Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guilt by association

My daughter started school in August, and I’m gradually getting to meet the parents of the kids in her class. It’s a slower process this third time round, but I’m finding that they’re a lovely bunch of mainly mums, plus a couple of dads, who do the dropping-off and picking-up of their offspring each day. I’ve hit it off with one mum in particular. Like me, she has three kids and, like me, her husband is away a lot of the time, leaving her to run the show on her own.

But there’s a bit of a problem. She’s so lovely with her kids, so calm and unflappable, she makes me feel … well, guilty. For example – one morning, she was worried because she and her eldest daughter had argued just as the kids spilled out of the car, and she hadn’t had time to smooth things over with her.

“I think I’ll drop a note in her locker to say I hope she has a great day, and that I love her,” she said.

Well, didn’t I feel about two-inches tall. My kids routinely leave the car screaming/yelling/arguing/debating with me and/or each other. Nothing diabolical, but we’re a fiery lot, and that’s just how things run, chez Walsh. But her approach – well, I found myself nodding sagely, yet feeling kind of … guilty. And she manages to maintain this serenity with a husband who spends only one week out of every four at home. Like I said, she’s lovely; but I tend to feel like Charles Manson in her company.

Until yesterday. I arrived at school in time to witness her absolutely blow her stack at her son for forgetting his violin. She was going home to get it for him (I would have waved bye-bye and said “suffer the consequences” to my little darlings) but still, it was the first time I’d seen that serenity crack. And then, after the school bell went, and before she trekked home for the forgotten instrument, she unloaded for a moment, saying how hard it was keeping the show on the road on her own, and that she just couldn’t wait to get the kids in bed each night so she could have a few moments to herself.

That’s when the penny dropped. She wasn’t making me feel guilty; I was giving myself the guilts, by so stupidly measuring myself against her. Assuming she had everything down pat, that there were no bumps and potholes in her life, was what made me feel bad, when in reality, her struggles are the same as everyone else’s.

Measuring yourself against others is as much of a hazard in this writing life, too.

Why can’t I write as fast as him?

My dialogue sucks compared to hers.

Ah, why didn’t I think of that turn of phrase?

His characters are so much more alive than the boring wooden dummies that inhabit my story!

Sound familiar?

Some look at other writers and are jealous of their writing progress and success; I’m more the type to beat myself up for not keeping up, telling myself I’m too lazy, too slow, too untalented, too unmotivated, and that everyone else is doing way better than me.

How stupid.

Measuring myself against other writers, expecting that I should have the same writing journey as others, is as ridiculous as expecting everyone to love pad thai noodles, or to have brown hair, or to be willing to sell their first-borns for front row tickets to a U2 concert. (Ahem.)

How counter-productive it is, to expend all that energy on all that hand-wringing! Not to mention being a big, fat damper on one’s creativity. All I need to measure is how things are with me. And to realize that the pace at which I write is unique to me, that my learning curve is unique to me – that my writing journey is unique to me.

Bottom line, I have to accept “what is”, while always striving to do my best. It’s all a person can do, really.

But I just might try screaming at my kids a little less. (g)

What about you? Do you measure yourself against fellow writers? Do you feel guilty? Jealous? Sorry for the poor suckers who are so far behind you, it’s not funny? (g) Or have you reached Nirvana and none of this phases you one little bit?


  1. Short answers... Sometimes. Yes. YES. Are there suckers behind me?? Nirvana...not sure I'm familiar with that term. :)

    Okay...yeah, I get that way but try REALLY hard to fight it. Ultimately, the old cliche is true -- we're only in competition with ourselves. Unfortunately, 'myself' is a pretty badass competitor. I know I should give her a bitch slap and call it a day, but DAMN she's tough. She loves to put me down and make me feel like the worst writer ever to commit words to paper. I'm looking in to getting her a muzzle. :)

    Seriously, tho...I think it's completely human to get jealous from time to time. I've had more than my fair share of dances with that particular green-eyed monster, and I'm sure I'll have many more. (lotsa slots on my dance card!) It's a natural reaction. The only question is what we do with those feelings. Are we going to turn them around and make good use of them -- i.e. get our butts in chairs, write, learn, grow in our craft.. Or are we going to let the negative emotion bring us down, never allowing us to move on. If we're always dreaming about what our neighbor has, we're not taking the steps to get what WE want.

    Was it Anne Lamont that said jealousy is a good and healthy thing -- as long as it makes you want to work that much harder to one up your neighbor? (paraphrasing, of course.) (g)

    Just another way of looking at it. LOL.


  2. Jealous? Yep, youbetcha. Having only recently been bitten by the writing bug (oh, but it bit me deep--much more than you ever want to know) I'm wondering if I have the discipline to actually hone this into something worth reading. 'Cause I love reading, but I stink at reviews, and critique, and, well, I know what I like, but I can't tell anyone else WHY I like something.

    Oh, and if you remember the Gretchen from Books and Writers--that's me. Though I haven't been there in a month or so. I have been lurking only, in between cathartically typing away. At a guess, something over 250K words in not quite two months now. Good words? I doubt it. Readable? Again, I doubt it. But it's therapeutic. Now if I could just learn to plot. ;-P

  3. Rachel - oh, I think we all measure ourselves against other people at times. I do feel inadequate sometimes when I see how much other people get written ("so-and-so has written 3000 words this week, I've written _200_"). And yes, sometimes that comparison is a good thing, because it gets me to put my butt into gear and write.

