I recently walked the West Highland Way. This is a 96 mile path from Milngavie (a suburb of Glasgow) to Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis. The walk took seven days and on the eighth day we climbed Ben Nevis and walked in snow on a blazing hot day. All along the route the scenery was terrific: mountains, hills and lochs. We heard cuckoos and saw feral goats.
We chose to go in the middle of May, which is supposed to be the best time for both weather and minimum midges. We had sunshine and few insect bites but there was a lot of people. On the more open stretches of path they could be seen snaking in front of and behind us like a colourful bendy reptile. When the path was narrow and terrain difficult, there was a constant tapping of walking poles and a search for passing places to let those walking faster than us overtake. At first this unnerved me; I felt as though I was in a race and being overtaken by everyone else. I worried we were going to be last to finish the day’s walk and my competitive spirit kept trying to kick in and make us go faster. Eventually I relaxed and realised everyone has their own pace and there are merits to going slower and enjoying the views.
What has this got to do with writing?
Social media makes us all very aware of what other writers are doing. We know when they get an agent, when they sign the publishing deal and when the book hits the shelves. Or we know who’s on a winning streak in the womag short story world. Or competition winners are shouted from the roof tops. Celebration is good and, after the toil of writing, well deserved. But as a result we are constantly measuring ourselves against the success of others, just as I was measuring my walking speed and ability against the other boot clad walkers on the West Highland Way. This is not a good thing. Everyone’s path to success is different. We have different talents, different starting points and face different obstacles along the way.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own route to your goal. You may find it beneficial to take a detour into article writing or to pause and clear your mind. Domestic issues might slow you down or a surge of ideas might push you forward. Take the journey at your own pace without comparing it to others (but do give them a little cheer when they succeed!) and you’ll enjoy it all the more.
And when you stand on that mountain top we’ll all be cheering you and your achievement – however long it might have taken to get there.
#1 by lynnforthauthor on June 8, 2018 - 9:40 am
Thank you for these reassuring thoughts, Sally. Very impressed with your walking and your wisdom.
#2 by Sally Jenkins on June 8, 2018 - 6:52 pm
Not sure I’ve got a lot of wisdom but I do my best, Lynn!
#3 by shirley stow on June 8, 2018 - 10:13 am
I agree entirely with your comments, Sally. They apply to everything in life we have to tackle. Life is a journey, not a competition and we must stop and smell the flowers along the way.
#4 by Sally Jenkins on June 8, 2018 - 6:56 pm
Wise words, Shirley. We all need to stop comparing ourselves to others in everything we tackle.
#5 by Anne Harvey on June 8, 2018 - 10:18 am
So very true, Sally. I recently had chance to reflect on that when invited to an ‘Indie’ function. Knowing that several of the authors who would be there had published more books than I have, I felt a bit ‘small fry.’ Had to remind myself that even publishing two and now a collection of short stories, was an achievement in itself. Love the photo with the short-sleeves and the snow!
#6 by Sally Jenkins on June 8, 2018 - 6:55 pm
Two (great!) novels and your new short story collection is more than most people ever publish. Be proud, Anne!
#7 by Helen Yendall on June 8, 2018 - 3:30 pm
Good advice, Sally. It’s so difficult not to compare yourself to others, especially, as you say, when it’s all over social media! Sometimes, that’s why it’s good to take a break from SM and ‘regroup’. Otherwise it can feel as though everyone else is having loads of success, even if that’s not strictly true and that’s very disheartening! Onwards and upwards! (I was impressed by your walk – and climb – by the way!)
#8 by Sally Jenkins on June 8, 2018 - 6:54 pm
Yes, social media does cause a lot of us to feel we are failing, Helen, but it can also offer a lot of support too. It’s swings and roundabouts!
#9 by juliathorley on June 11, 2018 - 8:15 am
You are so wise, Sally. The cliche about life being a marathon not a sprint comes to mind.
#10 by Maria on June 17, 2018 - 4:43 pm
Well said Sally, and congratulations on your recent walking achievement too.