The Dark Side by Misha Herwin

The Dark Side

It’s a grey stormy afternoon in February and I am contemplating the dark side.

 “Comparison is Death” said my friend Jonathan and in terms of artistic endeavour he is so right. Jonathan was talking about acting, but it’s as true for writing. There is nothing more debilitating, or eroding of confidence as comparing your work with other more successful writers.

In that lies misery and perdition. So many of us find ourselves asking why when we look at novels, no better no worse than ours that reach the best seller list. Even worse is when a writer you don’t really rate sells millions of books.

Reading their novels won’t help. You might get an idea about what they do that appeals to their readers, but more than likely you will be plunged even further into the depths of…is it envy? That has to be part of it, but there’s something else operating here, which is to do with the vulnerability of being a writer.

We all write to communicate, but the process of writing is solitary and unless our work is published in some form other people won’t read it. So working away day after day, week after week, for years to produce something no one will ever share is not good for our view of ourselves.
A response to what we have written validates our view of ourselves. The best reviews ever are those spontaneous ones from readers that just have to tell you how much they loved your book or story, but in our society we have been programmed to expect or rather to need more. Which is why we crave the million book sales, why we yearn to “live the dream” – a poisonous phrase if ever there was one, because this dream depends not on self-approval, but the approval of others. What is worse, fashions change. Readers move on to new writers others drop out of favour. Who now reads M J Farrell, Kate Chopin or Shirley Conran? What happens to the dream then?

The trouble is it is almost impossible to rid ourselves of these expectations, because from the moment we are born we are being compared to our peers, to our friends to other pupils, fellow students…it goes on and on.

When we grow up we compare our jobs, our incomes, our homes and living in the capitalist world that we do, the advertisers do their best to make sure that we are never satisfied with what we have.
Unless of course we can break free. Decide what path we want to take and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Outside my window the wind is still blowing but the sun is breaking through the clouds.


Umberto Tosi said…
"Expectations are resentments waiting to be born," a dear friend of my used to say, probably quoting somebody famous, I don't remember who. Thank you for this confessional post, letting your colleagues know that they are not the only ones who succumb to the green-eyed monster of invidious comparisons. What a relief! Light makes the monster fade, but it comes back when we're not looking, so best to keep a fashlight bedside. When the comparison monster shows up I try to remember the somewhat mystical directive that by writing we help keep the wheel of creation going, no matter if even one person reads our work. It helps.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Misha, I'm with Umberto on this.

We may start out writing for others - with expectations of wealth, fame, or something else. In the end ... we should really only write for ourselves because we feel compelled to do so, because we love to write, because it fulfills something in ourselves.

Comparing our work to others is only helpful if we learn a technique that can improve our own writing, otherwise it most certainly brings misery.

Here's hoping the view outside your window is now a bright and cloudless, blue sky.


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