    But other times...well, I've chosen a different path to some of those people with amazing outputs. I choose to still allow myself time to read. I choose to spend time with friends, with my boyfriend, with family. I choose to have other hobbies like scrapbooking. And if that means that I'm slower at writing, then so be it. And those are the times when I tell those feelings of inadequacy to go jump. *s*

  4. "I’m more the type to beat myself up for not keeping up, telling myself I’m too lazy, too slow, too untalented, too unmotivated, and that everyone else is doing way better than me."

    This is what I put myself through a lot, feeling guilty for only writing a few hundred words when other people seem to crank out thousands every week, feeling guilty that I have hobbies that take me away from writing, feeling like there's a quota I have to meet - and then feeling doubly guilty when I don't pay enough attention to these guilty thoughts to actually sit down and write! Vicious cycle? Perhaps, but at the same time I think it's mostly in the back of my head, and not something I worry about on the surface.
    I won't really worry unless I stop enjoying my stories...

    Hi Gretchen! 250,000 words sounds good to me! Lots of room for editing :-)

    As for U2... I saw them back in 1992 when they played our hideous awful money-losing Olympic Stadium and the sound was terrible... they're shelling out 3 million dollars to build an open theatre (!) for their one night here but I'm woried about the size and the sound. Still, hard to pass up U2. I wish I hasn't been too young to see them back in the 80s!

  5. Hey Deniz! Being the greenest sort of newbie, still I have to say to all the writers: Don't beat yourself up! Hang in there!

    And I didn't post that number in any sort of attempt to intimidate. I had been stressing out, occasionally typing out heartfelt, bitter rants that I would never allow myself to send to the person I really wanted to rant AT, generally keeping myself in a constant state of ticked-off-ed-ness, when one day (it was the 6th of October, according to the file tag on the first file I started writing) I woke up with a static picture from a dream in my head, and decided to write about That instead. My natural long-winded-ness took over, and, with a total disregard for housework, and other domestic concerns, I have this heap of words. No ending in sight, though, so I don't know how I can find any sort of story arc, or any of the other necessary elements I imperfectly remember from reading on the forum. I know I'd need to edit heavily, but I think I need to know where the end is, before I can know what I need to keep, in order to get there.
    Wishing all the best to all of you!

  6. Hi Grechen!
    "but I think I need to know where the end is" - me too! Once the initial rush of writing is over, usually about 2/3 into a book, then I need to stop and figure out what the point is, before I can go on. Come to think of it, maybe that's why I write historicals; once I reach this point, I start my research, and that usually sparks enough ideas to figure out the "goal" of the story.
    Have fun writing!

  7. Hi Deniz,

    No worries about the t, you remembered the en, so it's all good. ;-)

    My heap of words is... not far enough back to be historical, not quite autobiographical (though it's got a lot of "me" in it) and while I've already done a tiny bit of research, most of it's stuff I know, either from my own past or friends' past. And yes, the names (of people--places, not so much, yet) have been changed, to protect the guilty. Though my working name for one character is stolen from a grade school classmate. Probably need to figure out another one for him, but it's got to be quasi-embarrassing, so...

    So far, I'm still writing in whatever direction inspiration takes me. So in a way, lots of it is coming from far out in left field. I fully expect to need to lose entire sections--who really cares about home repair and improvement, after all? But sometimes that segment leads me to something else that Might be interesting to people other than me...

    This might end up being a crime drama, but I haven't read many of those, so I'm not sure if it fits. Definitely not like the romance books I have on the shelf. Just sort of indescribable at the moment. I suppose I can blame it on Diana. :-)

    Best to all!

  8. Jen - I love Anne Lamott's writing philosophies; they make me laugh my butt off, but are still sooo true. The one you quoted is a good one - a positive way to use all that crappy energy!

    Gretchen- Hi! Long-time, no-see. (g) 250K in two months? That's mind-boggling! Keep going with it, is my advice (though maybe at a slightly less demanding pace); it's the only way to hammer any writing into shape, and find out just what you can do, IMO. Good luck!

    Helen - Ah, that elusive thing called balance. I'm glad you've found it, because I just cannot seem to. Sigh. But I'm coming to believe that's just how my life runs - something is always going to be off-kilter, but as long as it's not the *same* thing all the time, I'm cool. Sort of. (g)

    Deniz - From the words you've been cranking out of late, I don't think you have anything to feel guilty about. (g)
    And U2 ... my first concert was experienced sitting in a tree outside the outdoor venue they were playing back in 1989 (I was a university student and too poor to buy tickets!) From our perch, my friends and I could see the front two or so metres of the stage, so we got the occasional glimpse of Bono; a complete contrast to the concert I *paid* to see a few years ago, where I saw absolutely nothing at all, thanks to our own crappy venue, and my lack of height. Sigh. Maybe one day I'll get to the front row!

  9. Rachel- tee hee. God, how I relate to this post! I'm totally one of those mothers. One of those writers as well! Though I will say, my neighbor always remarks on what a calm and collected mother I am. I "never" yell. This always elicits hysterical laughter from me. I’m the poster child for ranting fishwife/lunatic mother if ever there was one. :)

    So important to remember that the grass IS always greener on the other side.