Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Drive vs. Competition

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one of my writer-friends, and she confided to me that she worries she's too competitive. And I quickly reassured her that I didn't see her as a competitive person at all. Because personally, I draw a firm distinction between being driven and being competitive.

To me, a driven person is always pushing themselves as hard as they can to do the best they can. To write the best book they are capable of writing and sell as many copies of that book as possible. Whereas a competitive person is all about winning. It's not about just doing the best they can--it's about beating other people. 

And I know some people would say I'm splitting hairs there--but I don't think I am. Because in my mind a driven person celebrates when they reach number one because they worked so hard and got as far as they possibly could. A competitive person, on the other hand, celebrates because they're just a little bit better than everyone else. Do you see the difference?

It comes down to the attitude. 

Drive is about working hard and being motivated. Competition is about stomping others into the ground. And while there are certain situations where competition is beneficial--sports, for instance--I just don't think it has any place in the literary world. 

I'm more inclined to agree with Shannon Hale, who has championed the fact that all of us--especially children's writers--are on the same side: the side of books and reading and keeping the publishing industry alive

I've blogged about this before (and was probably more articulate--my brain seems to be getting mushier by the day), but I wanted to say it again, because this is something I'm SO proud of the children's publishing industry for. The kindness, support, and generosity is astounding. Writers don't try to push each other down to top the bestseller list. They champion each other, cheering their friends and their books along.

Sure, it's not perfect--but on the whole I find a warm, caring, encouraging group of writers who work together to spread the word about books and reading. And I applaud that. It's what makes the literary world such an awesome place, and motivates me to work as hard as I can to be a part of it.

I'm a very driven person. But please guys--if I EVER become competitive--slap some sense into me a.s.a.p, okay? Promise? 

Sign up to Smack-Shannon-as-hard-as-I-can-if-she-becomes-a-competitive-jerk in the comments. :)


  1. This is truly a great subject to touch upon. I totally can relate to your friend. I've wondered the same thing about me, but than I realized just what you said. I'm not in it to 'beat' someone else. I'm a competitor with myself, constantly striving to better myself. Guess you could say I'm driven, too. LOL Maybe someday, we'll all 'drive' somewhere together.

  2. Attitude is key. One way to tell if you're competitive is that you are not happy for friends who succeed.

  3. Yes I agree there is a difference. And the children's writer community is driven but supportive.

    Learning to be a lawyer was the opposite. Very competitive. Back then we didn't have online resources and people at school would hide books in the library so they could get ahead. Though most attorneys are nice to work, others think the way to win is to insult their opponent. Thank goodness the writing community isn't like this.

  4. I agree. There's a huge difference between the two. I think drive is a better trait when it comes to writing and publishing. Competitiveness can lead to some negative situations such as cheating and violence--Tonya Harding anyone?

    I've seen competitiveness come out during crits in contests. Some people go out of their way to knock someone's work down so that it won't look good in an agent's eye. Fortunately most agents know better.

  5. Ooo, I love a good smackdown!


    I agree, the people in the YA/MG publishing blogosphere are awesome. I want to hug them all :)

  6. There is nothing wrong with being driven. I will be your cheerleader in that department.

    I will try to keep my eye on you and slap you with my pom-pom if you get out of line. ;x

  7. I think that's a great distinction and I agree that there really is no reason/place for competitiveness between writers. Agents and publishers...maybe. but not writers:)

  8. Awwwwww!! how can ANYONE smack someone as lovely as you!! Awwwww! No smacking allowed! :-)

    I used to be very competitive and then I grew up! LOL!

    I hope hope hope I've learned the difference now! Take care

  9. This is a great post.

    You are right, there is a difference between the two. I think if a writer is driven, they can be happy for the success of others, because they find it encouraging. If they are too competitive, they are threatened by the success of others.

    I am sure you'll never need a smackdown!

  10. I think I'm pretty competitive, and I hateeeeeee that part of me. But I guess my competitiveness is also quite weak LOL. okay I'm not sure which definition I'm talking about anymore.

  11. The weird thing about me is, I feel competitive in some other parts of my life, but not about my writing. Like when I was studying abroad, my roommate and I were both trying to get in shape, and I would work out extra hard on the days I knew she had to skip the gym because I wanted to BEAT HER AT BEING HEALTHY. (Because clearly I'm a crazy person.)

