Monday, December 19, 2011

The Dangers of Rivalry - Part 3 (Remembering The Rivals Who Were Once Your Friends)

To read Part 1, Click Here!

For Part 2, Click Here!

Now when I say, "Friends" I don't necessarily mean you personally knew the writers you feel envy, and/or inferiority toward, (Specially if they've been dead for years longer than you've been alive) but rather for the writers whose books made you fall in love with books and the written word in the first place.

Now that you're a writer, you can't face these books the same way anymore, they're now the rivals you must learn from to be a better writer yourself, while at the same time not turn your back at what you bring to stories no one else can.

Before I go on, I need to stress  while many writers I know, particularly those who've progressed their careers far beyond where I am, will say the opposite, I know there are many writers besides myself, who've seen similar success, and worked NO LESS hard to get it, who respect and understand if the reading experience is not the same as it was before we made the shift from being only admiring readers to being writers ourselves.

For those writers who came to the craft later in life, (After Grade school but before College) this wondrous feeling is at risk of extinction during the early years on this road. You don't want to be so married to your words you don't grow and learn, nor be so self-critical and second guessing every choice you make you afraid to be YOU, not X writer who made headlines for the latest sexy vamp on the bestseller lists,

Consider the following-

Both The Diary of Anne Frank and Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes" are true accounts of difficult lives, but I'm hard pressed to call them "Clones of each other." Even though both writers were accounting their life in some way.

Gender and age differences aside, they're still both nonfiction, still both snippets of real people who lived and later died, telling their stories, their way.

My point? As writers, we owe it to ourselves to respect and learn to tell the difference, between "Subjective Taste" and "Writing that's just not up to snuff."

Because now more than ever, there are moments when the line between them is nonexistent, yet both equally matter, and handling it wrong can tear even the most committed critique groups apart in heartbreaking--even career-ending ways.

So here's an exercise I urge you to try-

First, make a list of writers/genres of books you used to love reading, but don't since you started writing, and take special note of books or writers you find hard reading since pursuing publication/after being published, that often says a lot about our inner fears that hold us back, not just from the writers we want to be, but the happy readers we used to be, and missed being, and for whatever reason, don't yet know how to be again.

Second, read one of those books or writers, but make the effort of telling yourself, aloud if you have to, "I'm a reader right now, no different than the readers I want to have one day, and I have the right to love or not love any book, no matter who its by" and read the book, for fun.

If you are the type of writer who is comfortable studying for craft in books, I strongly advise only doing so after you've read the book as a hopeful reader first and foremost, pick books you've read more than once, it's a lot less torturous that way, trust me on this one.

Third, once you've read the book(s), take some time to savor what you read (If you enjoyed it) and if you didn't, or stopped because you just didn't find it captivating, tell yourself that's OKAY. Again, aloud if you need to.

Remember, this isn't solely about "A battle of egos" but just the simple fact that we need to learn to notice what's personal taste versus what will confuse/aggravate/bore any reader.

If you've ever had to re-think your own rivalries, or learn from mistakes you made when critiquing others, please share them in the comments below. The holiday is a great reminder for us all to support each other, and extending that generosity and the passion to pursue our unique definitions for success, well into the new year.

Check back soon for Part 4.
Ciao for now,


  1. I agree, Taurean. I loved your last line. You have to be supportive and cheer your critique partners on, otherwise that friendship can dissolve into a jealous rivalry, and that's no fun.

    Merry Christmas, and I'm looking forward to part 4~

  2. With writing being a lonely business, we really do need the support of critique groups and others. In that way we can have a great give and take relationship.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Cat. The only thing I'd add is that we all come to this understanding at our own pace.

    Some adapt quickly, but for many others (Including me) it's a long, slow, crawl to attain this understanding, and even longer to become habitual.

  4. Taurean, this is a great post. You are right. We don't have to love every book. I've read books by my favorite authors that I didn't particularly like. And that's okay. Reading should be for enjoyment. Sometimes it's hard to turn off the writer inside us when we read, but it's good to just be a reader too. (Just isn't the right word, but I think you know what I'm trying to say.)

    And I agree with Cat. Your last line about supporting each other is perfect. This industry is tough. Really tough. We need each other's support to survive.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Kelly. I'm glad this was insightful to you as well.

    As I said, it took me a frustratingly long time to get to this level of understanding.

    My only regret is letting the doubt and fear, from earlier in the year, warp my thinking, to the point my making me leave the critique group we were in together.

    But I needed the time to regroup (Albeit, off an an on...) and eventually reinvent myself from the inside, and that process is still under construction.

    Still, it's better than staying blind to problem, only for it to get worse, I'm just sorry it was at our group's expense.

    I'm so proud how far you and other members progressed, and a couple of you were already accomplished before forming our group, so I know how hard you've been at this.

  6. Clarification-

    "My only regret is letting the doubt and fear, from earlier in the year, warp my thinking, to the point I had to leave the critique group we were in together."