Friday, February 1, 2013

Life Lessons—The Worst Mistake a Writer Can Make

by Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D

The worst thing a writer can do is
compare their journey to another's.
I know what you’re thinking. Reba is going to talk about head hopping or lack of conflict in the story. Those definitely could derail your efforts of getting published, but they aren’t the worst mistake a writer can make.
Far and beyond writing craft, the most common malady that befalls an author is comparing their own journey to other authors. Your journey as a writer is absolutely unique. Not another single writer on the face of the planet will have the same experience you do.

You think I’m kidding? Pick five of your favorite authors or the top five New York Times best selling authors and place their journeys side by side. Each of them got to print different ways and at different times. They don’t all have the same agent and they all faced different challenges along the way.

When writers start out the journey together, it’s easy to use them as your barometer to measure your own success. My first real writers retreat was My Book Therapy’s very first Story Crafter’s Retreat. Out of those that attended that retreat:

·      Beth Vogt is a two time published fiction author (she already had a non-fiction book in print).
·      Lisa Jordan is a two time published author and winner of the Carol Award.
·      Pat Trainum now has agent representation and was a Genesis Contest Finalist.
·      Melissa Tagg went on to win the Frazier Award and is a contracted author.
·      Ginger Takamiya won the Frazier Award.

If I looked at that and compared them to what I’ve accomplished in the world of fiction since that October in 2009, I would sell my computers on Ebay and hang up my pen forever.

Right now, the worst thing I could do is compare myself to them to measure my success. I haven’t written a single fictional word in several years. That’s true enough but here are some things I did accomplish:

·      Wrote and published Dare to Dream, A Writer’s Journal
·      Started Magellan Life Coaching, dedicated to helping others find their true north
·      Delivered the Keynote address at over 50 functions
·      Became Member Care Coach for Susan May Warren’s My Book Therapy
·      Ghostwrote 3 books for colleges that published over 40,000 copies
·      Trained for and ran 2 half-marathons

And those are the things I can think of at the moment. How tragic—and utterly paralyzing—it would be to compare myself to these other accomplished fiction-istas that I started out with. It would equally be as heartbreaking for you to do that.

It’s the worst mistake a writer can make. Just DON’T do it. Instead, fall in love with your own journey and embrace it. Enjoy the trip. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you compared yourself to other writers? How did that work out? Share it here.

Reba J. Hoffman is the founder and president of Magellan Life Coaching ( She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Counseling and is a natural encourager. She serves as Member Care Coach for My Book Therapy and is the author of Dare to Dream, A Writer’s Journal. You can connect with Reba through her motivational blog, Finding True North, or by email at You can also follow her on Twitter at @RebaJHoffman.


  1. Reba,
    I was just going down this thought path this morning. Thank you for your words of wisdom!

    1. Lori, so glad you turned around this morning. Now you can concentration on what really matters: Your journey!

  2. I found out a long time ago that comparing myself to someone else only did one of 2 things: made me feel like I wasn't as good as that person (most often the way I felt) OR made me feel like I was better. Neither made me feel good--period. so I stopped. Besides, God doesn't compare what I do to someone else, so why should I?
    Great post, Reba!

    1. Good for you Pat. And you are a shining example of a well-balanced writer!

  3. That should've read: God doesn't compare me to someone else. :-)

  4. Guilty! Thanks for the encouragement

  5. I don't know why, but whether we are writers or not, we need to hear this message over and over and...over...
    Thanks so much for adding concrete detail that shows the point:) I love the point, "fall in love with your own journey...embrace it."

    1. You're absolutely right Ginger. We do all need to hear this message.

  6. Oh, it is so hard not to look at others! Right now, I feel lost in a jungle that has thick vines making a tangle of my writing. And there are monsters stealing my time left and right! I'm faltering and turning in circles. Finding a cave to crawl into is the most appealing option--as long as the cave has a wonderful supply of candles and matches, a few munchies, a notebook, and a new ink pen. :) Hmmm, I think I will make my reply into my next blog. Thanks--it's been weeks since I blogged.


    1. Karen, the portrait you painted with words was magnificent. You really should write that blog today!

  7. Such beautiful words of wisdom, Reba!
    Comparison has tripped me up more than once -- and caused me to throw away my confidence.
    My goal this year -- to lean into Hebrews 10:35-36 and "not throw away my confidence." One way to do that is exactly what you suggested: falling in love with my journey.

  8. What wonderful words to have as your goal, Beth. When we fall in love with our own journey, something miraculous happens. Truly.

  9. Thank you for the reminder, Reba. And how wonderful that you are taking stock of your own accomplishments. It's all too easy to overlook the diamonds and amethysts strewn along our own paths while gazing covetously at someone else's.

  10. I definitely have been stifled by allowing myself to fear I'm so inept compared to others. Thankfully God keeps letting me know that whatever level of gifting He's given me is perfect for the people he intends me to reach.

  11. Reba, this is such a great post.

    It's so true that we compare ourselves into the ground as writers. I've been guilty of it. But you know what helped me STOP comparing myself and wanting to quit? I learned to celebrate with others who are succeeding in their publishing career! It's so much more fun than being critical (which comes naturally), or comparing and wanting to stop writing.

    Oh, and btw, I am NOT going to compare myself to that awesome list of things YOU'VE accomplished!!

    Well done Reba!!! :)

  12. Well said Frances!

    Jeff you are so right. Isn't it wonderful how God does those things?

    Yay Mary!! Success!!!

  13. Such a fabulous post, Reba. Comparison is SO easy to do, but so destructive to our own belief in ourselves. Needed this reminder.

  14. Love, love, love this, Reba. No one wins when I compare because I'm downtrodden and there's a good chance I'm going to resent the other person. What a shame that would be when we could all celebrate each others' accomplishments instead.

    I love your uplifting posts. You address what some (maybe a lot) of us are doing or are tempted to do until you gently guide us away from bad writer habits. Thanks.