I’ll never be as funny as Anne Lamott, or as lyrical as Christie Purifoy, or as wise as Marilynne Robinson, or as powerful with language as Jesmyn Ward. These are statements of fact, and if I focus on the ways I am not as good as any of these amazing writers, I will become silent. My voice will shrivel and die, and I will follow behind it, slowly but right after.
These are statements of fact, but they don’t tell the truth about who I am as a writer. My writing is uniquely mine, something only I – Andi – can produce. The same is true for you . . . and for you, too . . . and also for you.
Comparing our writing to other people’s is a futile and useless act. It serves only to silence us . . . a better stance is one of admiration. . . admiration and camaraderie. More on camaraderie in a minute.
Sometimes, it’s not comparison that silences us, though, it’s competition. It’s this idea that we have to be better than other writers, that to have our voices heard we have to shout over or out-shout others. We believe in this lie that there isn’t enough room for all of us.
Friends, there is plenty of room. Plenty of room for all of us, and plenty of room for your unique voice, your unique perspective, your unique choice of words, your unique angle on the world. Plenty of room for you.
During most weeks of the year, I have a friend who releases a book. My friends write romance novels and memoirs, poetry and essays, urban fantasy and cozy mystery. Some of my friends are indie published, and many others are traditionally published. Some have degrees in writing, and many do not. Some have won really impressive awards for their work, and others make a full-time living from what they write. Sometimes, I read my friends’ words – like when I read Gayle Brandeis’s memoir The Art of Misdiagnosis – and weep with some alchemical combination of gratitude and awe at the beauty.
But if I’m not careful, this constellation of friendships can become a place of comparison or competition. I can easily start to be envious of their talent, their sales, their platform, their wit. I start laying my own words, my own path next to theirs and notice all the pebbles I hadn’t even noticed or the way my path shoots randomly through a desert of barren trees while theirs is a lush meander through a forest where fairies sing.
When I start to feel this, when I want to devalue my own voice because it doesn’t measure up to others’ voices, I do four things:
- I call out that comparison and competition as the lie that it is. Sometimes, I even shout it down from the third-story deck off my office. The trees and squirrels get to hear me scream, “You are worthy of your words, Andi. Your stories matter. Stop trying to be a writer you are not.”
- I review the file of kind words people have sent me or posted about my writing, and I do my very best to believe what they say.
- I call or email a dear writer friend, tell them I’m feeling jealous or inadequate, and then listen to their kindness speak me back to myself. Then, I try to mimic their voice with my own.
- I share their work. Social media makes this so easy – I snap a picture, a post a link, I copy out a quote, and then I share it and why I’m sharing it. Something about getting behind another writer’s work helps foster that sense of camaraderie and dampen my feelings of inadequacy and competition.*
Because that’s the thing, right? All of us writers. We’re in this together. All of us admire other writers. All of us doubt our own voices. All of us struggle with valuing what we do. ALL OF US! So this is a community, it’s a place of camaraderie. . . if we reach out our arms, we’re going to feel each other there in the dark days of our own self-doubt because we’re all huddled there in the dark together quite often.
So hear me, friend, HEAR ME!! You are not that writer you want to be like, and THANK GOD for that. You are you, and we need your voice, just as it is now. Sure, aspire to more of what you admire, but don’t aspire to become that writer. You are who you are – the writer you are – for a reason, and that reason just might be that what you have to say and the way you have to say it is the thing that someone, somewhere, someday needs to save their very life. If you’ve been saved my someone’s writing – as I have – then, you know what I mean.
Be you. You may be just what someone needs.
Now, tell me if you will, when do you feel yourself comparing yourself to or competing with other writers? Certain seasons of the year or your life? After certain experiences?
*Oh, and sometimes, just reading something I’ve written will remind me that my words are worth something because there, in those words, I see my voice loud and clear, and it rings like a bell on a mountain.
As of last night, I have sold 277 copies of Love Letters To Writers, so each week I get a bit closer to my quest to sell 1,000 copies by year’s end. Time to take some drastic action though. Stay tuned.
Also, Love Letters to Writers, Volume II comes out in November. You can preorder the ebook here if you’d like.