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 Things you've written, whether published or unpublished, finished or unfinished.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 firstname.lastname@example.org