Happy Tuesday! When I was growing up, I hated Tuesdays. I called it Tuesday Bluesday. I reasoned that Mondays were good because you got a fresh start, Wednesdays were good because we had church in the evenings, Thursdays were good because that was traditionally our family dinner at Grammie and Grandpa’s house, and Fridays were good because now it’s the weekend! But Tuesdays… ick. (It may also have had something to do with the fact that our monthly orthodontist appointments were almost always scheduled on Tuesday mornings.) But today I got to go out to a private airplane hangar on a work assignment and I found a free donut this morning right when I was getting ravenous, so joke’s on you, Bluesday! Except then I spent a good bit of time cleaning sprinkles out of my keyboard crevices, so there’s a bit of give and take there.
Regardless of your opinions on the day of the week, I’d like to take a minute or two of your Tuesday to talk a little about comparison, sort of as a follow-up to my last post about personality. I had the opportunity recently to talk on the phone to a very good friend of mine who was almost breathless with excitement because she had decided to write a novel. This a friend that I trekked across Scotland and Ireland with and has been a faithful book nerd with me for the whole two years I’ve known her (actually she’s the one that got me started on this series that’s currently breaking my heart… grrr.) She talked nonstop for over an hour, describing her plot, inspiration, research, symbolism, themes, character—it was amazing! I was sitting there completely floored. This is the kind of story that gets picked up by big publishers, goes on the front shelf of Barnes and Noble, and gets adapted into a movie edition within 5 years of its release. Like seriously. That. Good.
And then suddenly I got ridiculously discouraged. My story, my dear, treasured, 10-years-in-the-making pirate story, started to look a little pale. I’ll never write anything like that, I’m thinking. And that’s where the danger is. The freezing fingers of comparison can squeeze the heart out of a project faster than anything I know.
Here’s the deal writer pals: you aren’t the only one who can tell a good story. There are hundreds of millions of stories to tell, and hundreds of millions of people other than you who are capable of telling them. (That should be obvious, since writers are often the most prolific readers. We should be more aware than anyone about how many good writers there are out there, but I think sometimes that slips our minds.) There are countless aspiring writers who are more experienced, who struggle less, and whose ideas are more “aha!” than yours are. Just get over it. BUT! Here’s the twist: You are the only one who can tell your story.
The truth is I probably won’t ever write anything like my friend’s story. And that’s okay. Because I’m going to write my story. There was one time about a year and a half ago when someone very important to me told me—in what I’m sure he thought was a gentle and for-my-own-good sort of way—that I really should consider giving it up. (Side note, he had never read it. I don’t even think he knew the plot line all that well.) He said it was holding me back as a writer and there was so much other and better stuff out there for me to write. Looking back on that conversation, I get kinda mad and sad at the same time. But in the moment, my only thought was, He really doesn’t know me at all, does he? My story is a part of me. It’s mine to tell. It’s almost a responsibility at this point. If I don’t write it, it won’t get written! And comparing my story to someone else’s is like comparing my personality, or my favorite food, or even my nose to somebody else’s!
Beyond that, it would be silly for me to say that my friend’s story is better or worse than mine, because reading is incredibly subjective. What I think is an absolutely amazing book might put somebody else to sleep. Or what might be the biggest new release of the summer that everybody’s talking about might strike you as strikingly unimpressive. When it comes to books and stories, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I think that’s because each individual uniquely connects with certain elements of a story in ways that another won’t, simply because they’re two different people with different personalities and life experiences.
But I digress.
Back to comparisons. In the end, there are only two things worthy of comparing yourself to—in writing or in any other creative, academic, or professional pursuit. Here they are, in the form of general guidelines.
Write for the person you really are. This runs deeper than just my last post’s message of “be yourself.” This is more “Be genuine no matter the cost. Don’t betray yourself for the sake of success.” Are you staying true to your own values, beliefs, personality, faith, likes, and dislikes? If not, start over. Just because everyone else says that vampire fiction is cool, if you detest vampires and really just want to write a simple story about a pastry chef, why the heck would you squeeze yourself into the vampire genre? Don’t do that to yourself! Or are you writing an “edgy” story, even though it makes you uncomfortable, because you think traditional values won’t sell in today’s world? Stop. Just stop. Do not write for that undefined group of imaginary people known as “the readers.” Write what you, yourself, want to write, and readers who want to read that story will find you.
Personally, I struggled for a long time with how to marry my faith and my story. For a while, I had myself convinced that “the readers” would prefer an adventure novel with subtle moral themes because explicit Christianity in fiction might be off-putting (even though my faith is the most important part about me.) Then I ran into a beautiful fantasy fiction adventure trilogy that had no problem with characters wrestling with their faith and directly incorporating scripture and the gospel with a rollicking tale about a sea monster. Sure, it’s not a New York Times bestselling book, but the readers who needed that story (namely, me) found it! It changed the way I write. (If anyone’s interested, it’s The Trophy Chase Trilogy by G. Brian Polivka. HIGHLY recommend!) If you’re not creating something that represents who you are, that “bears your image” so to speak, then you’re missing the point.
One of my favorite books of all time is a children’s picture book by Max Lucado called “The Oak Inside the Acorn.” Seriously, everyone should read this book. (Fair warning, bring a hanky. I cry every time.) Basically in the story Little Acorn looks around at all the plants around him and wonders if he’ll ever measure up. Even once he sprouts and starts growing, he can’t produce fruit like his friend Orange Tree, or flowers like Rose Bush, and he starts to wonder what his purpose even is. But throughout the story is the refrain: “Within you is a great oak. Just be the tree that God made you to be.” (Sniff…sniff… I can’t take it, it’s just so real!) It’s not about whether your story turns into a book that is more popular than the next guy’s. It’s about whether you are being the person you were made to be—telling the story only you can tell.
Write for the people who matter. Let me tell you, it feels goooooooooood to know that your work is appreciated. This little blog, which was started purely on a whim in order to practice writing, has in its short lifetime generated readership in 9 countries on three different continents. (Seriously, who are you people and how did you find me???) For an unpublished upstart like me, that is huge. But it’s nothing compared to getting a text from my big sister that says, in all caps, “YOU’RE MY FAVORITE AUTHOR!” Of my 9 subscribers, 4 of them are people who lived in my house growing up. (Yoohooo, hello family! *waves excitedly*) I heard a story recently about the singer Katy Perry—wildly popular, hugely successful, rich and adored. But her parents are disappointed and discouraged by the way their daughter’s life has turned out. Ouch. Really, even if you’ve gained the approval and applause of millions of people, is it worth it if your people, the most important people, don’t support you? I’d rather be the self-published author of my nephew’s favorite children’s book than be a wildly successful bestseller who doesn’t have the support and encouragement of my people. So if you’re a writer or any other kind of creative, find your people, your ready-made fan club, and do it for them. The rest of your readers are just icing on the cake.
And that’s all folks! Have a lovely Tuesday!