The Comparison Game

My eleven year old son loves chess. He studies chess books, writes down moves, and practices against the computer. . .all because he wants to win.

Several of you mentioned yesterday that you enter writing contests to win. If we're perfectly honest, we all want to come out on top, at some point.

If you read Christina Berry's comment from yesterday, you'll see she won second place in the Genesis contest last year and got her first book contract as a result. Wouldn't that be a dream come true?

We're playing the comparison game to win. And yet when we compare, I've noticed we often react one of two ways:

1. Why can't I write like this? We look at what we write and wonder if we should pack up the laptop. Discouragement.

2. Wow, I can do better than this. We wonder how the author got published in the first place. Pride.

There are many writers on the path and new ones joining the journey every day. Some will be further ahead and some will lag behind, racing to catch up. Others will be very near us.

As we trek along, sometimes we start to think we're further along than we really are. Or maybe we don't give ourselves enough credit for how far we've come. We stumble into the subjective traps of discouragement or pride. We become enmeshed with our stories and have a difficult time separating from them and looking at them objectively.

I tend to fall into the trap of pride. It's easier for me to see the faults in the writing of others more often than I see them in my own. It's something I really struggle with.

Which subjective trap do you fall into? Do you find yourself more critical of others? Or are you too critical of yourself?

As we play the comparison game, here's something practical we can do:
Encourage one another and build each other up. 1Thes. 5:11


  1. I'm much too critical of myself. My favorite comment to myself about my writing is, "I can't believe you wrote that! Shred it!"

    I do have to admit to times of reading winning stories and wondering how in the world they won!

  2. Thinking long and hard for honesty here. Could I be both?

    I mean, when I pick up a published work that is cluttered with head-hopping for absolutely no good reason (at least not to me) then I get really mad at the author for being so lazy and of course, I feel I could do better with that story. Could I come up with the story, though, in the first place, not a chance. That's their baby, not mine.

    But most often than not, I'm in awe of how easily the stories of others roll through my brain from their written word, creating a world, a life, I want to know more about. The stories God gives me, though, roll similarly coherently through my brain, but when I attempt to write them to be shared, it's a mound of endless struggles, always disappointing in the end to me. Hence, why I haven't submitted anything to agents or editors since my "blinded" youth days as a writer. Thank goodness for maturity, there, at least.

    When I'm critical of another's work, I'm always cautious, knowing that subjectivity is so huge in this business. If nothing else, I learn from those works what I don't want to mimic in my own work, not necessarily because it doesn't work in general, but because it isn't a good fit for me.

    That's my long-winded two-cents worth.

    Oh, and, honestly, I think I would be absolutely horrified if I won a contest at this stage in my writing. Then my kids would force me send my sub-standard work in to editors and agents. Right now, I'll just dream of the day that I become ready for publication and even maybe winning a contest, of course, I'll do this while working hard at mastering this craft.

  3. Hi Donna,
    I have to admit, when I go back and read things that I wrote previously, I either get really depressed or roar with laughter at how bad it is! But most of the time, I find it pretty easy to be negative about others!

  4. Hi Eileen,
    Thank you so much for your honest sharing this morning! I haven't read anything you've written (and you might not ever want me to now that I've confessed my sin of being overly critical of others!); but I have the feeling you're being a little too tough on yourself! I bet your work isn't as "sub-standard" as you think! You've been working hard and putting in your time. I'm sure you'll be ready for publication sooner than you think!

  5. I'm totally blind to my own stuff. LOL
    I can easily pick up things in other people's writing that I totally miss in my own. I guess that's why it's good to have a crit partner. :)

  6. Hi Jennifer,
    I think you're right about having someone objective take a look at our writing. I paid someone to critique some of my work, and it was so helpful!

  7. Ah, well, I fall into both all the time. It depends on the day and where I'm at in my WIP. Urgh! It's just part of this business. We must find the balance and trek on.

  8. Hi Lady Glamis,
    I love your no-nonsense outlook! It is part of the business. . .the trick is finding the balance!

  9. Can I talk about another kind of subjective comparison? I'd like to share this to encourage you all.

    An editor told me they were passing on The Familiar Stranger because the woman was too whiny compared to what they like to see in their protagonists. I'd never gotten that feedback before, so responded with humor. "Really? I patterned her exactly off of me!"

    I didn't change the character at all, but if I got that feedback over and over, I would have.

    My editor shared that when he gave my manuscript to eight test readers, I had one woman in tears in the first chapter because she identified with Denise. SO subjective!

  10. Discouragement and pride, I use them mainly as motivators. That and the verse, those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed. :)

  11. Hi Christina,
    Thank you for sharing that example! The more I learning about the writing business, the more I'm amazed at the differences of opinion. Had you changed your character, based on ONE editor's opinion, it wouldn't be the story it is today!

    I think you bring up a good point, and one I'm beginning to think about more seriously: get multiple opinions before deciding to make those major changes. If a number of people see the same issues, then we need to give them more weight. Otherwise be we need to be careful about trying to please everyone, because we never will.

  12. Hi T.Anne,
    After I get over my discouragement, I try to use it as motivation too! But I still struggle with trying to stay humble!

  13. I think I go both ways, depending on the day. Sometimes, it's "How could he/she actually get something like that published!!!" and other times it's, "There's no way I could write something as good as that." It helps to network with other writers, to see that we're all different and have different strengths. I've learned from this that support is the best medicine, not a competitive nature.

  14. Hi Cindy,
    I've become more convicted to be an encourager, to look for the positives in everything. And as you said it helps if we can recognize that we all have different strengths!

  15. Hi Jessica,
    I think you need a pep talk today!! So here goes: if Rachelle Gardner asked for your partial, then she must have seen some talent shining through and a story she liked! Be encouraged to keep going. You're on the right track!!

  16. Hey, Jody, you are my encourager today, I see.

    It is true, I have a huge deficiency when it comes to self-confidence, especially in the writing aspect of my life. But like I commented on Tiffany's blog, is it wise to submit before you feel you are ready?

    I have to ask myself, do I want to become known to the agents and editors I really want to work with one day as an amateur, not-yet-ready? Or would it be better to hold off, keep to the course, and submit once I'm hearing more positive things from my crit partners.

    Or is it through the mounds of rejections that you earn a right to publication?

    Oh, what to do? Stop asking questions would be a start!

  17. Hi again Eileen,
    Just back from leaving a LONG response on your blog! Sorry about that! :)

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