Comparison can be great when looking to purchase a product, but how does it affect the creative life?
“Comparison can kill your spirit. The success of others does not equal your failure. When you’re making art that makes you happy, only you can declare your success or failure.” It’s the conclusion Michael Terracciano, an independent comic creator, has reached, and oh, do I love that middle sentence.
Why is it so easy to compare? I wish I knew. We do it all the time in so many areas of our life—especially those where we’re unhappy or not completely satisfied.
But how does comparison help us? There’s always someone “better” or “worse,” so we may feel either depressed or good about ourselves. Neither position changes our work or our worth. Wait. Depression can change our work because we might give up. Christy O’Shoney said, “Comparison is a terrible measuring stick.”
Fanny Flagg said, “Being a successful person is not necessarily defined by what you have achieved, but by what you have overcome.” Or the progress you’ve made, I’d like to add.
Comparison of our previous work with our current work may be encouraging. I know I’ve looked back at older writing and thought, wow, I’ve learned a lot since then. Or, that needs editing, when before I thought it was “perfect.” As long as we don’t harp on “failures” of our past, but use them as touchstones to see how we are progressing, self-comparison can be helpful. David Schlosser agreed, “The only writer to whom you should compare yourself is the writer you were yesterday.”
William Blake said, “I will not reason and compare; my business is to create.” Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” I see this so much in my writing life—the more I write, the more I want to write. And the more I compare, the less I want to write, so yes, I’d say comparison is the enemy of creation.
Yesterday, a student who deals with depression and anxiety
and, like all of us, now this pandemic, said that looking at the instruction
manual felt overwhelming. Yet still she had sent in her assignment. In my
letter back to her, I commended her for her accomplishment and then gave her some
writing “work” advice.
Writing it made me aware of my own creativity. Or should I
say lack thereof. I’m finding it much
easier to do a student lesson, critique someone else’s picture book or novel,
than to actually create myself. It’s easy to jump on the news, Facebook (for
socializing), etc. I need to take my own advice.
We all have upheaval in our lives right now with social
distancing and worrying about the coronavirus. Some of you have children home
full time now. You and/or your spouse may be working from home which is another
adjustment. Or someone in the family has been laid off. It’s stressful. Perhaps
these suggestions for making writing “work” easier will be helpful to you, too.
First, pick one task
Get that one done today and stop. Don’t worry about other writing
things that need to be done. However, if doing one tasks leads you to wanting
to do more, feel free. Just don’t agonize over those days when you can only do
But how do you know what task to do?
Set yourself a writing work schedule
1. Start by making a list of all the things you want to get done: – read recent children’s books – brainstorm ideas – research for one idea – work on first draft – revise a short story, article, picture book, or chapter – do market research – listen to a podcast on ____ topic – read blog posts on _____ – analyze feedback from others on my work – write a cover/query letter for _____ – submit manuscript _____
Be as specific as possible.
See more sample task ideas at the bottom of this article
and in the chart.
2. Commit to a time period whether it is a half hour or an
hour or two. Pick three to five days a week.
3. Next, if you can, prioritize you list in order of most important.
If none stand out, that’s okay too.
4. Then take your “to-do” list and plot them on a calendar OR
during each scheduled time just pick one off of your list.
5. Add and cross-off items on your “want to get done” list.
Word by word, project by project, if you spend a little
bit of time, you will make progress. Celebrate those accomplishments no
matter how small.
Here’s a chart suggestion for recording what you’ve done so you can look back on it and be encouraged:
Second, remember you are not alone
We are all affected. Interacting digitally with others can help us not feel so isolated. My critique group is using Zoom to meet weekly. Don’t have a critique group? Offer to exchange critiques via email with other writers. (You can find them through SCBWI.org, on the Blueboard, through Facebook and Google groups, etc.) Talk to others in these groups. Comment on blog posts or podcasts that you found helpful. Share those links with others you know. And/or share on Twitter.
Third, encourage yourself
I’m finding myself doing a lot of what I call “comfort”
reading—that’s rereading books that I know I’ll enjoy. Recently, it’s been the Harry
Potter books. I’ve also connected with some old friends whom I haven’t talked
to in years. I’m getting outside in the fresh air. What makes you happy? It’s necessary
to take a break from all the bad news and uncertainty.
Read recent children’s books. Whatever fits what you want to write.
A novel. A handful of picture books. Chapter books. What did you learn?
Research one magazine market. Read about the magazine
in the market book, go to the magazine’s website, read guidelines and editorial
calendars, and sample copies if available. Take notes, if you like. I often
write directly in my copy of a market book.
Search #MSWL on Twitter. Agents and editors give updates using