The Comparison Conundrum

So today I got an email.

Nothing special there, right? I mean, I get at least a hundred emails per day, mostly because of my problem with subscribing to too many author newletters. But this email wasn’t one of those. No, it was a Goodreads email, a monthly YA newsletter.  I scrolled through like normal, then I got to an author profile. “Oh, cool!” I thought to myself. “This is kinda like me. PhD student to writer.”

I kept reading. Not only was this person a PhD student, but she wrote her debut novel while at MIT. Awesome for her! But it didn’t stop there. She was a neuroscientist.

I stopped reading, and all my feelings changed. Instead of the connection and interest I had felt at seeing someone like me, it shifted to jealousy and a case of “why not me?”

You see, I wrote my first novel (well, my first completed and polished novel) while I was in grad school. For neuroscience. But unlike her, no one offered to represent my book. It sat in the query spiral for two to three years before I finally decided to pull it and publish it on Wattpad (you can read it here. I’m publishing it in serial form, which you can read about here).

Let me tell you, it is not a good feeling to see someone like you, only better (at least in your mind), succeeding at your dream. And not only that, but she used her science, like me, to influence her writing. I felt like my identity as a writer had been stolen.

Side note: if we, as writers, are truly honest with ourselves, jealousy is a very real issue that we all face at some point in our careers. It’s okay to feel jealous, as long as you don’t act inappropriately because of it and as long as you strive to get past it.

Here’s where the comparison gets deadly. It would be so easy for me to just quit trying at this point, to say that my voice can’t possibly matter because someone like me did better. To say that my voice has already been heard.

But that isn’t true. Even if you find an author similar to you, who did the things you did, even if they seemingly did better at it, that doesn’t mean your voice shouldn’t be heard or that you aren’t succeeding at life. It also doesn’t mean that their story is the same, and by its very nature, that means your storytelling is different.

Success is relative, my friends. For me, grad school was a monster with teeth and poison, and I had to deal with that while pulling myself out of it and completing my degree. That severely and negatively impacted not only my health but also my productivity and creativity. But I graduated, and at that time, that was a huge success.

I found a science job I love, and I excel at it. That is also success.

I love to write. I’ve written a total of four complete novels in the last five years and have polished, cleaned, and queried one of them. I’ve entered two short story contests and was a finalist in one (the other one is still pending).

This is my success, and all of these things are my story. No one else has exactly my story, though it’s the relatability of my story that can connect to others.

I love to write and I keep sharing it with others. Putting my dream into perspective, that’s what I wanted all along. I wanted to share my work, to make connections with people. And I’m doing that. Yes, I also want to be a published author, so very much, but just because the book I queried wasn’t right for the publishing world at this time doesn’t mean it’s a bad book or that I’m a bad writer. On the contrary, I’ve gotten a number of compliments on my writing and on that book, from beta readers, other writers, and industry professionals. As writers, we need to separate our ability and skill from the publishing market, because the market is fickle and relies on what the publishers decide is marketable…not on how good a book is.

I know it’s hard to avoid, but comparison is the killer of dreams. Once you start going down that alley, it’s a quick spiral into “not good enough”s and “why bother”s.

But here’s the truth of it: no matter what someone else has done, no one else can tell your stories that way you can. And no one should. Don’t let self-doubt and criticism and jealousy win. Write. Listen to the criticism of others. Rejoice in the success of others. Let your doubt make you more determined, and let your voice be one well-regarded and respected among your peers, no matter how well you are achieving your dreams. Don’t give up on those dreams.

Keep writing, and keep telling the stories the way only you can.

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