Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'll Show You Mine...

Yeah, you clicked on that because you're a sick, sick person. You know you did.

Anyway, today I'm tackling the art of comparison. Katie left a comment last week in the advice post that said, "Don't Compare."

So I'm going to start with a story. Some of you have been reading for a while. You've read my Confession of a Unibrow.

Well, you know what? I plucked that bad boy. It hurt. A lot. I just didn't want to be Bert (from Bert and Ernie) anymore, and in my people-watching, I noticed that no one else had a unibrow. Well, my girl kidlet does, but only because she's been cursed with my genes. Anyway. So I plucked because I didn't want to be the only one with a lame unibrow.

We compare ourselves to everyone. My hair looks better than hers. Her clothes are cuter than mine (I always lose with clothes. Always. I wear stuff from the 90's. Lisa and Laura could put me on their blog. Srsly). I have more college credits. I wrote more words. She drives faster. He got more comments. The list could go on and on. And on.

So back to the advice: Don't compare.

I think that's freaking brilliant.


Why is it so hard to do?

Even when I'm reading published books, I'm comparing them to mine. Sometimes I think mine is just as good. Sometimes I know it's not. Sometimes I think mine is better. I can't help myself.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of confidence in myself. (I know, I know, complete 180 from last week, right?) I think, for me, it's recognizing that a rose will never look like a snapdragon.


Both flowers are beautiful in their own right. Both are soil-worthy. Both smell nice. Both bring a smile to my face. I don't try to compare them.

Once I started looking at books like this, I've done a much better job of separating mine out, and keeping the comparisons to things like, "Well, we both used the words 'the', 'and', and 'was'." You know?

So how do you win the Comparison War?


Abby Annis said...

I'm really bad with this. Not only do I compare, but then I turn it into a little competition in my head. One that I rarely win.

I like the way you've chosen to look at it. I'll have to give that a try. Great post!

Christine Fonseca said...

I think comparisons are a natural way in which we categorize things in our world - natural function of our brains. It is only bad when the comparison leads to a competitiveness that is detrimental (some competitiveness is ok, too), or when we superimpose a judgement on to that comparison or connection.

For me, I always see the connections between things - it is just the way my brain works. I have learned throughout my life not to let those connections carry a meaning that something is "bad".

It works most of the time. When it doesn't it is always because I have some other issue going on.

Great post!

Unknown said...

I think it's only natural. I compare all the time...usually it ends in jealousy...but I try my best not to.

Still sometimes it's a good thing because I can whole heatedly admit that it has pushed me to be better. And there is nothing wrong with that!

Cole Gibsen said...

This is a fabulous topic. I'm horrible at this as well. I'm constantly comparing myself to people who've snagged that elusive publishing contract shortly after snagging their agent. Then I think, "what's wrong with my MS?" "Why is it taking so long for me?"
*Insert more nasally whining* You get the picture.
But you're absolutely right. Everyone's path is different and you're only hurting yourself when you compare.

Scott said...

Yes, I clicked because of the title of your blog, just like people furiously clicked when I posted the blog titled 'dirty little secrets'. : )

Oh, the ways I compare myself . . . constantly. I think it is human nature to compare, and it's hard to break the habit. You've given me hope that one day I'll be free of the chains of comparison!


Word Verify: warka

I warka hard for da money! Sorry!

~Jamie said...

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I recently read a book written by a local author that was FABULOUS. It was one of those uber humbling experiences that made me want to throw my laptop in a river. (That wouldn't be dramatic at all, would it?)

It was just. so. good. The writing was snappy, there weren't a lot of annoyingly overused phrases... you know... perfection.

At first I was jealous, then I realized I could learn from her--and she was willing to talk shop with me!

Cue Jai-Ho slumdog millionaire happy dance.

So, it's all about funneling that comparison. I think you SHOULD compare your stuff, find someone who's better than you--and learn from them. We have to be honest with ourselves in this buisness, and sometimes that means admitting someone is piles better. :)

MG Higgins said...

Yep, I'm a compareaholic. I like your analogy of different flowers. I'll think about that next time I'm raging at myself for not being good enough.

B.J. Anderson said...

Comparing yourself to others can be crippling, which I learned the hard way a few years back. So I don't do it anymore. If I find myself doing it, I step away from whatever I'm comparing myself to and just drop it. It's not worth it for me. Great post!!

Windy said...

This is hard, because I think it's natural to compare, whether it be yourself/your work to someone/their work, or clothes, hair, etc. We just do it. I think it is what we do WITH it that matters.

I try really hard to treat my mental comparisons as learnings. Ask myself what can I take away from this? Like, that pixie haircut is super cute on Halle Berry, but I don't have a head shaped like hers (or the size 2 body), so... let's find a different haircut that will make me movie star glam and not emphasize my funky shaped melon.


Unknown said...

We tend to be competitive creatures by nature - at least to a degree, and by "we," I mean humans not just writers. We are therefore we compare.
I don't think this is a bad thing as far as my own writing because it pushes me to do the best that I can. It keeps the bar high which gives me something to strive toward. Granted, people can take this to the extreme but I only compare on a level related to writing - not to things that don't matter to me like cars, clothes, etc. :)

Rebecca Knight said...

