Posts Tagged ‘quotes’

Ivan IlychHaving made all those comments encouraging each of us not to compare ourselves with other writers, I admit to being the worst offender. It seems to be human nature to do this, and maybe there’s not really much we can do to control it in ourselves. In “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” Tolstoy (that genius) writes “. . . the mere fact of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the complacent feeling that, ‘it is he who is dead and not I.'” (Emphasis mine.)

DesiderataMy favorite quote in relation to making comparisons, however, is from “Desiderata,” Max Ehrmann’s classic poem. “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” In fact, nearly every line of this poem can be taken as advice for writers. It’s worth re-reading from that perspective, interpreting those lines as advice to authors. Try it.

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compare1Occasionally my electric company sends me a charming, colorful letter informing me that I am using far, far more electricity than most of my neighbors who live in dwellings of a similar square footage to mine. The flyer includes “tips” on how I can use less. I can only surmise this is the same tactic employed by traffic control officers when they put those “your speed” signs along surface streets. Studies have shown that those signs do indeed cut down on speeding. But if this electric company letter is meant to shame me or increase my self-monitoring of electric use, and thereby help me cut back, it’s not working. We’re all for saving energy, but we’re already doing all we can, including the measures suggested by the flyer. But, consider this: I know my neighbors. Many of them are single. We, on the other hand, are a two person household. All of them work at jobs outside the home, so they’re gone all day during the week. A couple of them travel extensively, sometimes being away for a month at a time. Of course they are using less electricity at home than we are. If any of them retires, or adds a partner or other person to the household, their home usage will likely increase. Suddenly it will appear as though I have “improved,” relative to others, when in fact I haven’t changed a thing. Comparisons, with little or no context, mean nothing.

This is a long way of saying, when you are a writer, don’t compare yourself to anyone. I see messages frequently on the forums that I belong to about other people’s output. This one writes four books a year, or that one has published 80 stories in her career. My production seems piddling by comparison. But I don’t know the details of those writers’ lives, what circumstances they have, where or what they’ve published, or under what conditions.

On the other hand, I don’t want to compare myself to my other writer friends who are still struggling to publish their first piece, and maybe have been for years.

It’s like the old gravestone verse:

gravestone“Remember me as you pass by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now so you will be, Prepare for death and follow me.”

We’re all on the same path, just at different points along the way. You (and I) are ahead of some and behind others. Accept that. Then take the next step, whatever that may be for you. I’ll have further thoughts on this in my next post.


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deep southIn his excellent book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, Paul Theroux talks about “places so obscure . . . they were described in the rural way as ‘you gotta be going there to get there.'” This struck me as a perfect mantra for writing, especially a novel. In order to get a novel, you gotta be writing a novel. Have some idea of the destination and be taking steps to get there. If you’re not already going there, you’ll never get there. Of course, it could apply to other things in life, as well. If you want to be fit, you gotta be taking steps to get fit. If you want a clean house, you gotta be cleaning house. While these other applications don’t quite mean the same thing as the original instruction, I still think they’re a useful reminder that to get anywhere, to accomplish anything, you have to be actually taking action, specific action, directed at that goal.

So, I ask myself, “If I want to be a writer, am I writing?”


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