Writing is a competition — and that’s OK

In following the social media streams of many writers, I often read that writers aren’t in competition with one another.

But we are, of course.

There is a finite number of people in the world, therefore a limited number of readers, and a limited number of works they can read. We are all in a sense competing with one another for their attention.

Does that mean we cannot support one another, or help one another? Of course not.

But I do think we should stop denying reality.

Whenever I pitch to a magazine, I’m hoping my ideas ‘beat’ those of enough other writers to secure me a commission — that’s competition. I may not be thinking of it in those terms, but as far as the editor is concerned, some of the ideas she or he receives will ‘win’ and some will ‘lose’. I want to be on the winning side. There can only be a winning side if there’s a losing side. And winning and losing is the nature of … competition.

All publishers have a limited annual output. They can’t publish everything. If everything written were published there would be no satisfaction in being published. If you consider it an achievement, it’s because a/ it is an achievement, and b/ it’s an achievement denied to many others. Writing and publishing and making a living from your writing is sought-after because it is not easy, it is hard, and it is hard because you’re in competition with others.

Please can we stop pretending otherwise?

You can argue that competitions are not about ‘winning’ but about ‘taking part’ and that’s fine. In many ways I agree. Writing is a bit like a game. Is ‘rejection’ losing? In a sense, yes, but I prefer to think of it as taking part — it’s part and parcel of playing the game of writing.

But if you want to make a living from writing, and be successful, then sometimes you must ‘win’.

And you can only ‘win’ when others ‘lose’.

Take a look at football clubs or tennis players. They play. They win. They lose. The more successful win more than they lose; the less successful, vice versa. But they all win some of the time, and they all make a living, and get by. But they are all in competition with one another. It doesn’t stop them practising with one another to help one another.

We should do the same. If this ‘trying to beat other writers’ thing doesn’t sit well with you, then offer support to other writers to mitigate against it. Many of you already do — via blogs, social media, private chats, tutoring. Share tips on how you made a success of this game. Give useful contacts. Let others know of a quiet opportunity. Loads of you already do this. I see it all the time on Twitter. Only the most selfish don’t ever do it. So I bet you do so already.

Keep doing it. It ups everybody’s game, and makes us all better, and stronger.

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