The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics




Monday, November 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo Tip #20: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

At the beginning of this month, I swore myself the ambitious task of writing a tip a day for NaNoWriMo. I knew going in that it'd be difficult--November is a killer month, after all, which is the very reason NaNoWriMo takes place in it: to challenge you. As the month winds up, I'll have done a pretty good job keeping up with these tips, and have written a few I think have been well-received. Though 30 of them, I won't have.

Added to this, I'm not the only one making a tip a day--there's also been the wonderful series of tips coming from GalleyCat's Jason Boog, advice which has been encouraging and which I also mean, on time. Today's tip, for example, "Lulu Titlescorer Tests Your Title," is his 29th tip, coming on November 29th. Whereas mine for today is #20. (Since you're all writers, and thus not mathematically inclined, that's nine off the mark.)

There were days when I posted my tip to Twitter about the same time GalleyCat posted theirs...showing that GalleyCat's tip number matched up with the day, and mine did not. Did this bother me? Well, of course. I thought about changing my numbering to reflect the date rather than actual tip number. I thought about going over to roman numerals, to confuse everyone. I thought about dropping the numbering.

And in more stressed-out moments--feeling overwhelmed and "behind"--I briefly thought about dropping the tips altogether. But this was usually just a sign that my blood sugar was dropping and I needed to eat.

Comparing yourself to other writers, or comparing your work habits or productivity to theirs, is a dangerous exercise...and you NaNoWriMo-ers know what I mean: that pinch of jealousy, coupled with shame, you feel when you've had a rough day at the keys, only to see a tweet come in from a fellow writer: "Wrote 20k words at breakfast! Writing 10k more this afternoon before having steak dinner and sleigh ride and kissing with significant other who loves me!" And the insult to injury would be, all of this exuberance-- unlike my example--would come in 140 characters.

But there is no competitive writing that I'm aware of...ESPN's never going to devote their 2am slot to it. The competition in writing is solely within you: to write better today than you did the day, or the story, or the novel before. To push yourself to do something you're not sure you can do, and to keep up with it when times get tough. Most importantly, to take some question you have about yourself or the world and, through the act of writing, to understand the question--yourself, the world--a little better.

If there were a competitive writing show on ESPN, this would be the match-up we'd see: not "Writer A has a two-thousand-word lead over Writer B, Bob" but "Writer A just came up against the question of why bad things happen to good people...and in ten lines of well-wrought dialogue makes me, a simple sports announcer, think about the world differently! Let's look at that in super slow-mo!"

National Novel Writing Month can feel like a competition at times, that's true...partly because everyone's scrambling toward the same goal, and also because, well, there's an actual manuscript competition involved. In fact, being in a writing community period can feel this way: It's human nature that when a friend has a story published, or a book taken, whereas all we got that day was Dear Writer, at least some part of our response is to think, Why not me? You know...the same way we often downplay or dismiss those successes that do come our way.

One thing that's important to take out of an exercise like NaNoWriMo, then, is to recognize how writers function within a community: how you can celebrate others' successes, and be inspired by them, without competition or jealousy. How others will celebrate yours the same way, and you shouldn't feel bad or sheepish when they do. And how our success as writers isn't measured by what others are doing but in that intimate relationship we develop between head-heart-fingers-keys. In what you, and only you, have accomplished on the page.

Hope you've had an excellent November. And here's to continued success in December, one of eleven other national novel writing months.


  1. Great post. Writing is an individual journey and we're all at different stations. The writer I am now isn't the writer I was this time last year. And the only person who will get me to the next station is me.

  2. Amen, dirtywhitecandy...and losing sight of that causes a whole lot of unnecessary grief.

    Thanks for the comment!