Friday, March 23, 2012

Paralysis by comparison

A writer I coach in Tennessee wrote recently that an old classmate of his at the Iowa Writers Workshop was enjoying success with a novel she recently published, a novel begun in 1997. Both of the parts of this made him anxious. That she had success and that it had taken her many years to complete the book. He is struggling to find writing time amidst a full life with time-consuming ministry and small children.

In a second event this week, I watched a beginning writer not want to read in her writing support group because a more experienced writer had read first. The experienced writer was reading a polished draft and the new writer a zero draft.

In both cases, there was paralysis by comparison. Comparing our creative work or our creative process to another's is not helpful. It doesn't teach us anything about our own craft. It doesn't teach us how to improve or come to it more often or more easily. It just makes us feel bad. And it's about as valid as comparing apples to elephants.

Our process is our process. When we write, how often, how long we sit there, how easy it is. And if we don't have OUR process, it won't work for us. Our creative efforts come from our hearts, souls, minds. Not someone else's. We can admire theirs, we can love it. But however good it is is no reflection on how good ours is.

So if you find yourself caught in the realm of comparisons, step away quickly. It won't help and it sure can hurt.