The Comparison Game

Let me tell you a story: When I was in 7th grade, I joined the track team to hang out with my friends. The kids who were slow ended up running the mile race—in other words, I was in the mile race.

The thing was, though, I never practiced. In fact, I spent every day just chatting away and walking the track at a leisurely stroll. Running long distance is a part of my genetics (my mom is a marathoner), and I kinda figured I would have inherited the skill…

Come on, 13-year-old-Sooz thought, if Mom can run 26 miles, how hard can a single mile be?

Um, turns out it can be brutal, and it should come as no surprise that at my first track meet, I got last place. DEAD LAST. I cried, and worse than that, I quit the track team out of shame and absolute self-loathing.

Another story: When I was 15 (or was it 16?), I agreed to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a regional swim meet  I had performed in front of people many times, and I was taking voice lessons. I thought it’d be an easy-peezy song ‘cos, you know, people are always singing it. And so I didn’t practice at all…

Come on, I thought, it’s the national anthem. Everyone knows it. We sing it a baseball games—how hard can it be for me to sing it alone?

Well, half-way through the performance (everyone in the audience was standing with their hats off and hands over their hearts), I froze up. I had forgotten the words.

So I just stopped singing while my eyes bulged white and mouth bobbed like a fish. Fortunately, the audience kept singing, and I managed to pick back up. But as soon as the song was over, I ran to the nearest bathroom stall, cried, and vowed never to show my face in public again.

Yada-yada-yada, you get the point: absolute self-loathing.

Notice something? I got what I deserved. I looked at someone else’s success and figured I could do the same. But then, when I failed, I thought it was because I sucked, because I wasn’t good enough, because everyone else was better…I didn’t realize it was my choice to be lazy and not practice.

Writing is kind of the same.

When I fail, it hurts. When my crit partners say, “No, that’s not a great idea” or my editor says, “I think you need to fix that” or (the worst) a reader says, “Susan Dennard is teh wrst writer ever”, it doesn’t matter how thick my writing skin is—the criticism never feels good. And inevitably, I think of all those other writers out there who don’t have to revise/rewrite/start-over/read hate mail, and I wonder if I’m just a shoddy author…

But then I eat a few cookies, and things start to look up. In fact, I start to feel downright good about my failures.

Why?  Because I’m in charge and I’m not going to give up. Defeat won’t win. I will win, and I won’t do it by comparing myself to that writer with four hundred million fans or to that opera singer who can easily hit a high C or to my mom who can run ten miles no sweat.

I will win by working hard and by remembering the power is in my hands.

I will keep practicing; I will keep trying; I will compare my path to no one else’s; and one day—be it sooner or later—I will get to where I’m trying to go.

35 Responses to The Comparison Game

  1. Cheyenne Oct 2 2013 at 7:38 am #

    Thanks for these lovely words of encouragement. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the power is in *my* hands, especially when it feels like the publishing industry is like the lottery, and it’s all about whether I catch an agent on a good day, whether she’s in the mood for my genre, etc.

    But I believe you’re right – it’s down to whether I give up or get up and keep trying. Rejection so far has made me retitle, refocus, and rewrite one entire story from scratch. Twice. It’s made me invest in workshops, classes, and improve my story so much. Maybe it’s still not enough. But I stumbled over this quote awhile ago and it’s stuck with me: “The difference between the successful minority and the general majority is simply that the former group keeps coming back stronger after each rejection, not letting anyone get to them and deter their efforts in any facet of life.”

    Thanks for the encouraging reminder!

    • Susan Dennard Oct 2 2013 at 8:35 am #

      I love that quote–LOVE IT. Because it’s so, so, so, SO TRUE, Cheyenne. It’s all about giving up or not–that’s what makes a success. Sure, some people get lucky and have it handed to them, but most of us have to work our butts off for a looooong time.

      So good for you for not giving up–for being willing to retitle, refocus, rewrite (twice), invest in workshops and classes, and improve your story as much as you can. That’s what it takes, and I have no doubt–none, Cheyenne–that you’ll get where you’re trying to go. <3

      • Cheyenne Oct 7 2013 at 7:33 am #

        Thanks, Susan 🙂 Your encouragement is greatly appreciated, and so are your thoughts in these posts… they really help keep me going! x

  2. Ellie Oct 2 2013 at 8:45 am #

    I love this. I have a bunch of quotes in my notebook about persistence. One of them is :Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.” It’s the determination, motivation and perseverance that really count.

