Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 26, 2018

The Comparison Bug - Prevention & Cure

Kerry Schafer

It's one of those days. Your inner critic is on a rampage. Your writing sucks. All the good words are hiding in the corners of your brain and you're left with the rejects. You turn to Facebook for cute cats and emotional support, only to discover that every other writer in the world is having a fantastic day.

Friend X is celebrating her arrival on the NYT bestseller list!

Friend Y just signed with his dream agent!

Friend Z  sold the 100,000th copy of a book you personally feel kind of sucks.

Acquaintance A just had a huge breakthrough and wrote 10,000 words this morning...

The virulent comparison bug kicks in and in the dark recesses of your soul you wish for some small bad thing to befall that oh-so-successful friend of yours. Nothing really bad, of course. Something small, like a zit in the middle of a perfect forehead, or a little muscle twinge, or bad traffic on the way to work…

No? You're a better human than that? Of course you are. Me too. (clears throat, shuffles papers, conceals voodoo doll in desk drawer.)

Of course we are happy for our friends' successes. But at the same time, maybe there's a little voice in our heads shouting, "What About Me? When Is It My Turn??? How come I'm not ever the one who gets lucky?"

If that voice is loud enough, you might suddenly notice that the toilets need cleaning. Those boxes that have been in the attic for twenty years need to be sorted through today. A job as a circus performer sounds like a good idea because ANYTHING would have to be easier and make more sense than writing.

What to do?

I've found the following to be useful remedies:

1. Keep coming back to the love. Throughout the day, call into your consciousness anything that you love about your writing process. What inspired you to write your current work in progress? Where is the spark? Can you feel that again? Find a way to remember, whether it's a sticky note on your mirror, a mantra you repeat to yourself while you comb your hair, a dream board, a collage – experiment until you find what works for you.

2. Remind yourself of all of the things that are already in place in your writing career. Connections with other writers. Conferences you attend. Things you've written, whether published or unpublished, finished or unfinished. Make frequent lists of what you've done as a reminder that you're already living your dream.

3. Lavishly celebrate your own accomplishments, even the small ones. Treat yourself like the celebrity you are.

4. Consider a Social Media fast. Sign off. Take a break. Read a good book. Go for a walk. The sky won't fall, and it's good to get some space.

5. Think of that successful writer as a guide, a scout who has gone before to prepare the way for you. What can you learn from them? What small step can you take to follow in their footsteps? Even if your opinion is that a supremely successful book is not all that and a bag of chips, clearly there is something about it that appeals to readers. Can you be an objective observer and figure out what it is?

6. Practice helps us gain perspective so our inner voices aren't running the show. Five minutes (or even sixty seconds) a day is helpful and you can do it anywhere. In the bathroom. In your car before or after work. At your desk before you start writing. While you're rocking the baby to sleep or waiting for the dog to pee. The beginning instructions are simple. Get comfortable. Focus in on your breath. When your mind wanders (as it will) notice and bring it back, over and over again.

7. Loving Kindness Meditation This practice is to the Comparison Bug what Tamiflu is to the flu. It's magnesium and black elderberry and zinc and vitamin C, D, and X,Y,Z. Find a minute or five where you won't be interrupted. Sit down, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and breathe out. Bring into your mind an image of the person you are comparing yourself to. Breathe in again. As you breathe out, think the phrase, "May you be well." Breathe in, and on the out breath think the phrase, "May I be well." Repeat for your allotted time, ending with, "May we all be well." Repeat throughout the day in small increments. Practiced regularly, this simple exercise will retrain your brain and your emotions and help you focus your attention where it belongs: on your own writing process.

What have you done to get over the comparison bug?

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Kerry Schafer (also writing as Kerry Anne King) knows of what she speaks. She has six traditionally published novels to her name, one indie, and three novellas. She is also a creativity coach who works with writers to help them discover –and trust—their own unique creative process, freeing them to get their writing done. Kerry would like you to know that she is currently in full remission from the comparison bug and has burned the voodoo doll. You can find her through her coaching website, Swimming North, at her Facebook creative community the Dreamweavers Attic, or drop her an email at contact@kerryschafer.com

30 comments on “The Comparison Bug - Prevention & Cure”

  1. I was just texting with a friend about this, this morning! So easy to go to the 'dark side'. I use your solutions 1 & 2 the most often. And chocolate. And getting out in nature and getting over myself.

