Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Comparison Game

Julie’s recent post about climbing the mountain with her daughter got me thinking about life in general and writing in particular. About fifteen years ago, I ran a marathon. Ran may be a bit of a euphemism here. I ran the first ten to twelve miles. I walked the next ten. And I limped the rest of the way. Admittedly my time was not very good, and at the end I collapsed with the worst calf cramps I have ever had.

The question is, was that a failure? Most of the people who ran the marathon beat me. My oldest kids—who were pretty young at the time—asked, “Dad, did you win?” No. No I did not. But here’s the thing, how many people ran, walked, or limped twenty-six miles that day? Very, very few. I ran further and faster than probably 99.99 percent of everyone in the world that day. Should I really worry about that less than one one-hundreth of a percent that beat me?

I look at my good friend Julie climbing that hill with her daughter, and instead of worrying about the people who went further than her, I recognize the fact that she was out climbing a mountain when most people were sitting on the couch watching reality TV, or eating Oreos, or cleaning between their toes, or doing anything less stressful than climbing a mountain with their daughter. And my response is Julie, you totally rock! Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. I already know that Julie is an awesome writer and an awesome mom and an awesome friend. But if I didn’t I would know it from the fact that she was out there climbing with her daughter when she probably felt like doing anything but.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, last weekend was BEA, Book Expo America. Many of my good friends were in New York doing signings and going to parties and hanging out with each other and lots of other cool authors. Where was I last weekend? Well Friday I was in Pahrump, NV. I’ll bet most of you don’t even know where Pahrump is. Saturday I was home writing.

It would have been very easy to feel like crap, that I still haven’t even been to a BEA. But this is where the comparison game can drive you crazy. If you aren’t published, there are people who are. If you are published there are people who have bigger print runs. If you have bigger print runs, there are people with bigger advances. If you have bigger advances, there are people who sell more books. If you sell more books, there are people who have received more prestigious awards. Get the picture?

Competition is fine if you are into that kind of thing. If it gets your juices flowing and makes you want to do better to have a target to shoot for, shoot away. But comparing yourself to others is a losing proposition. Literally. You. Will. Always. Lose. Because someone will always be more successful than you. Now, on the flip side you will always win, because while someone is always better than you, someone is always worse. But you will have a pretty miserable life if you are always looking for someone to feel superior over too.

Instead, find joy in what you are doing. I wasn’t at BEA, but I got to meet a bunch of awesome kids at schools last week. I got to be interviewed by both of Pahrump’s TV stations and the newspaper. I met some AMAZING librarians and teachers. I got to spend a week with my boys, hanging around the pool, working on my next book, and catching some rays. I have a really great life.

So do you, as long as you don’t start comparing it to everyone else’s life.

Back to the writing thing. Focus on yourself. What you do best. Focus on your successes and let your failures run off your back. If you haven’t been published yet, don’ sweat it. Keep writing. Most of the people who want to be writers never complete a single thing. If you have, you are ahead of them. If you haven’t than go ahead and do so. If you have been published, stop worrying about who is making more money or getting bigger print runs. Unless you can do something about it, why waste your time with stressing about it. Remember back when you said you’d give your right leg to get published?

And finally, if all else fails, ask Rob Wells to make you one of these.

Now get back to writing, and take some time to smell the printer ink.


At 6/01/2009 11:48 PM, Blogger Paige's Pages said...

Wonderful post! It is most important to focus on what you can do. And remember, wether it takes you a few hours or a few days (in my case :)) to finish, you gave it your best and that is all that matters. One of my favorite movie quotes is from Disneys Cool Runnings. The bobsled team is doing wonderful and it looks as though they will win a race that everyone thought impossible. Then the un-thinkable happens. The sled breaks and the team has lost the chance to win the medal. One of the team members turns another and asks if he is dead to which he replies "No, but I have to finish the race." If you had to walk the whole race that would be alright. Its most important that you give it your best!

At 6/02/2009 12:19 AM, Blogger Stephanie Humphreys said...

Love the bumper sticker. They should sell these at the LDStorymakers conference.

At 6/02/2009 1:25 AM, Blogger lachish said...


Great post! Especially since I just read through James' gushing about BEA, and then started feeling a little envious. And I am not even published. YET...

