The Comparison Cure (hint: every writer needs to hear this!)

I just got through talking a client off the ledge. Let’s call her Jan. Researching comparable books for her proposal, she’d been reading the work of a current bestselling author—a woman for whom hundreds of people line up nationwide to attend her signings—and Jan was ready to jump.

“F this. I can’t compete,” she said. “The more I read, both her writing and my own, the madder and more discouraged I get.”

Here’s what I told her. Read this if you’ve ever felt paralyzed by comparison—which is, by the way, NORMAL!

Pretend I’m talking to you here. Because I am… 

You’re an incredible writer. While your history and life lessons share some commonalities with others, your styles are different. You’re not in a competition with any one of them for anything.

I learned early on that there will always be someone prettier, smarter, more fit, and better than me in nearly every way. Yet, it’s the nearly that matters most. That’s the piece no one can do but you. Have faith in your nearly.   

Über-talented people will shine their light for the world to see, and sometimes their brilliance will leave you feeling inept. Turd-like. A waste of wordy space.

Yet, someone out there makes them feel equally undeserving. I’ve interviewed enough celebs for books and magazine articles over the years to know that’s a fact. Trust me.

Personally, I’ve used moments of self-flogging comparisons as an excuse to cease working toward my dreams and goals, halting my progress. But not for long. Moving forward regardless is the only thing that brings any kind of lasting relief.

If you’ve read my past posts, you can probably guess the book that both inspires me and has on occasion made me want to give it all up to become a pea farmer in Peoria—Eat, Pray, Love. That’s not the book that’s currently slaying Jan (that one will go unnamed here). Interestingly, while I love the title she’s wrestling with, it doesn’t make me feel like a dullard. The author’s background and lifestyle are too foreign to my own to trigger fragile feelings.

But Liz Gilbert (my American Author Idol, the writer of the aforementioned EPL) and I share just enough commonality in this life to make it dangerous for me in a get-my-hopes-up kind of way. But the truth is: she’s better than me. Better at crafting memorable analogies, better at putting the fun in funny, and researching vast amounts of data to make it riveting + relevant. She’s far superior at bringing ancient history and classic literature to life. And, that’s just for starters. Liz appears to have traveled everywhere, and retained a somewhat encyclopedic understanding of each square foot of where she’s been. A homebody by nature, I hang onto her every-globe-trotting word from the safety of my comfy couch, and millions of readers do too. I prefer it that way. Why should I expend the energy and expense to fling myself about when she does it so well, her retelling of events so vivid and adventurous?

Why indeed. That’s the nature of good writing.

But does her mastery mean I should give up writing because my name’s Linda and not Liz? Do her enviable communication skills negate my own? Does the great value sandwiched between the covers of her books mean I have nothing of value to share in mine? Lastly, because she’s already written my favorite book, is there nothing left to say?

Absurd, right?

Jan could see that, and breathed a little easier.

Then, I drilled down deeper.

What if… because of the incredible success of Liz’s books, readers want more from independent, plucky, spiritual, female writers? What if her success actually clears more space for my own? 

Could happen. After all, Liz can only write one book a year, if that. But people can read much faster than that. Now that their appetite’s been whetted, who’s going to serve up the next course? I’d forever regret not trying—even if it just turns out to be for myself, in a notebook, scribbled down at the edges of the day. In the end, the very act of getting it down will free me.

And what about this? If I’m willing to really believe in myself, what if…

… I’m actually better than my idol at something? I’ve been told that when I delve into painful topics, I’m more self-reflective, better able to unearth subconscious wounds. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t know that I’ll ever put that gritty work out into the world. But it’s a nice thought to entertain—that maybe, just maybe, I might have a talent my “mentor in words” might marvel at? None of us would know, though, if I up and quit because I was intimidated.

What matters is that I focus forward (now that I’m a horse owner, perhaps I’ll buy actual blinders to see if that helps) and continue going where I want to go. For no other reason than because it’s where I want to go. To stop myself because someone OUT there is better than me is unacceptable to me.

I hope it’s unacceptable to my client. I hope it’s unacceptable to you.  

You’ve got all it takes to do YOU better than anyone.

Now go write for you, from you, as you.

You’ll find your audience.

Yours,

Linda xx

P.S. If you’d like to add to this conversation, perhaps share your own experience, leave a comment here. I’d love to hear it!

Oct 14, 2012   /   35 Comments

35 Responses to “The Comparison Cure (hint: every writer needs to hear this!)”

  1. Gail Larsen says:

    Thanks, Linda. The same holds true with professional speaking. An aspiring speaker with an original message does herself no favors by comparing herself to someone who is already at the $10,000+ fee range. Organizations are as unlikely to rehire a speaker as a reader is likely to re-read a book. Next!!!! And that fact conspires to continually open up new opportunities for fresh faces and stories.

    • linda says:

      What a great point, Gail! I never thought of how that works in your world of public speaking, but that makes PERFECT sense. Thank you!!! xx

  2. lone morch says:

    Thank Goddess for your kick-butt Sunday letter to me, and you, and everyone I know.

