Unless You’re Buying an Appliance, Comparisons Aren’t Always Useful

Looking out on Lake Charlevoix in Boyne City, Michigan, December 2022.

A couple of days ago I read “Avoid Comparing Yourself to Other Writers – Even Yourself,” a blog by Finnian Burnett, and as I read, I kept nodding my head in agreement. With the tweaking of a few details, Burnett could’ve been writing about me.

I related to their comparing their 2022 writing accomplishments to their 2023 writing attempts. I, too, have deadlines looming for journals and contests that I’ve submitted to in the past few years but wonder if I’ll submit to all of them again this year. I’ve been working on writing new stories and essays, but it’s harder this year, and what I have is a handful of rough drafts that I haven’t returned to working on yet because I tell myself I need to let them simmer. I’m not sure why writing seems harder this year, but I have some guesses. First, I spent large chunks of time this fall and early winter visiting my mom, who is recovering from major heart surgery. And I’m subbing a lot more, something I did infrequently during the 2021-22 school year. Both of those activities have taken time away from my writing. Also, I had short stories and essays published and a few won prizes in contests during 2022. Now, I wonder if I can write something as good or hopefully better. That kind of thinking makes my fingers freeze over the keyboard.

Like Burnett, I often admire another writer’s work, and say to myself, “Wow, I wish I could write like that!” It’s a little easier to put those comparisons aside and remind myself to be the writer I am and to compete only against myself. But that can be perilous too. Burnett has a point about looking back at our past accomplishments and using them against ourselves as a measuring stick – it’s not too helpful when sitting down to write in the present.

Reading Burnett’s blog made me feel better. It’s comforting to know someone else feels the way I feel. Writing is a solitary endeavor most of the time, and when I do get together with other writers, we often discuss what we’re working on, give each other feedback, and share resources. But if I’m struggling, I don’t want to be the little black cloud in the group raining insecurity, so I’m grateful that Burnett shared their feelings about the times when writing isn’t clicking. It’s wonderful to have a community of writers to share the good times and happy news with, but it’s also wonderful to have a community of writers to share the tough times with. Talking about the boogeyman hiding under my keyboard helps because the pesky monster shrinks in size when I talk about it.

Burnett suggests we be compassionate with ourselves. So, I’ve done a handstand and flipped my viewpoint, and I’m giving myself credit for what I’ve done so far this year. I have three rough drafts that might make good stories. I’m reworking an essay I thought was complete, giving it more depth and meaning (letting a piece of writing simmer isn’t just procrastination). In the last two weeks I finished a 900-word story and a 3,000-word essay, which I submitted a day before the deadline, and I started another short story that has promise. And I write for my blog.

The only cure I know for writing is to keep writing. And I’ve been doing that, just differently and slower. And it’s all okay.

Thank you, Finnian Burnett, for saying so in your blog and reminding us all to be kind to ourselves. And you said it so well!

[To read “Avoid Comparing Yourself to Other Writers – Even Yourself” by Finnian Burnett, click here.]

10 thoughts on “Unless You’re Buying an Appliance, Comparisons Aren’t Always Useful

  1. Hey Vickie ~ I know we all have slumps, but it does help to have real conversations with writerly friends. Monday at Barnes and Nobles with you was fun and sustained me for a couple days. Then I went back to my novel, which I hadn’t had a chance to look at for two months. I only have a couple chapters left, but it took me two days of re-reading, brainstorming, and a couple naps to get the next chapter written! Keep writing my friend, we’ll always have obstacles, but you’ve got lots of great stories to share!

    Liked by 1 person

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