Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eyes on your own test paper!

Two posts from me in a row--can you believe it? (I know, I'm stunned too!) But I'm trying to get back in my good blogging habits. So I thought I'd post today about something that has come up in several conversations with writer-friends recently.

Remember in school, how teachers used to say "eyes on your own test paper"? (Yes, in those dark ages before they had to say things like: "no texting during the test!" and "put that smart phone away!")

They said it, of course, because they didn't want us to cheat. But I remember discovering another reason why looking at someone else's test paper was a VERY bad idea.

In middle school, I had an evil teacher (no really, she was. I mean, she taught math--need I say more?) and because she was evil, she decided that her tests would be timed. TIMED.  (See? She was a minion of evil, I tell you. I bet she had fangs and frothy saliva and bloodshot eyes when she left the classroom)

So of course I spiralled into Shannon-panic mode. What if I ran out of time? How fast did I have to answer questions in order to make it? WHAT IF I COULDN'T KEEP UP??? (I was...a bit high stress as a kid. SHOCKING, I know)

All of that panic bubbled inside of me. And do you know what it made me do? Something I'd never, ever considered doing before. I didn't keep my eyes on my own test paper.

I wasn't cheating. I wasn't even looking at their answers. But I was looking. Because I wanted to know where they were. Were they on a question ahead of me? Was I working too slow? Why couldn't I keep up? WHAT WAS I DOING WRONG????

It ... didn't go well.

For one thing, I was very lucky the teacher didn't notice (since I'm sure she probably had some sort of evil lair she sent all rulebreakers with chains and torture devices and an endless supply of old Urkel episodes to make the naughty students sit through). But worse than that ... I did not get a good score. Not because I didn't know the information. Because I was so distracted by everyone else, so focused on what THEY were doing, that I didn't pay enough attention to myself. And I ran out of time because of it.

The same lesson applies to this crazy publishing journey we're all on. It is SO EASY to get caught up in: she just signed with an agent and she queried for less time than me, what's wrong with me, why am I still querying? Or: their agent is a bigger agent than my agent--are they a better writer than me? Or, hey--they sold their book for a gazillion dollars and I did NOT sell mine for that much, what am I doing wrong? Or why do they get more marketing support than me? Why do they have more blog followers? How come they sold their book so fast? How come they're friends with so many writers? Why do they get to go to so many conferences? How come they can afford to quit their day job?

Compare. Compare. Compare.

It's a very downward spiral.

Trust me, nothing THEY'RE doing has anything to do with what YOU'RE doing. Watching them won't get you an agent faster, or make your book sell for more, or get you any of the things that they're getting that you want. But it WILL slow you down. Maybe not in obvious ways. But I guarantee you, it will. Because let's face it, it's discouraging. It's discouraging to see other people getting the things we want. And when we're discouraged, it's really hard to focus on our craft and our stories and make them the best they can be--which is kind of the most important thing when it comes to our career as writers.

Believe me--I know it's hard. We have to pay *some* attention to these things, because we also need to keep up with the industry. Plus, we need to be able to be happy for our friends when they find success.

But we have to keep our eyes on our own test paper too. We can't let ourselves focus on THEM. They're not us. We're all on our own journey--and the only thing that matters is that we're doing the best we can to reach our goals. If we focus on that, we'll eventually get where we want to be. And we'll save ourselves a WHOLE lot of stress and heartache in the meantime.


  1. This was a great post and so true. I tend to fall victim to this, mostly getting down on myself because other people are writing way more manuscripts quicker than me. But you're right. Our journeys are our own and we all have other things going on it life that may help or hurt our speed to publication. I'm trying to accept that right now mine might be slower as I help my daughter with high school & swimming and work full time.

  2. Sometimes I can't help but have a little sneaky peaky though!! LOL!! I guess it's feeling strong and confident enough to just focus on one's own journey that's the test for me!

    Oh but I wouldn't want to be in an exam situation ever!! Oh the stress!! LOL! Take care

  3. But it's so easy to compare!! :( I really should stop it, though. You're right. I can definitely see how it can hold me back. :(

  4. I actually gained a lot of confidence from watching those bloggers I read get agents and go out on submission. They made it seem so "do-able" not impossible.

    But then again, I was approaching the situation with several published books already under my belt. I had decided I wanted a different experience (as in having an agent). I am forever grateful to the blogging community for openly sharing their experiences.

    You are right, though...the constant comparison will eventually just slow you down if you let it.

    Great post, Shannon!


  5. So true, and something we all have to remember, but it's HARD. Especially on the internet when the same people are everywhere, taking this journey in the same places!

  6. Wonderful post and a great reminder to keep our eyes on our own journey and not to compare it to others.

    I was like you with timed tests, though. Way too much pressure.

  7. Life is a timed test...we just don't know when the buzzer is going to go off.

    Geez, that was deep.

    Great post! I'm not peeking.

  8. I think its the same for any field you are in and also much more for Americans, living in Europe I saw people were way more relaxed about this whole competition thing and I don't know if that is true in the UK or Dutch book industry but it is in every other industry. I generally do happy dances for others and hope that my writing turns into something. I figure if I start at the beginning of my writing career not being jealous and generally being supportive that karma will be good to me if my writing is good enough and if it is not then I feel that I succeeded because at least I tried!

  9. Wow. That was excellent. Thank you for sharing!

  10. And this is another reason why I think you're fabulous! Thank you - great post :)

  11. I first heard the eyes on your own paper idea from Holly Root and felt liberated. Honestly, it was also helpful to do much of the pre-pub slog before the whole blog thing started (ignorance is bliss!).

  12. Of all things I'm not guilty of this. I go my own stupid way and my fluff ups are my own. :) prematurely submitting well that's another story.

  13. Yeah, I'm the "looker" too. Another one of those ways that I sabotaged myself . . . but nowadays I'm only *half* looking! ;-)

  14. I have to admit I'm so guilty of this (not necessarily looking at other people's papers!). I find myself comparing all the time, and then I have to stop myself from freaking out. This is actually a great analogy because I became very good at tuning other people out during tests. Time to apply that to the rest of life I guess. :)

  15. Seriously - too true. Great reminder!

  16. Excellent, excellent reminder post! The business side of writing is SO subjective, it's really quite silly to compare. Some of it's just plain pure luck, the right combo of being in the right time at the right place. Writing the right book at the right time, etc. So NO, we certainly shouldn't compare. It does NOT reflect on our writing skills!


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