    1. I didn't know you struggled with this, Laura. You're always so positive for everyone. But yes, doesn't chocolate and coffee help everything feel better?

  2. I appreciate the brutal honesty of this post as well as the advice. Comparison is toxic. I have to remind myself that we are all on a different journey and there are enough readers out there for all of us. I fall into the comparison trap, then try to follow what others do in marketing or in other ways, lose MY way, and fail.The advice in #5 for me has to come with a cautionary note. Thank you for your guidance and help.

    1. Yes- we are all on a different journey. I know exactly what you mean about getting sucked into other people’s marketing, etc. It works so much better to just be ourselves, but there’s that little voice in our heads that wants us to believe we aren’t capable or effective. In my head, anyway. I’m learning to thank it for its input and then ignore itBtw, “failure” means you tried an experiment, so actually it’s a win!

  3. I must confess, I go through this way too often lately. Maybe I should try alll of these suggestions. One should work. Thanks. Or maybe I just need a good luck in the pants.

    1. I agree with Laura - we all need good luck in the pants!! As to what I think you meant, may I suggest a little self compassion instead? It’s hard to put yourself out there with your writing. It also helps to acknowledge that you have been brave and worked hard, and that it’s pretty normal to feel some envy. And then try one of the suggestions.

  4. The "Comparison Bug" hits hard, not only when I come across other writers on SM, but with my two writing partners as well! Thanks for this.

    1. Sometimes it's worse when it's contracted from the people you really love and are close to, I think - because we really do want good things for them, so then this little layer of guilt can sneak in. I think it's helpful to be able to just accept that it happens, that it's normal for it to happen. And that makes it easier to let it go.

  5. I suppose it would be getting the wrong message from this post if I asked where to get voodoo dolls. 😉

    Yes, I totally understand this feeling. And this post is aptly timed, since RWA just announced finalists for its major contests, and some absolutely wonderful writers...did not get the call. It can be easy to get discouraged, wherever you are in this journey, but I love your tips for staying on track.

    #3 (Lavishly Celebrate) hit me in particular because a friend of mine told me about how she keeps a "happiness jar," where she tucks the compliments and kudos she gets from colleagues and readers. Then in a downtime, she can bring out those pieces of paper, read them, and remind herself that she's a good writer and she can do this. I'm giving her idea a shot this year, with my jar, and a few pieces of paper so far, on the bookcase next to me. Thanks, Kerry!

      1. I LOVE the Happiness Jar idea! And I'll keep the voodoo doll right next to it. Read a few notes, get happy, pick up the doll & the pins and get really happy. No, wait, forget I said that.

    1. Email me for info on the super secret voodoo doll supply source... oh, wait. No. Wrong message. Say no to the voodoo dolls. 😉 I love the happiness jar! That is an awesome idea. Another thing I do is to keep a special "reminder journal" where I write down compliments, successes, aha moments, things I've done that I'm proud of, etc. That way they are all in one place and I can just flip through for a little "Maybe I'm okay after all" moment when needed.

  6. Each WITS blog post seems to be the message I need to hear at the time. But this one REALLY was the "luck in the pants" I needed today. Doubts lead to procrastination, and though it may result in a squeaky clean refrigerator, it doesn't get the story written! Thanks so much for the super ideas.

    1. The comparison thing really does lead to procrastination, which gets in the way of you writing those unique stories that only you can write. I'm so glad this blog was of some help to you. 🙂 I'd love to know what you try, and if any of these ideas work for you.

  7. Voodoo dolls!

    I am so guilty of this. (Comparing myself to others, not the voodoo stuff) I do my best to surround myself with positive friends who support me through all my insecurities. Thanks for the honesty and the humor.

    1. I'm glad to hear that you're not actually guilty of voodoo, lol. Positive friends are another awesome preventative - I should have included them in my list!

  8. May we all be well! Thank you so much for this. Yikes! Why are writers such insecure animals? Why am I so needy for authority to tell me my story is good? Breathe, Vic, breathe. May we all be well.

    Enjoy your spring holiday!

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