I Want What She's Got: The Disastrous Comparison Game

There's a thief among us in the writing community: this thief is insidious, harmful, and causing an enormous amount of heartache, pain, and angst. And worst of all, this thief is stealing writers' ability to write.  What is this thief?   
credit: chibird.com
The compulsion to compare oneself to others.                                                                                               I write, but they write better. I have completed a manuscript, but they have an agent. I have an agent, but they have a publishing deal. I have a publishing deal, but they have marketing. I have marketing, but they have a publicist. I have...but they have. I have...but they have. I have...but they have....                                                                                             Where does it stop? It has to stop with the writer who decides not to play the game. It has to stop with the writer who decides to trust in their own goals and decisions. It has to stop with the writer who decides to turn off the noise. It has to stop with the writer who is able to say, "The only writer to whom I should be comparing myself is the writer I was yesterday." The cost of the obsessive, high-stakes "I have...but they have" game is just too great: Creativity is floundering. Craft is being overlooked. Imagination is impotent. Dreams are being derailed. 

I suppose there is such a thing as "healthy comparison," but I don't know anyone who's healthy enough to master such a thing--is anyone really that healthy? Theodore Roosevelt cautioned, "Comparison is the thief of joy," and I think we must take heed. We must, as a community, be diligent protecting ourselves from such a thief. We must recommit to nurturing and nourishing something extremely delicate and precious--the artist's craft, the artist's imagination, the artist's vision, the artist's dream. Something extremely delicate and precious...and incomparable. And if you find yourself being dealt a hand in the "I have...but they have" game? Fold, walk away, and go back to that place that matters most: your writing. There's nothing in the world worth putting that in jeopardy.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Seeing the World

An author recently shared with me a wonderful "Ah-Ha!" moment that occurred for her in my World Building workshop. I'd asked authors to write down three tenets or commandments of the world in which their main character lives.  The author said, "I was really thrown for a loop when you asked us to come up with commandments for our story's world because I was like, "Well, it's the here and now so, ya know, our commandments."  But then it hit me that my character's world is actually her home and high school, and those are very specific to her and would have their own commandments. It was a wonderful light bulb moment that will really help me flesh out her surroundings and how they effect her on my next round of revisions."
"through the lens" - (c) 2007-2014 deranged-mongoose
Being able to see through the lens of our main characters. This is one of the most difficult and most important challenges for any writer. A story world--and indeed perhaps any world, including our own world!--doesn't actually exist in any real way unless and until it's perceived and seen by someone, and exactly how someone perceives their world is going to vary from person to person, from character to character.

As this author suggests, a story set in the here and now would, one might logically assume, have commandments or tenets that mimic our own. But what are these, really? If we were to ask ten people what they think the commandments or tenets are of our world today, I guarantee we would get ten entirely different lists. My list of commandments will differ from yours and yet we live in the same world. Or do we? What defines a world? Or should we be asking, rather, who defines a world?

Successful and compelling story world building--whether fantasy, sci-fi, or the familiar here and now contemporary--relies solely on an author figuring out how to see with their character's eyes, taste with their character's tongue, hear with their character's ears, touch with their character's fingers, and feel with their character's senses. Only when we figure out what and how a character perceives and feels when his or her lens is placed over the world can that world be brought into sharp, specific focus. And only then will a world come to life for our stories, ourselves, and our readers.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC