Competition Is a Made-Up Thing

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Every single day I’m bombarded by the race. Who can share the next coolest thing on Twitter? Who has the most impressive pictures of their big new house on Facebook? Who just landed an agent, a movie deal, or 1,000 more followers for their blog? Who was named the sexiest woman in the world? The best CEO of all time?

It never ends.

This is the culture we live in. A person’s value as a human being is gauged by popularity, income, and approval ratings. There is a competition going. It lasts forever, everyone’s in it, and the only way to really win is to become some sort of an icon and then die. Of course, you can also win rounds here and there by passing certain milestones of success, but after you pass each milestone it soon loses its power. And then you have to focus on the next round.

It’s not real. The competition, the milestones, the approval ratings—none of it is real.

Writers are artists. Each artist born onto this planet has a personality, creative desire, and bright-light soul like no one else who has ever lived before. An artist can only give birth to their own unique creative expression. We might try to write like someone else, or adopt someone else’s business model, or tap into someone else’s trend, but nothing can change who we are.

We are the only person who has ever lived who is exactly like us.

That is real and true. It’s a scientific fact. No two human beings are exactly alike. There are no clones occurring in the natural world.

So if each human being is totally unique, and every artist can only manifest their own unique gifts, then how in the world can you possible compete with someone else when it comes to creative expression?

But the other half of the competitive mindset is a little more challenging to dissolve. Our culture tells us that there is only so much room in any particular field. There are only so many slots to be filled out there by hopeful applicants. That once a certain level is reached (and no one really seems to know what the numbers are on that level) then the market is “oversaturated” and glutted with material no one wants.

These assumptions are also not real.

The truth is that there is enough for everyone. There is room for everyone. There is opportunity, interest, and reward for everyone. Now, if every single writer out there needed the attention of the entire planet, then there might not be enough for all of us. However, we are all different people with different needs. So no, we cannot all have the attention of the entire planet. But there is enough for each of us to have our individual needs met.

For instance, I’ve heard a lot about how “oversaturated” the market is right now with Young Adult fiction. It seems to be a competitive field. Writers and agents alike complain about how there’s just too much being submitted and not enough space for every YA writer who wants to make it.

But the interesting thing is, out of all the YA readers I know (and I know quite a few), I have never once heard any of them say that there is too much YA fiction to be had. In fact, they seem to get really excited about new writers appearing on the scene and new books to discover.

The mindset of competition is a mindset of scarcity. It is driven and fed by fear. It is the ego telling you that you will never be good enough, you will never have enough value, unless you achieve this and this, and get that and that.

And you can squander your entire life on this and that.

Stories go deeper than fear. They have been around since the dawn of time, even when there was no one around yet to tell them. They are born out of love. And there can never be too much love in the world. Because no matter how much there is, someone out there still needs more. Someone out there is desperately searching for more.

As a writer, giving your artistic gift to the world is your life purpose. You were born to help others find more. It is one of the primary reasons you are here, now. Let all the worries about approval ratings fall away.

Do what you were meant to do. Create more.

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21 Comments

  • Reply Sharon Rawlette 14 October, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Thank you, Lauren, for another inspiring, heartfelt post. This goes along with something I was reading this weekend by C.S. Lewis: “To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of ‘Insides,’ full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no ‘inside’ that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction. … The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know.”

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 14 October, 2013 at 8:36 am

      This is a BEAUTIFUL quote. And I love C.S. Lewis. That man had real wisdom! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Reply Sterling Johnson 14 October, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I whole heartedly agree

  • Reply Phillip McCollum 14 October, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Great thought-provoking post Lauren!

    You make a good point about there always being a desire for more content. While the marketplace may seem saturated, that’s probably just from the view of publishers and bookstores with limited shelf space. With the advent of self-publishing, consumers have access to more supply than ever.

    Looking at competition from another angle, I believe it can be a good thing for many artists, just like competitive activities (be it baseball or chess) cause people to reach deep inside and pull off amazing feats. We all have that innate belief that we can do something better than someone else and that can drive us to create our best work, benefiting the consumer. I think it’s all about controlling those feelings of competition though and not letting the negative aspects overwhelm you.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 14 October, 2013 at 9:55 am

      Yes! Sometimes competition IS a good thing. I know that I secretly compete with all my favorite writers (inside my own head, of course). It seems to be something we humans are going to do no matter what 😉

      I love the way you look at the positive aspects of competition, very cool. This was my favorite line of your comment:

      “…it can be a good thing for many artists, just like competitive activities (be it baseball or chess) cause people to reach deep inside and pull off amazing feats.”

  • Reply Kimberly Hill 14 October, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Love this. In William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well he has a section titled “Writing Is Not a Contest” in which he says “Forget the competition and go at your own pace. Your only contest is with yourself.” Something we all need to remember, especially during submissions.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 14 October, 2013 at 9:55 am

      I’ve never heard of Zinsser’s book. I’m putting it on my to-read list right now! Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Reply Patti Jagger 14 October, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Thank you! Another great post with inspiration that will help me move forward.

  • Reply Sylvia Toy 14 October, 2013 at 10:21 am

    As always, thank you for your generosity of spirit.

  • Reply Leslie Lynch 14 October, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Lauren, I know this and I believe this and I tell others – but today I had forgotten and needed to hear it again. Thank you.
    🙂
    Leslie

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 14 October, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      I love it when I hear that: “Today I had forgotten and needed to hear it again.” Because it so often happens to me that way! Thank you Leslie. 🙂

  • Reply Aussa Lorens 14 October, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    A nice reminder. It can be overwhelming as an introverted writer when everyone is always talking about platforms and self-promotion. It makes me angsty, but you are right.

  • Reply Anne Milstead 14 October, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Truth is always welcome and your article is full of truth. i especially appreciated your saying that we don’t have to please the whole planet. Each of us has a niche where our endeavors will be welcomed. Perhaps the best way to win the competition is the realization that you don’t have to win the competition!

  • Reply Joe Adams 15 October, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Whenever I think about “racing to get my book done”, I think of JRR Tolkien, who took like 12+ years to get his first book done, let alone even published. Some of us will take 1 year, for others it will take a lifetime of work. We just have to be true to the story.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 15 October, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      I didn’t know that about Tolkien. That’s really inspiring, thank you!

      • Reply Joe Adams 15 October, 2013 at 2:38 pm

        I meant to bring this up and I don’t know if this was purposeful or not, but I was unable to make comments on your G+ page. I have tried several times to make comments there, but it says I am unable to.

        • Reply Lauren Sapala 15 October, 2013 at 3:24 pm

          Oh thanks for letting me know! I’m still new to G+ and so I’m not quite familiar with all the functions. I’ll head over there and check it out.

  • Reply Rasma R 16 October, 2013 at 1:50 am

    Inspiring and oh, so very true. We must write to create and create to write and all those numbers are just numbers on a page.

  • Reply Micah 16 October, 2013 at 2:14 am

    This is a great read. And so true. Reminded me of a great talk I saw recently from Dr Brene Brown. There’s not enough of this kind of thing (i.e. this post) out there, and we need it, this whole scarcity culture isn’t doing anyone any good.

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