The Invidious Comparison

by Barb, still in Key West

Our readers get to see the blog posts, but as we’ve told you before, there’s a lot the goes on behind the scenes here at Wicked Cozy Authors, Inc. The Wickeds cheer each other on as we struggle through first drafts, race toward deadlines, wait anxiously for word from our editors that a manuscript has been accepted, or from our agent that a series has been sold. I can’t tell you how much that moral support has meant to me.

But, as a result, I’ve learned a lot about my fellow Wickeds work habits.

InvidiousJulie can plot a whole book before she writes it. I can’t do that. Jessie can write more than 5000 first draft words in a sitting. I’ve never done that. Sherry can write the beginning, then write the end, then swoop back and do some of the middle. I did that once with a short story, but I’ve never achieved it with a novel. Liz can balance writing two series with a full-time, serious job. I couldn’t do that when I was her age, and I certainly can’t do it now. And Edith can complete her entire daily word count before I am even out of bed.

This is all fascinating, and believe me, I am happy for the skills and achievements of my friends, but sometimes, when I compare myself to them, I feel a little…envious. It’s the Invidious Comparison.

I was lucky to have a lot of mentors when I was coming up in the corporate world, and it was one of them who explained to me, when I was quite a young manager, the Invidious Comparison.

ComparisonInvidious actually means likely to arouse or incur resentment or anger in others, but the way she used Invidious Comparison, it meant that situation when we are jealous of something we don’t even particularly want. The classic example is your brilliant sales person. She’s a lone wolf, she loves killing what she eats, creating her own rewards by living on commission. She hates paperwork and managing others, and the thought of tying her success to that of subordinates gives her hives. She’s happy in her job, and you’re thrilled to have her. But then time goes by. People who were hired after her, people who might not even have been as good at sales as she is, get promoted into management. They have other talents. They are good mentors and bosses. They love the minutiae of paperwork, the discipline of the sales pipeline, the feeling of having a team. And the brilliant sales person, in spite of herself, even though she would rather die than be a manager, starts to get jealous. Sooner or later, one of these promoted people ends up being her boss. And it drives her crazy. Even though she doesn’t want the job.

The Invidious Comparison.

So every morning, when I tumble out of bed and see that Edith has posted that she’s already made her word count and is off to have fun adventures on the day, I’m a little jealous.

Or I might plan a long weekend and think I am going to write 15,000 words in three days, like Jessie. But I will inevitably fail. And send myself through a whole guilt, grief cycle which will waste even more time.

The Invidious Comparison.

It’s ridiculous, I know. If I got up and got my word count done like Edith does, I’d be obliterating my absolutely favorite thing about not having a corporate job–sleeping in and staying in my pjs until after my second cup of coffee. I love it. It makes me so happy.

And if I were capable of binge-writing, first of all, it would make me an even worse procrastinator than I am. And secondly, it would take me back to the way I wrote when I had kids and a full-time job, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as I enjoy my writing schedule now.

I can’t do what they can do.

So I have to play to my strengths–to wit, a certain relentlessness, and a great fear of shame in the public square if I turn in a really awful book. Or no book at all.

It works for me.

Each of the Wickeds has different strengths, different weaknesses and different ways of working. When I’m seeing clearly, I know that’s part of what makes it all work. It’s part of what goads each of us to be better and try new things. But if we try them, and they aren’t helpful, it’s fine to set those new things down and move on.

People love to tell you that if you don’t do such and such, you can’t write a book.

“If you don’t get up at 5:00 every morning and have your word count done by 10:00 am, you can’t write a book.”

“If you don’t write everyday, you can’t write a book.”

Poppycock. The disempowering message from these morons is, “You can’t write a book.”

But you can. You can produce one book every ten years if you want to. You can write only when the moon is full. You can self-publish a 400 page tome every three months. Do whatever you want.

Because if you’re not doing what you want, why are you doing it at all? There are plenty of easier ways to pass the time.

But when you choose one path, you can’t be jealous of the other people who go down a different path, and do it a different way, and find success.

Because that’s the Invidious Comparison.

41 Thoughts

  1. Wonderful post, Barb. We definitely all have different ways and different paths. Mind you, I write at least the first half of my words IN my PJs and drinking coffee. Just saying. ;^) For me one of the delights of no longer driving to a day job is getting up in the quiet early and working, and then being able to take a nap later if I need one!

    1. All of which sounds like torture to me (including the nap). My father was a great napper, but I didn’t inherit the gene. I always wake up feeling groggy and slightly sick, and it’s like starting the day all over. Two mornings in one day is one more than I can handle.

  2. First, any post with “poppycock” in it gets a big smile from me. Second, right on! Do what you want, when you want, how you want–great way to live and work. It’s obviously working for you.

  3. This is such a great post, Barb! It really applies to all aspects of living, not just writing. Comparing ourselves to others is the surest path to unhappiness. At our age, we should know this, yet it is a lesson we must continually relearn. Reading about the Invidious Comparison made me think about the corollary, the Invidious Compliment. That’s when someone (often a woman) compliments you for something you do well, and then makes you feel bad for your talent by hanging her head and saying, “I suck at that.” Those kind of compliments leave me blathering apologies and reassurances.

  4. Thanks for this, Barb! I’ve always heard people say you aren’t a “real” writer if you don’t write every day. I don’t and always feel a bit guilty. I took a year off after I failed to sell the “series in the drawer.” But I edited a lot of manuscripts that year and learned a lot. But it’s amazing and how easily we all buy into that stuff.

    1. Don’t get me wrong. It’s better if you can. But life intervenes, and also, sometimes you just need to refill the creative well. You learned an amazing amount in your year off.

