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The Trouble with Comparison

by Keisha Gilchrist-Broomes

I do not own a Kindle for one reason.

I love books.

I don’t merely love to read books, I love the books themselves. I love the smell of ink, paper, and binding. I like to feel the weight of the book in my hands. I want to glide my fingers over the edge of a paper page and turn it slowly. Picking up a new book and reading the story inside is, for me, like discovering buried treasure.

A trip to the bookstore brings about a feeling of nostalgia for me. When I walk through the doors of the local Barnes & Noble, for a brief moment, I transform. I see my ten-year-old-self – chubby, shy, and introverted, large eyes searching the shelves. Hands itching to touch a book by Judy Blume, Rosa Guy, or Roald Dahl. The words from those authors, and many others, fascinated me. I didn’t care if their stories were bestsellers – I still begged my mother to buy me a book so I could spend my weekend reading the hours away.

Let’s fast forward several…ahem…years.

I still adore books. So much so, I’ve written whole novels. But when I stroll the aisles of a bookstore now, one nagging thought tends to mar my “discovery” experience. A thought more troublesome than wondering why I didn’t like Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator as much as I’d loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

How does my own writing compare to what’s on shelves now?

No matter what book I hold in my hand, if I ask myself that question, anxiety rises inside me. Instead of feeling elated while discovering a great story, I feel tense and frustrated. If the prose in the first chapter sings, keeps a great pace, and contains original characters and ideas, I begin to wonder if my first chapters do the same. And if I don’t think I’ve done the job as well, I begin to doubt the road on which God has placed me as a writer.

Of course, writers read and study the work of other authors. We encourage each other to do so. Without reading good stories, we have little hope of writing good stories. Studying and enjoying another’s work can be fulfilling. When I study writing, I consider how well the story pulled me in. I learn from the techniques used for the story.

Comparison is different than study. Comparing someone else’s novel to my own is like examining my life in contrast to another’s. I can do it, but the results are never good. I’ll either pat myself on the back if I consider my work better, or pick myself apart if I perceive my work as being worse.

So how am I learning to avoid comparing my work while studying my craft? I tell myself to embrace the originality of my own work.

Embracing my writing is like learning to accept my own body. While my body includes the same parts as everyone else’s (head, heart, etc.), I also have distinguishing attributes (short, bushy eyebrows, thick hair).

My novels include the same components as other novels: a beginning, a middle, and an end. They contain characters who deal with issues such as adultery, divorce, alcoholism, and chronic illness. The female protagonists cry, laugh, love, and cause others to cry with them. Many a women’s fiction novel can be described this way.

Still. No one else will write a story the way I will. No one else on earth possesses the same combination of upbringing, family background, genetics, education, tragedies and triumphs, loves and letdowns, or level of faith, as I do. God planned it that way.

Years ago I heard pastor John Ortberg share in a sermon, “For you are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works that God prepared in advance for you to do…expressions of that person God created you to be.”

As a person, I am unique. And it shows in my writing.

Your originality will shine through in your work as well.

Author Chris Fabry (Not in the Heart) puts it this way, “No, I’m not Karen Kingsbury or Jerry Jenkins or Walt Wangerin. But God didn’t call me to be anyone but who I am. And if there is this tug on my heart to write, who is to say that the message God has given is not important? Why should I hide the gift God has given, no matter how small, under some bushel basket?”

Whether I write romance, contemporary, or women’s fiction, I can only be me. I write for the Lord because I have a burden to do so.

I accept that’s the way God meant it to be.


Keisha Gilchrist-Broomes is a happily married mother of three who enjoys writing women’s and contemporary fiction. She is also a skilled technical writer and online content developer. You can find her on the Web at: http://redletterwritingdiva.wordpress.com/.

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5 Responses to The Trouble with Comparison

  1. Mary F. Allen says:

    Wonderful advice, Keisha. This is so true. We only have to be who God made us. As one song puts it, “Anything more or less is a step out of His plan.” Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Pingback: The Trouble with Comparison | ACFW Blog « redletterwritingdiva

  3. Sharon Gilchrist says:

    I agree with Mary, ?Anything more or less is a step out of His plan.? Keep up the good work as you remain true to yourself.

  4. TashaJuanna says:

    Thank you for reminding me of why I am a wife and mother. I used to think that I would grow-up to be a journalist in the same vein as Edward R Murrow or Bernard Shaw. As I grew in knowledge of myself and discovered my purpose in life, I didn’t feel so bad putting down the pen and picking up a hamper of clothes. Many people told me that I should write or do public speaking but, I realized that God had a different purpose for me. I am a wife because God wanted me to see that I do not have to live this life alone; I do not have to take on all of my repsonsiblities alone; I do not have to be Atlas. I am a mother because God wanted me to see that I have a lot of good wisdom and knowledge to pass on and that it would be best served on a clean slate. I love being a wife and mother and I have never looked back. Every now and then, I’ll jot down something in my journal to expound on later but, I never regret not becoming the next Walter Cronkite. Besides, he couldn’t possibly change the diapers of 3 children under 3 in under 3 minutes! Ha!

  5. Charlene says:

    This is a great reminder of the dangers of comparison in all contexts and the remedy is “write on.”