It’s hard not to compare ourselves with other writers and dangerous when we do
As a teenager, I remember reading the book I’m Okay—You’re Okay by Thomas Harris. As I recall, the book explained that we consider ourselves in one of two ways, either as being okay or as not being okay. Conversely, we judge others the same way, either as okay or not okay.
Combined, these two dichotomies result in four distinct perspectives of how we view and interact with others:
- I’m okay—you’re okay.
- I’m okay—you’re not
- I’m not okay—you’re okay.
- I’m not okay—you’re not
The first view is healthy, and the other three are not, with the book explaining what to do.
I fear a lot of writers struggle with the third scenario. They compare themselves to other writers—the popular, visible ones—and wrongly conclude everyone else is doing better than they are. By comparison, they fall short, often way short.
I get this. I struggle with this from time to time. Perhaps you do, too.
We hear of writers who receive lucrative book deals with huge advances, ones we hoped for ourselves. We see authors who make some prestigious bestsellers’ list or win a coveted award—sometimes on their first book—which we dream of for ourselves. Others have their books made into movies, which we yearn to experience. Then there are the indie authors who make six and even seven figures annually just on book sales, an outcome we secretly covet.
Then we feel small. Even our best accomplishment seems insignificant in comparison. Then that writer’s voice inside us says “They’re okay, but I’m not. They’re a success and I’m a failure.”
We need to stop that. It’s not healthy for our wellbeing, and it’s not helpful to our writing.
Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we need to compare ourselves to ourselves. Ask two questions:
First, did I do the best I could with what I just wrote? If so, then be proud of our accomplishments.
The second question is, how could I do better? Pick one area, and set about to get better. Then our future self can look back at our present self with the firm knowledge over having improved. That’s a success. Then we can say, “I’m okay.”
My hope for you is that you can truly say, “I’m okay—you’re okay.”