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.