Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sizing Up the Competition

I lurk on a writers board where a few of the posters are subtly competitive with the other writers. Every time I read their posts, I can't help but feel bummed out. A) Because they're quite successful writers and b) because it makes me think that this is a dog-eat-dog industry, and that writers work against each other to get to the top. So...there is a question in here somewhere...have you found this to be true? And if so, how have you dealt with it?

Okay, well, first of all, there are a few things to address here. The fact that their posts bum you out is the first issue. I've said this before and I'll just reiterate: in order to thrive in the publishing industry, you need to develop a thick skin. So what if these a-holes are posting snarky, holier-than-thou advice and posts? So what if they're successful writers? Whether or not they're rude OR successful has absolutely no bearing on whether or not YOU could be successful. I can't reiterate this enough. Don't get me wrong, I loathe competitive writers (more on that below), but what I might loathe even more than competitive writers are jealous writers...and yes, you do see plenty of them in our industry. But here's the thing that both sets of groups need to learn: there is more than enough work to go around, and if you're armed with either chip on your shoulder - the ridiculously competitive one or the ridiculously envious one - you're likely to sink yourself, not your competition. Rather than salivating over another writer's portfolio or workload, why not send him or her a note and ask her how she does it? Or ask her if she's willing to mentor you? Or ask her if she can refer you to a good book on writing.

(Actually, let me amend that. I get plenty of random notes from friends of friends of friends who want to pick my brain. And most of the time, I don't mind. However, there are correct ways to go about this and incorrect ways to go about it, and...you know what? This is another blog entry entirely. I'm going to save this for later in the week, and will offer up pointers on how to approach successful writers. Because I'm going off on a huge tangent right now and not answering the original question.)

Anyhoo, to get back to writers competing with other writers. Yes, some folks do this. And yes, it's unfortunate. And yes, I think they're assholes. Why do they do it? Well, I'm not a Ph.D, but I'd guess that it's similar to the reason that underendowed men drive overly-fancy sports cars: in other words, compensation, my friends, compensation. Not compensation for the fact that they're unsuccessful. In fact many of these writers are in the top professional tier. Rather compensation for their poor self-esteem. They're not really different than the bully who taunted people on the playground back in grade school. Only these writers are savvier and more subtle in how they attempt to degrade you and in doing so, make themselves feel better. So...the point of this above paragraph? Their competitiveness has everything to do with themselves and nothing to do with you. Period.

The good news is that there are PLENTY of writers out there who, while competitive, are primarily competitive with themselves, not with others. What does this mean? It means that as a writer, I'm constantly pushing myself to be the best writer that I can be, and I fully understand that this is the only thing that I can control. In fact, many of my writer friends are more than happy to refer me to editors, to help me flesh out an idea, to offer assistance in promoting my book. And you can bet your butt that I do the same for them all the time. Because, seriously, if they come up with a kick-ass idea for, say, Glamour, it's not as if they're pushing out my idea or my slot in the magazine. Their kick-ass idea is their kick-ass idea, and if an editor loves it, then she loves it. See how this has nothing to do with me? And only with the success of my friend? What lands me a story is when I come up with a kick-ass idea: her good fortune isn't tied to my bad fortune at all. And in fact, I'm always thrilled for my friends and colleagues when they do well because it's a sign that a) they're awesome (hee!) and b) I can learn something from them.

Why not all writers feel this way is beyond me, but some don't. That said, I don't know how different this is from any other field: my husband knows plenty of jealous, competitive people in his industry, and we've all surely encountered plenty of petty folks in all walks of life. So my advice? Bunker down and be a great writer. You're the one who will have the last laugh. (Not that you should be laughing since you're not competitive! Ahem.)

So how do you deal with snarky, competitive people?

10 comments:

Jess Riley said...

Great post Allison! I hope things are cruising along nicely in the production pipeline. :)

larramie said...

Your passionate insight as to why writers -- or anyone else -- weigh themselves down with a chip on their shoulder is right on the money! As I grew up, my wise parents always said: "Don't compare yourself to anyone else, just be the best that you can be and that will be more than enough."

Manic Mom said...

It's the same with anything in life, like you mentioned your husband knowing jealous and competitive people. How about the SAHMs vs. the Working Moms, or the Chick Lit writers vs. the "Literary" writers...

Hey up there Jess--so fun to see friends posting on other blogs! How are ya?! And see, I'm NOT jealous of either Allison or Jess (Or Larramie, but I don't know her)... and they both have books being published! See, I'm learning from them! I am, I am! Sam I am... time for bed, this sleepy head ...

Karen Mary Lynch said...

Perfect timing on this post! I just discovered your blog yesterday; a day when a post of mine on a popular writers board led one person to refer me to your site and another person chose words that allowed me to realize my skin was far too porous! Keep up the good work, I'll enjoy reading.

Olga said...

OMG. This entry is awesome! I've often noticed how some editors are trying to humiliate people, provide biased negative opinions on their truly good work. People should learn to filter critics and separate useful feedback from malignant.

I've looked through your blog and I'm going to watch it if you don't mind.

All your entries are extremely valuable. Actually I'm based in Moscow, Russia, but I really want to start writing for American markets (via the Internet, without relocating), I really hope I can do it with 10 years of experience of writing for Russian newspapers and magazines and with a degree in English linguistics. I hope I can break in by writing articles about some Russia-related issues, I have a few ideas and good access to all the necessary local information sources. If you can advise anything to me I'll be really grateful!

Thanks!

Eileen said...

No matter what your industry there are people who figure the only way to get ahead is by beating someone else. Unless track and field is your job relax. There is plenty of room over the finish line. I've met some of the best writers in the past year. Those are the people I spend time with and listen to- those who want to compete I ignore.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Great comments, everyone! So true, Eileen, MM and Larramie.

Welcome Olga and Karen! Olga - I have some projects planned for the next week or so for the blog, but will then get to your question!

Anonymous said...

Olga, email me at realbrilliant at mac dot com. I just got a lead on a writing gig for writers in Russia. I think this is your lucky day!

Trish Lawrence

Peg said...

Ever heard of Bonnie Friedman's Writing Past Dark? Excellent resource I've mentioned (only barely, I see now after a quick search) on my blog -- and will now post about more than barely sometime soon. Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life... great book.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks, Peg! Will check it out.