I'd have to agree with Christine, both on the point that some comparison can be a good thing, but also that you can't let it turn into hate (either for yourself, or jealousy over another.)

It's good to compare your writing to that of new authors so you can ask yourself if you're ready to get out there. However, it's not good to only look at writers whose skills are far above your own, have been writing novels for 20 years, and who are oranges to your apples. Down that path waits only crying and chocolate binging.

We're all different, we're all flowers. I try to only use comparison to see if I am in fact a flower, and not still a green bud.

Tess said...

Check you out - being all pensive and thoughful here. I like it.

I sometimes start the comparison thing but then I tell myself to stop it. After all, we can choose where we put our energy and we can choose to be happy for others.

Good thoughts here, Elana.

Ryan S. Kinsgrove said...

We've talked about this some in my current Philosophy class. And, really comparison is just another way that we learn. For writers it does often point out our mistakes, and, more often than not, that just makes us feel inadequate. What we really need to do though, is take the knowledge of those mistakes and try and make our own work better.

word verification: retroisi a 21st century disco club.

lisa and laura said...

1. This post title is AWESOME. I mean, how do you not click on that link when you read that title? Nice hook, my friend.

2. I'm the queen of comparisons. It must be in my genes. I can't help it and have given up trying. Is that horrible? Probably.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks for stopping by my character therapy blog. :)

as for comparisons, it's natural. starts when we're kiddos, unfortunately. and i honestly believe it's learned even then. we see our parents doing it. but i digress. how do you win the comparison war? re-train yourself not to do it? only compare to someone you already *know* won't add up? (easy one to do!) :)

great post to get the brain juices flowing. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I definitely get caught in that comparison trap. And even worse, in the past, I used to think if something was better than what I'd written, then I needed to strive to make my work like that. Yeah, nothing unique there.

I try to triumph over those thoughts by taking as much joy in writing as possible. By making my work the best I can make it. By taking note of the progress I've made since I started writing.

And, if all else fails, I eat chocolate. Yum. Hum, my word verification is "difynce". Is that me looking comparison in the eye and saying, "You want a piece of this?" or is that comparison looking me in the eye saying, "yeah right!".

Oh, by the way, thanks for dropping by my blog!

Sarah Wylie said...

It's really, really hard not to get caught in the comparison trap, and really easy to.
Even when you're querying, you have to decide which category your book sits in and what other novels it's similar to.
I try not to compare, but when I fail at that, the key for me is not to dwell on those comparisons.
Great post! And Katie is wise.

Joshua McCune said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with comparing (Sinnead O'Connor just popped into my head)... it give us something to strive for, or to make ourselves feel better... caveat: nothing wrong as long as we can keep it relatively internal and relatively positive.

storyqueen said...

Great analogy, Elana. Sometimes, I don't feel very soil-worthy...and I've had 8 books published! 8! and yet, I read The Book Thief and felt like the worst writer in the is hard to find the balance between who you are as a writer and who everyone else is sometimes.

Very thoughtful post.


Roxane B. Salonen said...

I have learned the lesson about comparisons but still work on it daily. I always come back to the mantra, "Shine in your own light." We all have our own unique light to shine, but as others have hinted at, it's okay to be inspired by others' work. But right before any unhealthy comparison begins, get back into YOUR light quickly. Absorb the good from the work of another, but only insofar as it will enlighten you to create your own beautiful work. I really think that if we've learned this well, we've conquered a whole lot. Great subject. Thanks for your honesty, and for stopping by my blog (Peace Garden Mama) today.

Sherrie Petersen said...

It's SO hard not to compare, especially things that we want to be good at. Half my clothes come from Target and Costco, but I don't really care so it's not something I compare. Writing I care about. A lot. Fortunately, everyone has their own unique take on a story. Even using the same prompt, people come up with totally different ideas, voices, characters. So that makes it easier to not compare, because it's not the same story, not the same writer, and each one has a different way to express themselves.

Sorry to ramble on ;D

kah said...

I do it too. I think all writers do. Sometimes I read something and it inspires me to go make my MS better. Other times it makes me wanna stick it in a drawer and deny it daylight. lol

Katie said...

Same here. I compare a lot, even without realizing it. I do it in my classes, comparing grades (since I'm obsessed with A's). When I read books, I always try to figure out if they're a better writer than me and why. Usually, I'm trying to see how I could get better. Since I'm big into comparative literary studies, I can't really say I think we should stop comparing... BUT I think we should stop judging. That's where it becomes hurtful. And there IS a difference between comparing and judging.

L.T. Elliot said...

I don't know if I've won. All I can hope for is that someday, I'll have my own victory. Or end up in a field with a bunch of dandelions.

Unknown said...

Oh thank the Norse gods it's not just me who does this. Thanks, Elana, for making me feel better. Now if only my kids would stop asking me which one of them I love more. ;-)

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