Don’t Listen to Your Peers

This is, of course, a hyperbolic statement. Perhaps a better title would be Don’t Always Listen to Your Peers, or rather Sometimes Listen, Sometimes Really Listen, and Occasionally Stop Listening Completely.

There are a number of good reasons why you should listen to your fellow writers—you can learn from their experiences, many know what they’re talking about when it comes to writing skills and the publishing world, and if you like their work you’ll know where to find more of it. Those are all valid, direct benefits from listening to your peers.

But that’s not what this article is about.

No, sometimes, you really should not listen to your peers.

First, writers love to tell other writers how to write. Overall, this is a good thing, but it’s hard to sort fact (or accepted style guides) from opinion. If you read a lot of writing advice you’ll discover that there’s often contradictory information out there, and some that’s outright bad (I’m not naming names, and please don’t go to my blog…). Beginning writers are often the worst offenders, probably because of the you must blog! attitude, and what better topic than writing about writing?

But there’s reasons to be skeptical. Just because something works for one writer—even a very successful one—doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Find the sources that ring true to you and listen to them. Develop your own skills and practices that keep you producing. Occasionally listen to dissenting views, see if there’s something to it, and forget it quickly when it doesn’t pan out.

The bigger point of this article is envy.

In certain ways, writers are like gamblers—when a gambler wins, everyone hears about their big payday. Likewise, writers toot their own horns when it comes to their publishing successes. Some writers are prolific, and good, and publish frequently—and they often announce new sales. We all tweet out a congrats, and cheer them on, and do it again for the next writer friend a few hours later. Everyone is selling something, somewhere, and we’re all happy for all of them.

But some of us have other thoughts, too. Dark thoughts, maybe even hateful thoughts. That should have been me, these thoughts whisper. Or they’re not that great, I could do that. Sometimes these thoughts take aim at your own abilities. I’m crap, they say, or worse—give up now.

The first kinds of thoughts are competitive, though in a negative way. Sure, when you get down to it, writing is competitive—there are only so many spaces in a magazine or anthology, and each publisher will only publish so many books in a given year. But the real competition is not with each other, but with ourselves—to do better, you need to write better than you have in the past.

The second kinds of thoughts are defeatist—self-doubt will keep you from doing things. Too much of these, and you’re done. Hang up your writer’s hat, and start asking people if they like fries with that.

I could go on about how to work through this—you will need to, it only benefits you—because there will always be someone better than you. Someone will always sell more, earn more, produce more—except for one person, and this article isn’t for them anyway. This is how the word “better” works.

But there’s another easy option that brings me back to my overall point—don’t listen to your peers. You don’t have to know what hundreds of writers have done in a given day. Ignore the “new sale!” announcements or the #amwriting wordcount updates. Limit the amount of time you spend on social media outlets.

Writers write—a lot. They tweet, they post, they blog. All. The. Time. You don’t have to read everything, and in fact you don’t have to read anything. Sometimes it’s just good for your own productivity to tune it all out. Focus on your own efforts first. Take whole days—or weeks—away. Really, you won’t miss much.

(Also remember that those who do sell a lot still get a lot of rejections—just like gamblers who never talk about all of the money they’ve lost, writers rarely talk about how often a story is rejected, how many times they’ve submitted to a particular magazine, or their sale-to-rejection ratio. But that’s a different article…)

So there you have it—don’t listen to your peers. At least, don’t listen to them all of time, and maybe even most of the time. Of course, this applies to me, too—hell, you probably shouldn’t listen to the advice in this article. Really, stop reading now.

That’s better.