20 June 2013

The fallacy of writer comparison

My fiction-writing career is not where I'd like it to be. I'm making progress on the collection, but from time to time I think about what I want to accomplish and how far I am from that, especially when I hear about other writers younger than me doing so much more.... I get a little disheartened. In the competitive world of the publishing industry, it's easy to compare yourself to others, isn't it?

There's a book I read for my day job that I think applies here. It's Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. The main message in the book is to secure your position in a "blue ocean" rather than a "red ocean." The red ocean is the industry you're in where companies compete fiercely for customer. The blue ocean, on the other hand, is taking your company to a new, uncharted space separate from your competitors.

The example given in the first pages of the book is Cirque du Soleil. In a dying market (the family circus), this company said, "We're not a family circus." They re-imagined this form of entertainment and have created a new market because of it. They didn't compete with Ringling Brothers or Barnum & Bailey. They had no competition at all. They were just Cirque du Soleil.

That's the mindset we need as writers. Yes, there is competition, particularly when you get into genre fiction. But my goal is to write a story that is outside of my genre. I want to have a story that can't really be compared with other stories because it's so different.

There have been many blog posts and articles I've read by agents, editors and writers that say you can tell an age-old story, but tell it in a way that makes it seem new. There are some who think that's all you can do, actually.

I took an independent study on personal mythmaking in college with my mentor. In it we discussed monomyth, and how some believe that all stories are based on this archetype. In that way, there are no new stories, and all stories have to be told in a way that makes them seem like they're not based on the monomyth. You can do this by jiggering Freytag's Pyramid a bit. (Chuck Wendig has an excellent post on story-telling. I encourage you to read it.)

When you figure out a new way to say something old, you're creating a blue ocean for your writing career. You're no longer competing with other writers who tell stories because their stories are so vastly different from yours.

That's a good position to be in, isn't it?

Okay, so that's my long-winded way of saying "Don't compare yourself to other writers." Here's the thing: everyone has a story to tell, but no one's story is the same. No one's path or experiences or life is the same, so what good does it do to compare yourself with someone else?

To use a racing metaphor, other writers aren't running the same race as you are. How can you compare someone running a 100-meter dash to someone running a marathon? That's what you're trying to do when you look at other writers and get down on yourself. I do it, too, and it's something I'm trying to remind myself doesn't matter.

Tell your story. Don't worry about anyone else. Swim in a blue ocean.

Happy scribbling.

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