Tuesday, December 11, 2012 | By: Brianna


Writers are, by nature, competitive.  That's just the fact of the matter.  It doesn't matter how many times writing instructors or professors say "Don't compare your work to other people," they do it anyway.  Doesn't matter how many times a writer reassures their friend "Oh no, I don't compare my work to your's, it's cool," it's a lie.

I suspect this is because writers are artists, and like most artists, they need reassurance.  Well, if we're going to be completely honest, as humans we need reassurance, but you know what I'm saying, so go with it, will you?  What I'm saying is a writer needs reassurance that their writing is worthwhile.  They need major ego-stroking because they're self-conscious.  They're throwing their lives on the page and taking a risk by exposing their scars, and they need affirmation that it was worth doing and that they did it well.  I know this because I am a victim of this.  Or at least someone who needs affirmation that my work is good.  Right.  That.

So because of this self-consciousness, we find ourselves comparing our work to others.  I'm not saying that every writer reads Shakespeare and then quietly retires to a corner and slowly breaks all their pens because Shakespeare and the classics are always going to be considered "better" in some respects and "old-fashioned" in others, so he's not even on the table of "others" to whom a writer's work can be compared.  I'm saying that in a workshop or classroom setting or even in just being friends with other writers, a writer will relentlessly compare their work without meaning to.  Because there's going to be the idea that "Oh, I could have done this with this poem better" or "This is so good, I could never write something like this."  I don't think that we realize we're doing it, but we do because that's where so much of the bad feelings between writers can come from with one writer acting all superior and the other one being depressed and feeling worthless.

This needs to stop.  I don't necessarily think that it's a light switch that we can just turn off and say "Nope, not comparing today," but I do think that once we realize we're doing it, we can keep these negative feelings in check.  Because 1) a huge ego isn't good for anyone and 2) an inferior ego isn't happy either.  Besides, the writing suffers if you think you're so good you're untouchable as well as if you think you're so bad you shouldn't bother writing anyway.

Yes, we're artists.  Yes, there will always be someone who writes better than me, but I can only hope that they don't lord it over me when they realize that they do.  Yes, there will always be someone who's still learning and who you write better than.  For now.  So this is a good reason just to keep writing because who knows what's going to come about and who knows how good it will be, and who really cares?  Because ultimately, we should be writing for ourselves anyway.  If someone else wants to read it, great, but if we're writing for readers...I'm not sure that's writing anymore.  At least not in the same way.

I've found recently (though you would think I wouldn't have to keep re-realizing this) that writing is a really great way of sorting out things.  I say "things" because I've decided I'm going to be purposely vague and it's entertaining to me.  I spent the majority of my senior year at university writing my Poem-A-Day Project, and a lot of those poems had to do with my anxiety toward The Future.  Not that those poems have gone away, but I've settled into a more comfortable place with them.  Just like I have a friend who's still "poeming out" their heartbreak, and another who memorializes their family.  I'm not really sure what it is about writing that makes us feel better in times of distress, but I get the feeling that it has to do with trying to find the words to communicate those feelings that are confused and jumbled up.  So many times we answer "How are you doing?" with "I'm fine," but the poems say differently.

And this is why I'm thinking that the competition and the comparisons are silly.  Because if we're trying to figure things out, sorting out emotions, landmarks, and experiences, how can we even form a basis for comparison?  Basically, by comparing we're not being fair to either writer due to the fact that no one has the exact same experiences or reactions as another person, so therefore...flawed comparison.  I mean, my friend and I can write about the same conference we went to while we were at college or the same movie we saw over the weekend, but we could never write the same poem about it because we didn't have the same experience.  Sure we might have bought our movie tickets together and shared a bag of popcorn, but we wouldn't have seen the same things in the movie or tasted the popcorn the same way.

I freely admit that I'm guilty of the comparisons, but I'm trying to stop doing that, or at least remind myself continuously that I write differently than my friends, and "different" is neither better nor worse.  So I implore the writing community to stop the comparisons, or at least don't let them negatively influence anybody.  Thank you.

"If it's bad, I'll hate it. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it even more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.  Writers are competitive.  If you're a writer, declare yourself the best writer.  But you're not as long as I'm around unless you want to put the gloves on and settle it."
- Ernest Hemingway, 'Midnight in Paris'


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