      I was reassured in this by one of my favorite authors, Julia Glass, who won the National Book Award for her first book, The Three Junes, which was published in her forties. She also had two small children in her forties. I took a great course from her at the Fine Arts Work Center. “I’m not a believer that you have to write every day,” she says. “If I felt industrious, I’d spend ten hours a week writing. The writing is going on all the time in my head; the trick is to capture it. Showers are great. Traffic jams are great.”

  5. Excellent post! Starting writers are always asking, how do I do this? What are the rules? As you’ve seen, there is no one right answer. You have to figure out what works for you. Sure, look at how other people do it, maybe even try to follow their recommendations–but pick and choose the ones that make sense for you.

    1. Yes, it’s amazing how many people want a magic formula. Your work patterns as a writer mirror your work patterns as a human, I find.

      The other one is, “I would write a book if I had more time.” Do you think I have a machine that manufactures more time?

  6. You are so right. I have a saying I love and it keeps me sane when I start to feel the pricks of the Invidious Comparison, or even simply jealousy – The only writer you should compare yourself to is the writer you were yesterday.

  7. I’m part of the flannel PJ and hooded sweatshirt set, at least in winter. I dress and emerge around noon to give the dogs a long walk (plotting and dialogue practice). I savor January and February, when I get more writing done than any other time of year. March rolls in and the garden chores start.

  8. Great post, Barbara! Invidious comparisons lead to a diminished life. I’ve watched how people are creative as quilters, authors and artists. What works best for each person is the “right” way for them and it may change over time. I’m a late riser, too, and sometimes I feel like I should get up earlier but it goes against my natural inclinations. And I enjoy my late hours which I’m sure the early birds cannot relate to. I love Mary Sutton’s comment about comparing yourself to yesterday. And yet I’ve found that sometimes yesterday I was much better creatively than I am today so even that comparison can deflate me. I try to have fun with my current project and if I’m not I put it aside (as long as there’s no deadline) and do something else for a while. “Because if you’re not doing what you want, why are you doing it at all?!” What an awesome post to read as I’m starting my day.

    1. Thank you, Karen. I agree about the late night hours. I love being alone in my house, even when others are in their beds. I’m no longer as productive late at night as I was when I was young, but the late hours are my best thinking hours.

  9. I fall into this at time with my reviewing. As I think I’ve said, I came to the blog late, having reviewed at Amazon since 2001 and on another, now closed, site for a number of years. On those sites, you can review anything under the sun, and I found the joy in doing that.

    However, there aren’t review blogs out there. There are Book Blogs. And some people look down on you in you review anything other than books or discuss anything other than books. Seriously. There was a book blog registry I was going to join, but 90% of your posts had to be about books. I could never achieve that unless I only posted two or three times a week. Plus I enjoy posting reviews on other things. I keeps me from wearing out at reviewing. And after 14 years, that could happen.

    And most book blogs also stick to one genre, so I sometimes wonder how the Middle Grade books I review are received among the cozy mystery set. But I can’t read nothing but cozy mysteries or I burn out on them. I need my breaks.

    So I continue to review whatever I feel like whenever I feel like it. It has probably cost me followers, but I enjoy it. And if I didn’t enjoy it, I’d stop.

    All that to say your post is right and applies to so much of life. Thanks for a great reminder.

    1. What you do is so much work, Mark, I can’t imagine doing it if I didn’t love it.

      Personally, I like that your blog shows some of your many interests. Our television taste overlaps somewhat (Once Upon a Time) and I knew exactly who to reach out to when I had a pressing Hallmark ornament question!

  10. Terrific post, and so true. It really is about being comfortable with your own path, and that there is no right way.

    Will say, though, that I am full out jealous that you are in Key West right now. Nothing invidious about it.

  11. “Because if you’re not doing what you want, why are you doing it at all? There are plenty of easier ways to pass the time.” Amen.

  12. DO you have a machine that manufactures more time? Because I’ll be right over to borrow it, LOL! But seriously, this is such a good post, and very timely for me for a number of reasons. You mentioned my most hated piece of writing advice, btw: Write every day. That’s terrible advice, unless you’re Stephen King (oops, no Invidious Comparisons! Even to achieve his level of success, would it be worth it to have gone through the years of drug addiction and that horrible pedestrian-car accident?). For most every writer out there, that advice sets you up to fail. I know lots of writers, and I don’t know a single one who can sustain that sort of commitment. Better to write MOST days, and/or to have a weekly word count goal rather than a daily goal, that allows for fluctuations in your energy level and “real life” obligations. All this to say, find what works for you. It’ll probably take some experimenting, and it may change over time.

    1. One of the great problems of life is that you can have money, or you can have time, but it’s really hard to have both at the same time. But if I had a machine like that…daydreaming….

  13. Barb, I love this. So timely for me in all areas of my life. When I find myself doing it at The Day Job now, I at least recognize it and shake myself a bit to say, “Hello? You don’t WANT that!” With writing, I’m trying to be more patient with myself and really figure out what works for me as I juggle this new schedule. Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. Barb, what a remarkable post! I always feel envious when I read your posts! They are so engaging and wise with an undercurrent of wit. We are all so blessed to be spending time in a community of readers and writers with skills, talents and attitudes that make us want to be better than we think we are. Thanks for sharing this today!

  15. An excellent meditation on the meaning of life. Holding my right hand up, palm facing you, I form it into a vee–two fingers, space, two fingers and the thumb extending 90 degrees to the side, and I say, “Live long and prosper.”

    ~ Jim

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