Writers Aren’t Competing With Each Other

Competition between writers seems unnecessary because our role is not to become the one voice drowning out the others; our role is to be our own unique voice.

Alegra Clarke, Love the Competition: The world needs writers

This has been on my mind since Jen at Laughing at Chaos posted about her upcoming book from GHF Press. Jen and I interact in enough spaces on the Internet that I feel a connection to her. My first response upon hearing the news was entirely based on my expectations/projections of her feelings: elation followed by a gut feeling of panic on her behalf.

And then, I started thinking dangerous thoughts, “why not me?” thoughts. Thoughts I needed put away and consider reflections of my own feelings of inadequacy and no more. Because the truth is I really want to read her book.

I couldn’t write it. I would have to be her to write it.

She actively looks for (and more importantly, finds) the humour in challenges that I share with her, humour that usually eludes me. When I write about the challenges of parenting 2e kids, my thoughts are peppered with scientific research and education policy. She writes the funny. We could both write amazing books about our experiences raising 2e kids and they would be entirely different – even if we were raising the same kids, which we aren’t.

I had similar thoughts when I first saw a Barry Eisler novel for sale with the other mass market paperbacks at my local drug store. You may have heard of Barry: best-selling thriller writer, turned down a half-million dollar publishing contract to self-publish last year. I practiced law with him.

And when my best friend from middle school won a Pulitzer? Mostly just awe. She’s incredible at what she does.

No matter how hard I might have worked, I could not have written what they have written. They see the world through different eyes than mine. They have worked exceedingly hard and been lucky. And I celebrate them.

My voice is my voice. My work is what it is, and reaches who it reaches. They have their own voices and their own audiences.

And that is how it should be.

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About Kate Arms-Roberts

www.katearmsroberts.com

Posted on January 20, 2012, in Creativity, This Writing Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. My experience with knowing so many creatives over the years is that we are by our very nature envious of the success of other creatives. It’s part of our DNA; it’s a sign of how much we care about producing great work ourselves, and having that work appreciated. But if you look throughout history, you see societies of writers who supported each other. There were the Inklings in the 1930s, with C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkein and other accomplished writers, who would meet regularly at the Eagle and Child pub. Thoreau, Alcott and Emerson communing in New England in the 1800s. Cicero inviting the leading orators of his day into his home for lengthy debates washed down with wine and concluding with pats on the back.

    Writing is such a lonely pursuit. I believe we benefit personally when we can get past our base jealousies and be happy for the success of a friend or peer. We can almost free-ride on their success, imagine some of it for ourselves, and anticipate their support of us when we achieve it. And this social-media age makes it easier for us to create virtual writer salons, giving us at once more cause for envy but more opportunity to receive adulation as well.

    Egads. I think my comment is longer than your post!

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Thank you, Patrick. You dug into the why of my experience.

      I agree that the envy is usually there, but without getting past that, it is easy to become lonely and bitter.

      Cheers, Kate

  2. I agree that we shouldn’t compete. If I compare myself to others who may be more gifted, then I may not share my voice. Sometimes I have things worth saying. Plus, it is something that I enjoy. I have no goals to ever be paid for my work. Maybe that means I’m not a writer. But there’s seldom a moment when I’m not writing something in my head, which is much easier than actually sitting down to write it out lol.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Thank you, Barb.
      I believe that we gain from owning our own voices whether we publish or not.
      I encourage you to keep sitting down and writing.
      It is much easier for me to claim my own voice when I see it in front of me than when I hear it in my head.
      Cheers,
      Kate

  3. I’m…humbled to read this. I do know where you’re coming from, though. Remember, I have a flute performance background. The “why not me?” is a thought that has gone through my mind more than once as a musician. It’s also really loud when I think about the people I grew up with and see what they’re doing now.

    I am excited yet quite terrified about this book. I do not see myself as a writer. I still see myself as a lapsed flutist and a hack at that. Who am I to write, to have something to say? Yet I can’t help but write, it’s something I want and need to do.

    Different voices. They’re all needed.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Funny that you bring up your performance background. I learned most of what I know about dealing with my competetive feelings towards other creative people from my years of theatre.

      Kate

  4. Yes, “and that is how it should be”
    thank you for honoring the work of others
    and for writing your voice
    doing your work
    beyond competition
    lines of a poem by David Whyte are with me
    “. . . live in this place as you were meant to…
    become the quiet robust and happy saint
    that your future happiness
    will always remember…” in a piece called Coleman’s Bed.

    have an awesome day

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      John,

      Thank you for the quote. I was not familiar with the poem, but it is wonderful. I love the phrase “apprentice yourself to yourself.”

      Cheers,
      Kate

  5. Kate:

    Your article on competing with other writers made me smile, and not just because I agreed with your comments.

    I was reminded of how annoyed, angry, and actually hurt I was several years ago when I submitted one of my best short stories to a friend. I merely asked her to read it, and there was no question of criticism or critique.

    It’s important to state that my friend is a struggling poet and that we have now lost touch.

    Anyway, my lovely favourite short story was returned to me with whole paragraphs re-written, and, to be brief, I barely recognized my work by the time this ersatz editor had finished.

    I’m a good-humoured writer, and on any given day, I would rather make my readers laugh rather than cry. I should have let this person know that had I made the changes she suggested, the story would no longer have belonged to me. This poet’s revision of my story was written from her point of view, and all too well reflected her rather depressing view of human nature.
    So, I like your article very much, and I feel no envy towards other well-published writers. (My modest output is a very successful book of short stories, but I have several other major writing projects on desk and in hand.)

    Thank you for an enjoyable article.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Collette,
      Thank you for sharing your story. The details of relationships where we share our work can be tricky. I have been asked for feedback by friends who really wanted a pat on the back and were hurt when I offered critique. Your story serves as a cautionary tale to us all.

      Cheers,
      Kate

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