I’ve always been uncomfortable with competition. And not for any Thich Nhat Hanh-type reasons. The main reason is that I spent most of my childhood on the losing end of the equation. Most childhood jousts are not of the mind; they are of the body. The body isn’t my specialty. I’m not–I found out during the Glenmore school track meet of 1972–fast. Not coordinated. Not agile. Not especially alert. You get the idea.
So, I’ve gone most of my life not feeling competitive, to the point that I actually believed that I was not competitive, that I was, maybe, a bit Thich Nhat Hanhish, you know–like better than others. That is, until I started writing and publishing. And, yes, it turns out; I’m quite mortal and quite competitive.
The trouble with writing, though, is that there isn’t any real winning, per se. Yes, some people get large advances, some sell zillions of books, and some win awards. But none of these are really any assurance that you have “won.” But, frankly, all that type of heady success and whatever feelings of competition might come with it is hypothetical for me.
But a very real feeling of competition reared for me a few years ago on the eve of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed’s publication. My agent called.
“Have you heard of Suzanne Finnamore?”
“Sure, Otherwise Engaged, right?”
“That’s the one. Well, funny thing is she has a book just like yours coming out the same week.”
Okay, so what part is funny about a bestselling author coming out with a divorce memoir the same week as mine? Just like mine? Was that even possible?
Suddenly, in my mind, we were pitted against each other. The world had boiled down to two opponents in a ring: Suzanne (who probably didn’t know I existed) and me. Except for, except for….like I said, she was, and is, a bestselling author and this was my first book. Everywhere I went I saw reviews of her book. A friend phoned to say she’d seen one in O mag. I was in the chiropractor’s (back aching from driving to read to a handful of my mother’s elderly friends in Nowheresville, WA) and there–split open on the table– People magazine with a big, glossy review of the book “just like mine.”
But all those years of losing, of living out my personal non-compete clause, did build in me some sort of understanding of the inherent artificiality of competition. If nothing else, I really do believe that there’s room for lots of good writing in this world, and I think it’s magic when writers work together to support each others’ causes. I bought the book. I read it. I laughed. I cried. I loved it. And, it wasn’t “just like mine.”