Is your competitive nature getting in your way? Slowing you down? Has it become a roadblock to your own writing success?

Rock me Amadeus

When the COVID-19 lockdown started and the entire world was pretty much shut down, the British National Theatre put some of their productions on YouTube once a week. Perhaps you remember? There were some phenomenal productions.

One of the features was Amadeus. I remember seeing the movie when I was younger and loving it. I’m a Mozart fan, so of course I’m going to watch this. What interested me most in seeing this drama, was how it was going to be interpreted. 

For those who don’t know, Amadeus chronicles the relationship between composers Salieri and Mozart, and portrays the role Salieri might have had in Mozart’s death. Depending on the director, Mozart comes off as a victim of Salieri’s hatred with Salieri blatantly blamed for the murder; or Salieri is the hero and Mozart a villain.

In the British National Theatre production, Salieri confesses to murdering Mozart because Mozart is so much more popular than Salieri, he figures that if he won’t be remembered for his music, at least he will be remembered. 

Though he confesses, his role in Mozart’s death isn’t direct. Salieri has been composing music for years, is well known, and then this upstart child-prodigy comes along. Throughout the play, Salieri does everything possible to ruin Mozart’s career, which ends up ruining his life. He spreads rumours to stop Mozart from getting commissions, without which he can’t pay for a decent place to live. We watch the decline of Mozart and grieve what could have been.

But I also watched the decline of another great composer: Salieri.

Isn’t competition good?

Competition can, indeed, be a good thing, if we let it be a catalyst that pushes us to do better, to be better. 

I have witnessed many a writing sprint competition with a friendly wager among fellow writers. Over a weekend or a month, they will see who can write the most words. Each day they post on social media what they accomplished, backed up by some light-hearted trash talk. At the end, there’s some kind of prize or the loser has to buy dinner for the winner. 

That’s good competition. Pushing to get the words on the page.

If you see a fellow writer improving in their craft because they’ve read certain books, taken writing classes, hired an editor, and you want similar success (or greater), so you read books on writing, hire an editor, and take an even more prestigious workshop.

That’s good competition. You’re pushing yourself to be a better writer.

In my program, The Daring Writer, I push you to grow as a writer, to challenge yourself. If challenging others helps you grow, then go for it!

So what’s the problem with being competitive?

If seeing ourselves in competition pushes us to be better, that is great. The problem comes when we focus so much attention on what others are doing that we stop working on our own writing and finding our own writing success. It stops being competitive, it becomes jealousy, and it is dangerous.

When we start following other writers on social media, checking their feeds, wondering how they got published and that many sales because their books aren’t really that good, believing that we should have more success than they do because we’re better writers, our stories are more original, it is dangerous.

We’ve seen this play out to its extreme when one author will start commenting on another’s social media feed with negative comments, or they trash talk others on Goodreads or other social media to turn readers against that other author.

Look, I know we all have times when we get jealous of someone else’s success. That’s fine. Acknowledge it, then set it aside. 

Because the writer who is succeeding, is the one who is writing what they want, focusing on their own craft, not what you or anyone else is doing. Something in their story has grabbed the attention of readers. Maybe they actually are a better writer than you, maybe they’re not. It doesn’t matter. 

What matters is how you manage your competitive nature.

Community over competition

Writing, like everything else, can feel like it is a competitive arena. There are only so many authors agents can represent, only so many books that get published, only so many readers. It is a natural instinct. We are human, and most of us have some level of a competitive nature in us.

In Canada, we have a lot of grant money available to writers. There are only so many grants and it is a competition to get one. Getting a grant can mean you have the ability to take a month off of work to write, or a year, or travel for research. Another author’s success is often seen as competition for that grant money.

What we forget is that writing and publishing isn’t an odds game. Not really. An agent may only sign a handful of new clients a year, but they don’t pick a random number of submissions each year. No. They represent the stories and the authors that they believe in the most. It is a long and difficult selection process. If the submissions they receive don’t reach the standards they’re looking for, they’re not going to represent it.

The same thing for publishers and grants. 

As for readers, well, with both traditionally published and independently published authors taking on more and more of their own publicity, that playing field is levelling out.

The writers who succeed also help others to succeed. They recognize the need for support, for community, not competition. Their competitive nature acknowledges that by lifting others up, they raise themselves as well.

Back to our friend, Salieri and his competitive nature

I wish Salieri hadn’t seen Mozart as competition, but rather had taken him under his wings and mentored him, as Mozart needed, and wanted. Instead of trying so hard to ruin someone in order to lift himself up, and ultimately destroying his own name in an effort to leave some kind of legacy, he could have had the legacy of raising up Mozart, being his mentor. More than likely, his music might actually be remembered, which is what he had been so afraid of not happening.

Of course, this is all based on the play. It is all artistic speculation. 

Still, I wish to leave you with this:

  1. If you find your competitive nature turning to jealousy, acknowledge it, then turn your focus back to your own path of success;
  2. Identify your path to writing success. You can get a head-start by going through this Free guide: The Successful Author Starter Kit;
  3. Make a note of what makes you as an author, and what makes your story different from anyone else’s. What might pique the interest of an agent or a reader?; and
  4. Find a community of writers you can learn from, and whom can learn from you.

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

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