make use of their success. They’ve done something right, so find out what it is and ask for their advice. This will provide you with helpful information, but it will also help you feel more connected to them and their accomplishment, and it will be easier for you to identify with them or their behavior.
Seeing your strengths and accomplishments is essential to personal success; without this ability, you will lack faith in yourself.
Something that will help you find points of similarity is making a list of your large and small accomplishments.
Understand why the internal critic loves to make comparisons.
Typically, when comparing ourselves to others, it’s with negative self-talk, and being aware of these messages is an essential first step.
We all have an inner critic, and it loves nothing better than engaging in comparisons— this includes comparisons where we come out feeling superior rather than inferior, so keep an eye out for the “better than” position as it can be just as debilitating as feeling “less than.”
We spend far too much time trying to deny the critic, drown it out, ignore it, pretend it’s not there, or bargain with it, and it’s exhausting. We’re fighting an uphill battle and using precious time and energy better spent on our writing—so let’s accept it.
If you have an internal critic that gets the better of you, you’ll find some tips on managing your inner critic in my blog, How To Accept Your Inner Critic.
I hope these tips have been helpful. Let me know in the comments box below.