    But when I hear about a person signing with a great agent (even one I would love to sign with), or getting an awesome deal, or a great review, all I think is, "I'm so proud of you!!" and congratulate them (or, if it's a friend, totally spazz out) then get back to my writing, even more motivated to make it happen for myself one day. I totally agree that children's book publishing is different - the kidlit conferences I've been to and writers I've met have been so welcoming and supportive - how could you NOT be pumped for them when something great happens?

  12. A wonderful distinction. Unfortunate that some people don't understand the difference. Thanks for posting!

  13. This post is a winner, #1! You are so right - attitude is key. I think being driven is a real benefit for a writer (maybe even a must) but competition is too likely to get negative and ugly. And you could never be ugly!!! :-)

  14. My competitive nature comes out when I hear about contests, mostly book giveaways these days, but I used to enter every contest I could find that might get an agent's attention. I'd see one in my google reader and my heart would feel like it stopped for a second and I'd feel a sort of scary/happy rush as I read more about it. I guess I was really driven to find an agent who liked my writing.

    When I hear about the success of others, that just drives me to be even better. Not better than them, just better than myself. There's always room to grow and improve, but you'll never grow if you're harboring resentment for your colleagues.

    Great post!

  15. Awesome post. You're so right - there is a big difference between being driven and competitive. I don't think being competitive is enough to make it in the publishing industry. You have to be driven and willing to work through rejections and setbacks and failing if you want to make it and have your book be in bookstores.

  16. Hmm. Interesting. I've never even considered the possibility of a writer being competitive with other writers. I mean how the hell would you win, anyway? Sell more books than someone else? That's pretty shallow, and besides, the books that sell the most are generally crap, so would you really be the winner?

    I mean I can see envy, or jealousy, hell, I've even felt a little myself, but that's just because we doubt ourselves.

    I can't really conceive of a competitive writer Shannon, but if he's out there, he's an idiot.

  17. I completely agree with this. And I think that ultimately, the writers who succeed consistently are those who are driven, but also willing to participate in the writing community and give back - i.e., not competitive.

  18. Yes. We're all on the same team. How is it possible to compete with another writer, anyway??

  19. Do we get to choose where you get smacked?




    (C'mon...can't tell me you didn't see *that* one coming....)

  20. I agree with you. I don't pit myself against other people in competition. I do see myself as driven though. I'm my biggest competition. I like to push myself.
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  21. This is definitely not a good field to let that competitive spirit flourish--primarily because it doesn't do anything but hurt the individual who's feeling it. The success and accomplishments of others in publishing--unlike in sports--does not diminish your chances of finding success (unless someone happened to write the exact same book as you, in which case, okay, that sucks...but not likely). I think it's important to celebrate other writers in our field.

    I'm insanely driven, like you; as such I don't have the time or energy to worry that I'm not at the same level as others who have come before (or even after) me. We all have our own path, our own journey. I think we should let ourselves be inspired by those who succeed--not be stressed out by it.

    Down with competition! Huzzah!

    Such a good post, Shannon.

  22. I am the most UNcompetitive person who has ever walked the earth. I care so little about competition (except when it comes to board games and trivia), and this is why I have never played sports. I just don't care.

    I like that the kidlit community isn't super competitive...that's why I feel like I fit in. I think we are all driven and hard workers, but in the end, we are all here to support each other. I like that!

  23. *Raises hand* Can I be both? I'm really determined and cut throat at the same time. How cool is that? ;)

  24. Two thumbs up for you. My siblings are competitors. My sister especially. I am driven and don't care a lick if she likes it or not. Maybe that sounds harsh, but it was her choice for our relationship which formed early and decidedly in our teens.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  25. I'm definitely driven rather than competitive!

  26. I love this and totally agree. I don't want to judge my accomplishments by the success or failure of others. LOVE you, by the way. Would never smack you! (maybe a kick in the pants?lol would never happen anyway)

  27. This post makes sense to me. You are wise, my young padawan. LOL! But yes, I agree. I do think it's about supporting one another and being the kind of person who does that.


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