    As I’m about to publish my memoir, I’m feeling so utterly naked and wondering, who the heck wants my dirty underwear… and I struggle with comparison and fear of judgements on my most naked self. And yet, this story is already old to me, it’s about my journey to where I am now, and that journey is not pretty.

    I have to remember we are not our stories, and that someone out there might benefit from my particular journey to self and find inspiration for her own not so pretty journey in life.

    Regardless, you are so right, Ms Silvertsen … we all have worthy stories to tell, and its utter waste of our creative time to get stuck on those of others.

    I needed to hear this today. Thank you. Onwards. With a big fat Yes! and Love. xoxo

    • linda says:

      Lone! So glad to hear you’re putting your beautiful story out there. Excited to read it!!!

  3. OMG Linda you read my mind today!! I’m writing my comparison section of my proposal right now, and I’m struggling with that same sense of futility and personal sucky-ness! Knowing that both you and your undoubtedly brilliant client are also whacked over the head sometimes by self-doubt is SOOOO reassuring. I know I have something special to offer the world, and I also know that I need my sisters in words to help me shine my light. We all need each other. I agree with you completely: There really is no competition. xxoo

    • linda says:

      Anyone who can get through medical school to become a SURGEON can do this! You’ve got this! Seriously. Just write what you know, from your heart. xo

  4. Lisa Weikel says:

    Linda,
    I’m so glad Gail Larsen posted a link to this post on FB today. It’s both comforting and disheartening to realize how many of us suffer from the truly pointless exercise of comparing ourselves with others.

    Clearly, though, it is such a HUMAN endeavor that we might as well take some comfort in our shared humanity. I say that because I can pretty confidently state that my deaf kitten doesn’t compare himself or in even the remotest way feel inferior to the regal beauty of my elder (and fully-sensed) cat. Nor does my Boston Terrier feel in the least intimidated by the noble and gargantuan Great Dane we pass on our walks. They couldn’t care less – and in fact revel in their beingness, each of them taking joy in being the kittenest kitten he can be and the most amazing , fearsome, gorgeous Boston Terrier ever (at least in his world).

    • linda says:

      I so agree, Lisa. I think that’s why we love our animals so much… not to mention that they couldn’t care less how successful or not we are. It’s all about love, isn’t it? I love that saying… Dog spelled backwards is God:) xx

  5. Yvonne says:

    I LOVED this post Linda!!
    I am writing a book at the moment and like every writer I have a little voice saying “yeah but will anyone ever read this?”
    I dunno, they certainly won’t if it remains in my head as a beautiful idea, tucked away from fear!!
    Thanks for giving your friend and us your insight.
    Btw- EPL is one of my faves too. Meant to inspire others ;)

    • linda says:

      Thanks, Yvonne! Good to know it’s universal, right? Your work looks wonderful. And, I’m a new Wayne Dyer convert myself:) xxx

  6. Kate Durie says:

    Oh Linda, you know exactly what medicine to dish out for the soul. You also know I have fallen prey to ‘the comparison curse’ one too many times. Not feeling worthy enough, good enough, unique enough, talented enough…Blah blah blah. When the truth is, as you share, there is space for all our stories – told our own way and all our special talent blends. Each blend is perfectly unique. And if we can dig into that and speak, write, serve from that space … our people will feel it too. Living in a space of curiosity, awe, and inspiration vs. a space of comparison, inadequacy and jealously. Which one feels more juicy and filled with potential!? I know which path I’m walking on … one step at a time. Thanks in large part to you! XO

    • linda says:

      Oh, girl… you said my favorite word—juicy! That’s my goal… to do whatever it takes to feel that way most of the time. Getting enough sleep, enough joy, enough healthy food, sun, and play. And, creative fulfillment. If we’re not here to be juicy, what’s the point, right? You nailed it. xo

  7. Linda~I like and appreciate this post for so many reasons – and I esp. appreciate the way you cure yourself. I’ve been exploring how to convert envy into admiration. Seems part of the same stuff. This comparison thing works in so many arenas, too – even in starting up an enterprise. A client starting her own business recently told me how daunted she was to read great “success” stories of people’s ventures. We learn early about ourselves and the world by comparison. It’s just how we’re wired. But tripping that wire when it’s gone bad – that’s the trick you’re sharing here.

    And I really appreciate your take on mastery. Vital not only for our own growth but for furthering excellent work in the world that matters.

    Thanks again.

    • linda says:

      Thanks for writing, Jeffrey! I’ve heard that from people too… that reading the success stories of others overwhelms them. Your client’s experience is so common. I think you’re absolutely right that we learn by comparison and can’t totally help ourselves, and love your visual of tripping the wire when it goes bad:)

  8. Juanita says:

    Okay, this clinched it. I love you. I knew I liked and admired you but to take the time to talk us all off the edge was an act of pure love and divine grace. Every word went right into my heart and landed like life giving water softening the parched soil of my writer’s soul. (Now there’s an image—my heart and soul squeezed together under my rib cage. But you get the idea.)

