Indulge me a second. Close the tabs for social media and email. Flip your phone over and turn the sound off. Get yourself to a place where you have five minutes of solid focus. Just five minutes. No matter what I say from here on, you know you could use five minutes to do just one thing at a time.
Okay, so now that you’re ready and all ears (if a little agitated because you need those notifications NOW), settle in. More and more, you need to hear this as much as I need to write it.
Competition between writers – it’s stupid. Really stupid.
Comparison between writers is also really, really stupid.
Evaluating your “success” as a writer by anything that you cannot control – your number of readers, your number of sales, your number of likes, your number of anything – is dangerous and painful and utterly useless.
Let me sketch for you the writing world as I see it. Imagine an expanse of land that stretches as far as you can see in every direction. Picture a place that feels peaceful and adventurous to you. Maybe your land is desert in spring, when blooms appear like magic. Or maybe you see mountain passes with streams carving journeys in their seams. Or maybe you see a forest, lush and rich with the stories of animals and cabins of mystery. Maybe your landscape is a maze of streets, buildings brick and concrete like sculptures at every corner. Or maybe, like me, you picture rolling hills with blue mountains lingering in the distance. Hold this image. It is the way you picture your writing landscape, the world of your imagination, the space you journey when you take up the walking staff of words.
Now, imagine people you respect as writers in that landscape with you. She’s over there by the stream, and he’s over by that big rock. A ways out in the distance, he’s bending over to tie his shoe, and she’s almost invisible out by the sunset. Throughout this sacred place, you see people you admire, friends with whom you talk writing, strangers whose work you’ve vaguely heard of. All of us are there, together.
This landscape, YOUR landscape, is the reality of the writing world. There’s no ladder where some folks are at the top ignoring those below or trying to kick them down. There’s no pit where some people are trying to dig their way out. There’s no scoreboard where Chigozie Obioma has 50 points, and you have 3. in fact, there are no numbers here at all, only stories, spiraling up into the air like incense, pink and sparkling.
Most importantly, there’s no finish line . . . and there’s no finish line because there’s no race. There’s no winner. There aren’t even limits because the landscape is a sphere that wraps itself round to itself in every direction. It’s boundless and more than enough for everyone of us. So much more than enough.
We are all together here in your gorgeous, mysterious, reckless, powerful place. . . some of us reach out and go side-by-side, and some of us forge a path all our own. Some of us travel in groups, and some walk a solitary journey. But we’re all here, together.
Five minutes are up now, and the lure of social media is probably calling you again. So do this one more small thing for me – write a note to yourself and hang it where you see it every time you sit down to write or blog or share a Facebook post or promote your book. Write this in your own beautiful hand, a reminder to yourself:
We are all in this together.
And when something or someone tries to tell you the lie that this is a competition or a comparison, read that note out loud and imagine your landscape. See me over there, waving from by that big tree with the huge branches like a yogi’s arms? I’m here, too, and I’ve cheering you on as we wander the landscape of words together.
If you’d like, please comment below and describe your landscape for me. I’d like to imagine all of us in your beauty from time to time, if that’s okay.