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 a beautiful writer. While your history and life lessons share some commonalities with others, your styles are different. You’re not in a competition with any of them for anything. I learned early on that there will always be someone prettier, smarter, fitter, 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.
I’ve used moments of self-flogging comparisons as an excuse to cease working toward my dreams, halting my progress. But not for long. Moving forward, regardless, is the only thing that brings lasting relief.
I bet you can guess by now which book both inspires me and has on occasion made me want to give it all up to become a pea farmer in Peoria—yeah, Eat Pray Love. That’s not the book that’s currently slaying Jan. (That one will go unnamed; 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 is my American-Author-Idol. She and I share just enough commonality in this life to make it dangerous for me (white European ancestry; close in age; one sibling—a writer sister, with whom we’re close; past magazine jobs; friends in common—the list goes on). But the truth is: she’s better than me. Better at crafting memorable analogies, putting the fun in funny, researching vast amounts of data to make it riveting + relevant, and bringing ancient history and classic literature to life.
Liz has traveled everywhere and retained a seemingly 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?
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? Stay with me on this. What if Liz’s success clears more space for my own? After all, she 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 better than my idol at something? I’ve been told by someone who loves us both that when I delve into painful topics, I’m more self-reflective in unearthing 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.