    Thank you bringing my dirty secret out of the closet of unacceptable thoughts. How can I learn from great writers if my fear and jealousy won’t let me drink in their light?

    I truly feel you have lifted a veil, exorcised a demon, cleared my writer’s chakra, which, by the way is a recently revealed chakra located at the temple where one rests the pen or hand against the head while trying to think a way to express “pea green with envy”.

    Is there a 12 step program for writer’s recovering from pen envy?

    Seriously Linda, you probably just saved my book. I may have to create a character based on you. Linda, book witch of the South…and her little dogs two.

    Lots of love,
    Juanita

    • linda says:

      Jaunita! Thank you! About your “12-step program for writers recovering from pen envy,” I LOVE it! Start it! You’d have a packed house every meeting:) xx

  9. Ginger Moran says:

    Wow, Linda! How perfect. I’ve had this thought before—that good competition means good things for me—but I’ve just come back from being in the Southern Festival of the Books and was busy comparing myself to my fellow panelists and everyone else there! Thanks so much—what a timely post!

    • linda says:

      You’re right, Ginger. Good competition DOES mean good things for you. What a powerful mantra! Thank you:) xx

  10. Veronica says:

    Really wonderful post. It’s so hard to give this habit up. Nothing good comes from it. Really needed this today.

    • linda says:

      I’m so glad, Veronica. I see on your site that your photography is gorgeous! So, of course you NEVER compare yourself to others from behind your camera, right?! ha! good to know we’re all the same, eh? :) xo

  11. Juanita says:

    Thanks Linda. I was seeing you as Glinda, floating in on

    the sparkling bubble grant, beautiful and wise, showing authors they have had the power in the pen all along…
    Juanita

  12. Diana Cachey says:

    Thanks for the post. It is natural to compare. Stephen King’s latest, and over 800 word masterpiece, is nothing like his first published book, Carrie (less than 300). Rome wasn’t built in a day. I dont even write in his genre, so instead of comparing I am learning from him (& others, like Liz). I do note that when someone says they are inspired by a writer or says “I CAN DO THAT TOO” everyone jumps in to shoot that down. Which is it? Support or criticism. I say ignore it all and just WRITE!

    • linda says:

      I agree, Diana… just ignore it and write. I also love your suggestion of reading all types of writing. It’s all grist for the mill, as they say. xx

  13. Natalia says:

    Linda, I’m new to your blog/writing/work and I love it! This one in particular, spoke directly to me, as if was the client you speak of. Thank you for the perspective!

    My beautifully inspired mentor, SARK, always says “Action Before Inspiration”. Resolved to lock the comparison voice in the bathroom before I sit down at my writing desk.

    With many thanks!

    • linda says:

      Thanks, Natalia! I love that quote, too. I often say something similar to my son when I notice he’s waiting for inspiration: “Action precedes motivation.” It’s a good reminder to myself, too, when I’m not feelin’ it. xo

  14. Gigi Ausin says:

    “Jan” here. I’m outing myself as the discouraged client Linda pulled out of the hole ,so you will recognize my name on the Bestseller’s list and buy my book. One of the things I did to get back on track after that short pity-potty pit stop was write a letter to the “competing” author, whose book is going to make mine better for all the reasons Linda mentioned above. (It was a helpful exercise for composing the comparative analysis section of the book proposal I realized) I invited her to lunch to talk shop. If she doesn’t accept the invitation now, she will later. Mark my words.

  15. Liz says:

    Hi Linda. I am new to your website and glad I stopped by. Your words were much needed on this somewhat sunny Friday morning in MA. I struggle daily wondering who the heck would want to hear what I have to say. On the other side I remind myself daily that there is no other me out there. Thanks for your words.

    • linda says:

      Happy to meet you, Liz! One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with + to know bestselling authors and finding they all worry about that same thing—“Who wants to listen to what I have to say?” Those who publish do so despite that fear. Stick with your writing practice (or develop one if you don’t yet have one) and I’m sure you’ll be one of them:) xx

  16. This is what I love about the written word… It lasts. And it’s there, later, when someone really needs it. I really needed to read about comparison today. I have been so close to giving up on my book this week! You helped me laugh at myself and the human condition. Thank you.

    • linda says:

      You made my day, Ellen. I went to your blog and LOVE what you have to say about manifestation and seeking the kingdom within before looking without. What a great piece! Thanks for writing. Keep up the great work! xo

  17. […] I came acrossComparison Cure by Linda Sivertsen.And it comforted me as much as my favourite blankie or my mom’s […]

  18. Thanks Linda,
    I really needed that little pep talk. I’ve been reading a bunch of memoirs and getting super down on my own skills right when I’m almost ready for the first major edit of my own story.
    Love your blog. Love your writing. Don’t forget to take your own advice!
    :)
    Sharon

    • linda says:

      Thanks for the reminder to take my own advice, Sharon! Reading the best memoirs is always a intimidating as well as so very encouraging! I love your site, Knitaholics Anonymous. Are you kidding me? That’s freakin’ CREATIVE! Your tag line, divine! Keep up the great work!!! xx

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