On Comparison and Competition — Do they make us better writers?

On Comparison and Competition - do they make us better writers?

I’m on a writers retreat, and one of the awesome women here is well-versed in non-fiction. Writing and marketing a non-fiction title is very different from the fiction process, so I’ve been very interested to hear the ways she and her team go about it.

After one of our break discussions, I was sitting around procrastinating — ahem, sometimes it’s hard to drag yourself from fascinating convos back to the page, and it’s better to do some work instead of staring out the window at the gorgeous scenery, so that’s why I’m writing a blog — but I digress. I was really more thinking than procrastinating, and the most wonderful idea came to me. 

What if I wrote non-fiction? 

I scuttled the idea almost immediately. My friend is exceptionally intuitive and her non-fiction work is fascinating. But So. Much. Work. Blogging is about as far into non-fiction as I’m comfortable going. Many of the essays I write are just for fun, or my own edification or journaling, but some I think can actually help new writers on their journey, and so I may, one of these days, compile the ones I feel are worthy into a book. And yes, obv that would be non-fiction. 

What cracked me up is the idea that fiction is easy and non-fiction is hard. I think we all have our own strengths and naturally gravitate toward them—some people are brilliant novelists but crappy screenwriters, some people can paint but can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Some can do math, some can thread a needle in one go, some have dry wit and others generous hearts. Some of us are business-oriented and some of us have our heads in the clouds. I have yet to meet an artist who doesn’t see another’s strength without at least a momentary thought of — I wish I could do that

I’ve thought it at least fifty times this weekend. I wish I could sing. I wish I could relax and go with the flow. I wish I would listen more and talk less. I wish I could write something so special and dear that people around the world fall in love with it. I wish I was a runner. I wish I had this glorious kitchen. I wish…. On, and on, and on.

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Roosevelt said.

Lao Tzu has another gem: “When you are content not to compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”

But isn’t it simply human nature to compare? And also to feel the urge to compete? It’s why we interrupt when people speak, and why we try new things. Why we stop and have conversations with ourselves about things we’d like to do, places we’d like to be, behaviors we’d like to imitate. Isn’t comparison different from competitiveness? How else will we grow and change if not to listen and compare when others speak about their experiences? To assimilate their words into our own frame of reference and come out the other side thinking––

I wish…

Because you know where I wish leads? To the finest spark known to creative kind…. 

What if…

Do you compare yourself to others? Does it drive you to greatness and to try new things? Or does it rob you of your joy and make you feel like you’re doing everything wrong?