    Sometimes it seems people forget that writers don’t magically get super human writing abilities once they get an agent and get published. 😛

    • Susan Dennard Oct 2 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Spot on, Ellie. It IS the determination, motivation, and–above all–perseverance that really count. We all get knocked down; only a few of us choose to get back up.

      It’s funny because I think we all kinda hope that once we get an agent or a book deal or even have our book hit stores, that we’ll suddenly be invincible. Our hair will be glossier and our writer skins impervious. But that’s not what happens at all. I find I’m a thousand times more scared and self-doubting than I was a few years ago. Now I KNOW how many forms rejection can take; now I KNOW how tenuous a book deal can be and how very, very possible it is to never sell another book again; and now I KNOW how competitive and nasty the industry can be. But, I also know how very, very blessed I am to be here today, and that’s what I have to keep reminding myself whenever the journey gets tough–to be grateful and to also NEVER give up. 😉 My journey is MY journey, and only I can own that. <3

  3. Martina Boone Oct 2 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Beautiful, Susan! I needed that this morning. Clinking cookies with you and soldiering on!



    • Susan Dennard Oct 2 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Yes! *cookie clink* Soldier on, my dear. Soldier on. <3

  4. Anna J. Boll Oct 2 2013 at 10:33 am #

    SO needed this today as my agent sent me back to revise. Again. And she’s totally right. Thank you.

    • Susan Dennard Oct 2 2013 at 10:36 am #

      You’re so welcome, Anna. I feel your pain–boy, do I feel your pain. But you can do it, I have absolutely no doubt. We always manage in the end, right?


  5. kimberlybuggie Oct 2 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Thank you Susan. That’s a great post and wonderfully positive advice.
    Back to querying…. 🙂

  6. Mona AlvaradoFrazier Oct 2 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Thank you for putting your thoughts out there. I need to hear these words this morning. They nudged me to continue writing. Love this, “I will get to where I’m trying to go.”

    • Susan Dennard Oct 3 2013 at 10:53 am #

      You WILL get there! You will, you will. 😀 Keep on writing, Mona!

  7. Emily Muyskens Oct 2 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Read the following quote by Thomas Watson just seconds before reading this post:
    “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”
    Fitting? I thought so. 🙂 I love this post and I love all the comments! Feeling ready to conquer the next chapter.

    • Susan Dennard Oct 3 2013 at 10:54 am #

      Yes! Conquer it, Emily! And that quote–I love it. It’s SO TRUE that failure is not the enemy. I think most of my ability to keep on going is the simple fact that I made a ton of mistakes and failed a LOT growing up. 🙂

  8. Rosanna Silverlight Oct 2 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    “I will win by working hard and by remembering the power is in my hands.”

    This. I’m going to write it in big letters and stick it over my desk, or maybe above my mirror. I know that the biggest challenges of my career are still ahead. I have so much still to do, and sometimes it feels overwhelming. But day by day, little by little, I’ll keep going. 🙂

    Thank you so much for serving up yet another slice of your wonderful, hard-earned wisdom. You are such an encouragement!

    Oh, and I too was the slowest on the days when we had to practise athletics in preparation for Sports Day. And I ended up running the mile (okay, 1500 metres) race. And I ALSO came last. XD Funny thing was that our House won that Sports Day by one point. And I’ll never forget my classmate, the Sports Day rep, getting up the front of the class and personally thanking me for running that race, representing the House, earning a single point for coming last, and pushing our House into first place. If I hadn’t run at all, we wouldn’t have gained a point. We wouldn’t have won.

    We never know how close success might be. We can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t ruin our own chances of finding it by giving up!

    • Susan Dennard Oct 3 2013 at 10:57 am #

      Wow. I love your story. It kind of puts the whole “failure” thing in perspective. I recently saw a study about how people who’ve experienced failure growing up are actually more likely to succeed rather than kids who are constantly told they’re awesome/succeeding even if they AREN’T. Thinking you have room for improvement is what makes you WORK HARD! 😀

  9. Jessie Humphries Oct 2 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    I also like the C.S. Lewis quote: “Comparison is the enemy of joy.” I have to constantly be reminding myself of this, because I happen to quite enjoy “joy!” Thanks for the uplifting post 🙂

    • Susan Dennard Oct 3 2013 at 10:58 am #

      It really IS the enemy of joy. I always forget that quote–I should write it down since, despite my best efforts, I *still* compare myself from time to time.

