It is our nature to compare. It’s undeniably human. We compare everything. We compare restaurants, movies, cars, and jobs. We compare this weekend to last, this vacation to that one. All experience is deemed relative. Such comparison can be helpful. It allows us to make decisions, to rank, and in many contexts to improve. But in our personal lives it’s usually destructive. It can hold us back, cause us to miss opportunities, cause us to settle and sometimes give up.
In creative work, this default of comparison is downright destructive. Every poem, painting, film, song, and sculpture is different. Each piece of work has a unique set of challenges and needs. Each lives a life of its own. The job of the artist is to simply facilitate that life.
As I work on my second manuscript, this tendency to compare is great. The drive to compare the experience, process, and outcome of The Confessions of Adam to my next manuscript feels as natural as walking. Perhaps even helpful, a guiding light. But it’s not. It’s a dead end. In order to allow this second project to develop on its own terms, to find and realize its latent potential, there can be no effort on my part to hold up the first book as a metric. The second project will excel differently and fail uniquely. It’s foolish to think that a comparison to my first book can somehow illuminate or anticipate these idiosyncrasies. Comparison is a species of procrastination. A very sneaky sort of distraction from the work that must be done. It’s a hunt for short-cuts, an effort to grasp stolen insights. Comparison must be given no space in the toolbox.