I was recently chatting with my 9 year old granddaughter about how her swim team practices were going. Now that she was a few weeks into it, I was wondering how they were going. She told me that she had discovered that she really likes to be last when they are in lanes doing their laps, because “no one is trying to pass me and I can just take my time and enjoy the swim”. In other words, to focus on her swimming and not on the others in the lane with her.
At the time, her first swim meet was still a week away, and I was not sure how to respond. Which meant that this conversation, and the ideas of competition and enjoyment, have been rattling about my head for over a week.
Yes, competition is built into so much of our lives. Our work lives and careers, any sports or athletics, even many hobbies. Competition means there are limited “honors or rewards” and therefore we must work hard or we will miss out. Competition puts us in adversarial roles with others.
As writers, it is clear that we are in a competitive line of work. In every aspect of our lives as authors, we are in positions of competition with others. Does our query letter stand out? Is our manuscript better than the others? Will our sales numbers be strong? Everyone who impacts our writing journey, from agents, to editors, to readers, and book store managers, is also being courted by other writers. So we must stand out. We must be better. We are in competition.
Yet, as writers, we are artists, and therefore, our art is our focus. In many ways, I find this reality a difficult line to walk. Because I also believe that as writers, we have to have each others’ back. We have to be willing to share ideas, resources, and insights. We have to support each other, encourage and mentor each other, and we have to put ourselves in positions to allow ourselves to grow in our craft.
That is why writer’s groups and professional organizations are so critical. They become the framework that allows us to set aside competition and work collaboratively. Whether an informal critique group or a formal conference; whether a small, local group or a national gathering of writers. These groups provide a break from that competition and allows us to refocus on our writing. To get back to the why of what we do. To embrace those intangibles of our writing-life.
When we focus on making our writing better, rather than on competing with others, we actually increase our chance of success.
So as Ellie so eloquently pointed out, the joy is in savoring the swim, and not where you are in the lane.