  10. Cheri Roman Oct 2 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    You’ve summed it up nicely. As writers we have to be wary of believing the popular misconception that good writing relies solely on luck and talent. The truth is that 90% of our success does come from perspiration. Anyone who wants that success had better be prepared to work hard. And anyone who believes that there is any writer out there who doesn’t have to work at it (ie: revise/rewrite/edit and yes, sometimes chuck the whole thing and start over) is either delusional or just ignorant about the way good writing is born.
    Great piece.

    • Susan Dennard Oct 3 2013 at 10:59 am #

      It’s so true, Cheri! 90% of our success DOES come from the hard work. It’s always so hard to explain that to non-writers. I think they think I just sit around most of my days and watch TV. In fact, the other day someone said, “You have so much free time, right? No boss breathing down your neck?” HA. I am my own boss, and boy do I breathe down my neck A LOT. 😉

  11. Dara the Writer Oct 2 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    I do not exaggerate when I say if I had a nickle for every time I went and compared myself, I could retire at 31 years old. I’m not married yet, I don’t have kids yet, I don’t have a six-figure job yet, I’m not published yet, we don’t own a dog yet. I also have decided with my BF that we can’t afford marriage or kids yet, that I only started my writing career months ago, and we still need to build the fence for said dog.

    I’ve got the expectations set and it’s the instant gratification that’s messing with my head. 😉

    • Susan Dennard Oct 3 2013 at 11:02 am #

      I totally, TOTALLY get where you’re coming from. Instant gratification is so ingrained in us these days, and it’s SO HARD to not get overwhelmed by all the steps, all the waiting, all the what-ifs, all the potential failures…and of course, how well everyone else *seems* to be doing. I just take everything one tiny bite at a time and try really, really, REALLY hard to not look at how everyone else is doing. Most of what’s blasted at us online isn’t even true, anyway. No one ever talks about the tough stuff… 😛

  12. stephanie garber Oct 2 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Great post! I tend to compare myself to other’s a lot. This was great to read –so relatable!

  13. Amelia Loken Oct 3 2013 at 12:01 am #

    Thanks! Needed this today. The kick in the pants and the encouragement. 🙂

  14. Tracey Neithercott Oct 3 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Really great post! I think it’s always nice to be reminded that it’s not just unpublished writers who play this game, but authors who compare themselves to other authors and goals they had for themselves. It’s such a tough industry to stay self-confident in, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my doubts or fear of failure. I’m going to do “teh wrst” paraphrase of Samuel Goldwyn, but I love that quote of his that basically says “I find the harder I work, the luckier I am.”

    Also, you guys want me to do MATH to prove I’m not a spambot? This could get ugly.

  15. Alex Oct 4 2013 at 6:01 am #

    A very empowering post! Thank you.

  16. JoSVolpe Oct 5 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    Great post, Susan. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I just recently saw a talk on it. We’ve all been there. There is no success without failure first. And failure hurts. But what we can control is how we respond to failure and what we do next.

    And I may be biased, but I’d say you’re doing some pretty amazing things.

  17. Jessica Feb 16 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Hi Susan, Wonderful post! Your words really inspire me every day! So thank you so much
    I’m feeling so low right now because i have been in the researching stage of a YA Fantasy novel i’m working on. I’ve only told my partner (whose opinion matters very much) and one of my close friends about it. Both of them gave me a negative reaction (even though they claim it’s not meant to be negative but i take it personally) that the works sounds similar to something else that has been done before. E.G Divergent/Dark Materials. Is it weird to take that as an insult the comparison to other books? And what do you do if you are compared to another book? I have a strong gut feeling to keep writing this book but comments like that put me down. Please help. I have no idea what to do 🙁 your advice would mean so much to me!

  18. Apr 28 2016 at 6:31 am #

    Often times, stores will take deals which can be past their expiration date.

  19. lasertag Nov 12 2020 at 1:02 am #

    I think it’s always nice to be reminded that it’s not just unpublished writers who play this game. I have a strong gut feeling to keep writing this book but comments like that put me down. It’s such a tough industry to stay self-confident in, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my doubts or fear of failure.

  20. Alfonso Feb 23 2021 at 6:31 am #

    Everything writing, running singing needs practice. Just don’t be afraid to start. The first step is the most difficult. But a long trip starts with the first step.

  21. Datto Nov 1 2021 at 7:26 am #

    Keep trying is the only way to succeed. You just don’t have to give up.

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