At 6/02/2009 1:54 AM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

I frickin' love that bumper sticker. You must have an electrical feed into my head because these same thoughts (not just about writing but about life too) have been filling up my brain.

It would be so easy to get down about a lot. It would be so easy to call my life a lost battle and not a victory. But then I step back and tell myself that I've only lost if I've quit. I'm only unhappy if I choose to be.

And you did me one better. Humor can see you through about anything. =]

At 6/02/2009 8:54 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Perserverence is the key. Just think, you are following your dream. Enjoy the journey, the highs and the lows and everything in between. For me, it's been an honor to win some writing awards, but there are only a select few in my life that will even appreciate that. It's the smallest things, day in and day out that keep me going. A nice email, a funny blog post, a book that inspires me, a great day with the kids, my 12-year old daughter laughing, a "Rose hug" from my 5-year old, an intense baseball game . . . .

At 6/02/2009 10:28 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Absolutely fantastic post, Jeff. It's SO easy to fall into the comparison trap--and so dangerous.

That bumper sticker is hilarious.

At 6/02/2009 12:18 PM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...

Fabulous bumper sticker...and even better post.

You summed up one of the main reasons I'm grateful to live in Virginia. I have no idea who is doing what in the LDS publishing world so I can't compare myself even if I want to. I think that's a good thing. :)

At 6/02/2009 12:21 PM, Blogger Allyson Condie said...

Jeff, thank you so much for this post. I was feeling the same way, except I spent my weekend potty-training. Awesome. Anyway, this really lifted my spirits. Next year we will both be at BEA, right?!?

At 6/02/2009 12:38 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Wow, according to your statistic, you're saying that 70,000 people in the world were faster than you on that day. How many people were in that marathon? =)

At 6/02/2009 12:49 PM, Blogger Taffy said...

Thanks for the great reminder!
I have actually been to Pahrump! I love to say that sounds like something to say when you are upset or annoyed :p

At 6/02/2009 12:54 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Paige, I loved Cool Runnings

Stephanie, well they already had dashner shirts and pins, bumper stickers was really the next thing. Actually, I was giving Rob a hard time about the finalist stickers and he made that up for me. Funny guy!

LT, it's funny how one little thing can get us down and how much it takes to get back up. I think most of are wired that way. But it is something we can change. We have to stop looking for the downers and start noticing all the uppers.

Heather, I agree completely. My kids are always a great lift. I also remember one school I did where nothing seemed to go right. Just as I was about to call it a total failure, this little girl came up and asked me if she could give me a hug. Changed my whole day.

Stephanie, You are allowed to compare. You are amazing! But yes, it is definitely a trap.

Traci, there is definitely a part of me that wishes I didn't know what was going on with everyone else so I could just focus on what I'm doing. Obviously it works for you. Your writing is wonderful.

Allyson, Can't think of anyone else I'd rather go to BEA with. We'd have a ball.

Jon, you stat geek, clearly you've never been to the St. George Marathon. It's huge!!! Okay, maybe not that big, but don't you think it's possible that across the entire world 70k people ran or walked 26 miles that day. I specifically changed it from 99.9 to 99.99 just for people like you!!

At 6/03/2009 1:00 PM, Blogger Alison Palmer said...

Thanks Jeff,
This was just what I needed today. Heather's comment reminded me about the importance of a family cheering squad.
My daughter, who is now a teenager didn't even have a clue I published books until the 2nd came out. She just thought I liked to spend time on the computer. :)
A few months ago that daughter helped me celebrate the completion of another project. She wanted to know when it would be published so she could tell all her friends.
I explained that I had to find someone who actually wanted to publish it first, etc. She was completely floored. "Well, why wouldn't somebody want to publish it?"
That was a very good writing and family day.

At 6/03/2009 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, thank you for your kind words. You are such a bright spot in the LDS publishing world and a great cheerleader for those of us who are following the paths you are trailblazing. Thank you for being such a great friend and such an inspiration to everyone you come in contact with.


At 6/05/2009 2:59 PM, Blogger Gale Sears said...

Thanks for the great post. Not comparing was one of those philosophies on which I was raised-along with don't eat raw speggetti noodles cause you'll get worms. I know the one about not comparing is a super useful life tool. Not eating raw noodles? I'm still testing that one.


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