Why We Compare Ourselves to Other Writers—and How We Can Stop

For writers, there are two proven harmful effects of engaging in too much social media. (And let me say first that I’m guilty of overindulgence myself—it’s easy to start out with the intention of quickly checking Facebook and Twitter and then get sucked into a black hole and come out dazed and woozy on the other side.) But if you can keep these two harmful things in mind before you even go in, your chances of coming out unscathed are much better.

First, it’s a time suck. Every writer knows that. Social media is a hungry beast that wants to feed on your precious minutes. There are many ways to combat this, and many articles to be found on social media itself about how to combat the evils of time-sucking social media. That’s the easy one to overcome.

The other harmful effect of social media isn’t so easy to conquer, because it resonates so strongly with our existing levels of fear and self doubt.

It’s the comparison game.

Social media—if you’re on it long enough—always pushes a writer to compare her work (and her word count) with everyone else’s.

This susceptibility to falling into the comparison game is doubly reinforced by our culture, which not only promotes competition and separation as dominant belief systems, but also relies on the rational brain as a kind of magic miracle worker that can produce anything, as long as it’s working with the right formula.

In our culture, most of us truly believe that everything in existence comes down to science, and so there must be some sort of science behind every success story.

That’s why we keep reading crap like “How to Write a Bestselling Novel in 30 Days” or “How to Finish Your Book Using This 3-step Formula” or “How to Gain a Million New Readers Using These Proven Techniques.” Again, I’m guilty of this myself. Writing is hard and I’ve been doing it for years. It’s the most beautiful, delicious thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s also maddening and has thrown me into despair more times than I can count. It is very, very tempting to believe that there is some sort of scientific formula out there that can break the creative process down into a series of mechanical steps.

Very tempting, but bullshit nonetheless.

Social media thrives on these kinds of articles because they’re eye-catching, easy to read, and they get a lot of clicks. That doesn’t mean they contain useful information.

And if you’re a writer on social media for too many hours out of the day, it’s extremely easy to fall into reading a bunch of this kind of stuff and then feeling like shit afterwards because you think you’re doing everything wrong.

Some writers only write once a week, some only once a month. Some writers come out with very low words counts after a writing session, like 50 words or less. Some writers have no idea what their hero or villain is doing, or if they even have a hero or villain.

All writers are scared. All writers feel alone. All writers are pretty sure that everyone else has their shit together and they are the only one still flailing.

THAT is truth.

And some more truth: Every single writer has a unique creative body. Your creative body functions exactly like your physical body. It gets hungry, it eats things, it processes things, and it emits waste products. It needs to rest and when it’s rested it then wakes up again and wants to play. It can shut down for a long period of time due to trauma and it can heal itself too. It is directly affected by your emotions and the energy surrounding you.

Your creative body is wise beyond your years. It knows exactly where it needs to be and what it needs to be doing. It knows exactly what it is here to create and the next step it needs to take right now, today, to create those things.

Your creative body would love nothing better than to get started creating right now, if you and your brain and all the dumb articles on social media would get out of the way and stop trying to push it in a certain direction and stop trying to tell it what to do.

This is why I urge my clients to think of their creative bodies in terms of the physical. When a writer embarks on the first round of big revisions I tell her to listen to her creative body in the same way she would listen to her stomach if it was feeling delicate. There is no need to sit down and force yourself to finish a big plate of food (or pile of pages) just because someone else says that writers should plow through revisions as fast as possible. It’s okay to be good to yourself and respect your creative body’s cues. If you only feel like nibbling around the edges and picking at a couple things here or there, listen to that signal from your creative body.

And on the flip side, if you feel a huge burst of energy and you find yourself writing an entire novel in one week, go with that too. There’s no need to force yourself to slow down because someone else makes a comment that you might be moving too fast.

Every creative body has its own rhythm, its own shape, and its own expression. If so many people in our day and age can become body positive and embrace their unique physical bodies with acceptance and love, shouldn’t we writers and artists do the same thing with our creative bodies?

So the next time you’re on social media and you find yourself falling into the comparison game, remember to re-center yourself and pull away from whatever it is just as if it were just another glossy ad in a magazine.

It might look glamorous, but the real you is so much better.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Hilary Custance Green 12 May, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Another great post, thank you. I’ll take this opportunity to say a temporary goodbye. I shall put up one more post then quit all posting and blogging until September, both to write and to attend to my physical friends. I may, or may not, make progress on the new novel.

  • Reply Barb Kmiec 12 May, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    Dazed and woozy indeed — those are the words I was looking for today. I can already see, after less than 24 hours live on Facebook, how I’m going to have to manage my time wisely. I’ve cut myself some slack for my first foray into these treacherous waters, but truly, Social Media is a definitive “time suck”. You’ve captured this well in your post. Thx.

  • Reply Lynne Fisher 16 May, 2017 at 3:39 am

    Great post, Lauren. I’m so sick of reading what I’m supposed to do and inevitably comparing myself to others. And being triggered into feeling inadequate by the marketing stuff . I’ve fought hard to stop this, and i’m getting there, thankfully! Your book helped too, told me what I’d been suspecting, but more powerful when you read it.

  • Reply Deborah Drucker 15 July, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I am a fairly new writer and I have been consciously trying to avoid all the formulaic advice on how to write. Because I want to have my own voice and creative process. I don’t want to find myself, by osmosis, copying other writers. It can be hard to be confident in your own style of writing.

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