Writing is a strange venture for a variety of reasons. It has demands, both physical and mental, that don’t align with a lot of other professions or hobbies. But one of the most peculiar things about writing, I’ve found, is one of the most common attitudes among writers. This is something that has popped up its ugly head a few times, recently, so it’s been on my mind.
Writers, as I’ve seen many times in many different forums or environments over my brief decade as an active writer, tend to be competitive. Now, being competitive isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is it unique to writing. I myself am extremely competitive, both from my years as the youngest of six children and from playing hockey at a reasonably high level for two decades. When nurtured, competitiveness can be a big help in getting a step forward in life.
But with writing, it’s mostly nonsensical, at least in its most common appearance. Being competitive and setting goals can be a great motivating factor, sure—maybe you have a friend or colleague who just published a new book, and you then set a goal to publish one yourself. Awesome! That’s a healthy use of competitiveness. Writing a novel is hard work, and anything that helps you get that done is a good thing.
However, the most common form I’ve seen it take tends to come with a heaping dose of superiority, jealousy, and nastiness. I’m an active member on a few different writing forums online, and I’ve seen it there (thankfully, there’s one where it’s almost nonexistent, and that’s my favorite by far). I was a Creative Writing concentration for my undergrad, and I really saw it there. I’ve seen it on Twitter, on Facebook, in conversations in coffee shops.
Just this afternoon, one guy in my Facebook writing group said he has no confidence in himself, even years later, because a student in his high school writing class told him he might as well be brain-dead. That’s a travesty, and it really ticked me off. (For one thing, the idea of a high school kid thinking he knows that somebody is going to be a terrible writer is frankly hilarious.)
The reality is, writing (and publishing) isn’t a race with one winner. Just because somebody is writing, or learning to write, or getting books published, doesn’t mean that you are eliminated from the race of doing the same.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the writing group I mentioned previously is that it’s full of new writers. Sure, there are a couple members who’ve self-published a book or two, but there are no traditionally published authors and the majority of members are adults who started writing in the last four or five years.
The result is a great atmosphere. People build each other up. They learn together. They push themselves to practice, to get better, and most of all, to write.
All too often, writing groups (especially those online) get very clique-ish. Members look down on others, denigrate them, and even tell them they’re wasting their time writing. They actively discourage people from writing, as if the fact that one new writer in the world is a direct threat to their chances of getting published.
The fact of the matter is, new writers can help. They bring new perspectives and new methods. They can help you improve, and through that improvement, get you one step closer to that lofty goal of getting published—or better yet, writing a bestseller.