The Beauty of the Bubble

I belong to a national and local writers organization. I value the workshops they offer, the friends I have made, and the promotional opportunities they afford. I try to give back whenever I can--writing articles, judging contests, teaching workshops--but, beyond that, I'm not all that active. Politics and competition don't interest me, and you'll find that in almost any organized 'club'.

Let's bypass politics, and focus on that other snarly beast, competition. Writers struggle with enough insecurities concerning their own work. When they start worrying about how they stack up against another artist, whether it be in terms of advances, print runs, contest wins, or productivity, they're opening the door for some really ugly emotions and behavior. Who needs it? Not me. That's why I spend most of my time in my pretty pink bubble, working at my own speed, focusing on my own story, and not worrying about how my career compares to X, Y or Z author. There are others who thrive and make strides by doing so. Not me.

Here's one for instance. I have friends who write four strong books a year. There are times when I've left my bubble, thought about them, and felt less than wonderful because I can only write two books a year. I have friends who have been working on one book for more than a year, and I'm sure there are times they feel less than wonderful when they think about me and my level at productivity. Dwelling on something like this can, to the extreme, become paralyzing. Let's stop and think. Does speed really matter? Isn't it the end result that matters most?

There's a fabulous post (11/9) running at Buzz, Balls, and Hype written by Dr. Susan O'Doherty. It touches on certain forms of competition. (Read it. Read it. Read it.) Here's one of my favorite parts.

"The amount of time you take to complete a novel is not important. Neither is whether you write on a laptop Olympia portable, or a tattered legal pad; whether you spill your raw feelings onto the page and shape them in successive drafts or draw up meticulous outlines and follow them religiously, editing as you go; or whether the work "flows" or requires sustained, conscious effort. What matters is the baby -- your book. You are writing your books using the techniques that work for you, and taking the time required to make them as good as they can be -- that is, to translate your unique vision onto the page as completely as possible. No one else can tell you how to do that, or how long it should take. No one else has your particular combination of genes and experience. No one else has your current life situation. So there is no basis for comparison, either in the way you work or in the finished product. As scary as it is, this is the truth: There is no pecking order. We are each alone with our stories, and we are all together, doing the best work we can."

Doing the best work we can. Getting our passion on paper. Sharing our stories with readers. I don't know about you, but I prefer to focus my energy on that goal as opposed to wondering why X author got a bigger deal or Y author's story placed in a contest and mine tanked. Life is too short and I've got a lot of stories to tell. Returning to my bubble now because it's where I work best.

"The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do, well." ~~Henry W. Longfellow


Barb said…
I think that philosophy applies not just to writing but to life in general. Some competetition is great and can make us find our true strengths. However, dwelling on our weaknesses will only make us more weak.
Taylor said…
Good Post, Beth.

There is certainly a good argument here, but I think I'd rather have an artist take their time to ensure a successful and outstanding novel then punch out numerous mediocre novels.

Then again, if I like one artist's novel, I want to read more ASAP. But this really contradicts what I’m saying. Well, now we're in a pickle...

But then again, I guess I could counter-argue THAT statement by saying it'd be more rewarding reading a novel that deserved the wait rather then one that didn't.

In conclusion, keep at your pace Beth. Don't turn into a James Patterson (ask any fan and they'll agree he's losing his flair) by writing so many novels a year that you need a co-writer to help you! Your talent is strong throughout each novel - just look at all the acclaim you've received! And plus, the longer to a release...the more buzz you can generate!

P.S.- I LOVE the new website format! It's great! It shows how long it’s been since I've been here! When did this change occur?
Jordan Summers said…
I think it's hard to stay detached, although it's important to do so. Much depends on your environment and how you're feeling about your work.

I once had someone tell me that I was falling behind because I didn't have a current book deal. And now that I've sold again, I had someone say it was nice to see me have new releases coming out. I didn't say anything in either situation, even though I was tempted to do so.

The first because I don't think there is such a thing as falling behind in this business where one book can change a career. I gave the second commenter the benefit of the doubt that she didn't realize that I've had three books release this year.

Both comments reminded me that people are funny.
Anna Lucia said…
The only comparison we should make regularly is with our own goals and game plan.

But the bubble should be transparent! We should be able to see out, and learn from our friends' and colleagues' experiences, too.
Beth Ciotta said…
Absolutely, Barb. Certain aspects of competition work in a positive aspect for certain people. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't enjoy winning something? It affords a sense of accomplishment. I'm talking about when it becomes more of an obsession with negative results. As you said, dweling on our weaknesses amkes us more weak.
Beth Ciotta said…
I've heard that complaint from about JP a lot lately, Taylor. From our avid readers at the library. At least he's upfront about writing with someone else, therefore a readers hould be aware that it's not his lone, unique voice.

Thank you for your kind words about my writing and I'm glad you like the new look. It's only a week or so old, so you're not that out of the loop. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Jordan, I agree, it is hard, at times, to stay detached. And much does depend upon your level of confidence. Someone with a boat load of confidence is going to handle the competition angle a whole lot better than someone who battles self-doubt. The trick, I think is in knowing which of the two you are. I am the latter. Not proud of it, but there it is. My goal is to find ways to pump myself up. Enterting writers contests, where the results are so subjective, is not one of them.

As to the two comments you received, the first sounds insensitve. The second insensitive, but with good intentions. Yup. People are funny. ;)
Beth Ciotta said…
Anna, the bubble is sheer pink. LOL I'm not isolating myself from learning, or teaching for that matter. Only the things that have a negative impact on 'me'. As Nora Roberts would say )love this line): "It's not the right way, just my way."
GREAT new look for your site! I look at Balls, Buzz & Hype all the time--I have been a huge fan of M.J. Rose since I attended her workshop at RT in St. Louis. In fact, I sent her an email this morning to invite her to the FRW Conference in February. Hope she comes!

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