I believe creativity is something innate in all of us, but sometimes it still feels hard to come by. Sometimes the juices aren’t flowing the way they should be. We all have days when we’d rather sleep than work, right?
There are all kinds of things out there that can end up killing our creativity. Things like busyness, distractions, excuses, procrastination, and exhaustion. But it’s been my experience that one thing can kill your creativity faster and more brutally than any of the above. That thing is comparison.
Adjusting Our Standards
We all have standards—and that’s a good thing. After all, we want the things we create to be quality, especially if we’re offering them to an audience. The trouble comes when we begin adopting someone else’s work as our own standard.
Suddenly, everything we do must measure up to what so-and-so is doing. Rather than focusing on becoming the best we can be, we focus on being like them. We start to notice that our prose doesn’t match their style, or that our paintings aren’t as soft, or that we don’t have the same frames in our photography. And instead of having quality as our standard, we hold up another person’s work.
The problem is, we are all different. There’s nothing wrong with admiring a fellow artist and gathering inspiration from their work. I do it all the time. But we all have to accept that being different is okay. We don’t all have to be J.K. Rowling or Picasso.
Focus on doing your best and creating quality art that matters to you, and you might just find that the weight of comparison starts to slip away.
The Poison of Comparison
One of the things that makes comparison so poisonous is that, usually, we aren’t even comparing ourselves to our equals. We’re comparing ourselves to the “greats”. We hold our work up alongside those who have been doing this for months or years and say, “Why can’t mine look like that?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this—especially when it comes to my fiction. I’ve looked at books by veteran authors that I admire and become discouraged because my work in high school didn’t closely resemble theirs. But then, who was I even kidding?
When I spent time comparing myself to others with far more experience, I found myself in countless creative slumps. And it wasn’t writer’s block that was killing my creativity. It wasn’t busyness or distractions. It was comparison.
Can Comparison Ever Be Good?
Whoa, wait—am I getting ready to contradict myself? No, actually there are times when comparison can be a good thing. Times when it might even strengthen your creative drives and encourage you to push on.
Before we can understand the benefits of healthy comparison, let’s look again at what causes the problems:
- Adopting someone else’s work as our standards
- Beating ourselves up for being different
- Comparing ourselves to others with more experience
The thing is, comparison doesn’t always have to look like that. What if we changed the way we compare ourselves to others?
Instead of holding the first draft of your first (or second, or tenth) novel up next to Harry Potter, think about yourself in comparison to where J.K. Rowling started. Did you know that the manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected dozens of times before its publication?
Instead of comparing my blog to my favorite mega-bloggers who are basically all in their forties—I’ve started thinking about where I am in comparison to where they were when they were my age. I may not have a massive blog, but neither did they at twenty. In fact, they didn’t have any blog.
When you begin looking at comparison through this lens, others become less of a threat and more of an encouragement. You start to realize that maybe things aren’t as hopeless as they seemed—and that you aren’t actually bad at what you do.
Focus on doing your best and creating quality art that matters to you and you might find that the weight of comparison starts to slip away.
— Emily Tjaden (@emily_tjaden) July 6, 2015
We are all at different stages in the journey. It’s best to keep your eyes on your own path and your own goals. And if you look at others who are farther along than you are, remember that one time they were walking in the same place you are.
How do you overcome the toxicity of comparison? Have you found that changing your focus can help fuel your creativity?