FULL BLEED: THE NAME IS NOT THE GAME IS NOT THE NAME
Saw a thing on Twitter where a writer said, basically, that writers are not in competition with other writers.
And while that's true on a primary level, it, like most truths, does not survive the crucible or the reduction of impurities. But let's look at it where it's essentially true. In the process of writing, the actual sitting down and writing, you as the writer, it's true, are not competing with anyone. Ideally, you don't even exist. You're a conduit for something that may originate outside yourself but gets filtered through your life experience and thoughts at the moment and any thousand other things that you're not actively thinking about. Then the writing happens. Now, maybe that's just me.
At that moment, absolutely, I'm not in competition with anyone. Sure, I'll take all the weight here so that you don't have to. I'm not thinking about "How would Gibson or Chandler or McCarthy do this?" or "This will light up the reviewer network" or "This is so way better than that thing I just read online." Ideally, I barely even exist in that moment. So yeah, no competition. I've either risen above it or sublimated everything into it, in which case, you're not going to find any one thing.
I hope this isn't disturbing, by the by, or damaging to the ego of any writers actually reading this. Yeah, the whole ego thing? The whole sense of self? Literally the least important and least interesting component of the work or reading about the work later on. The work matters. The writer, well, you get the picture.
Now, this runs counter to basically everything we're taught about being writers in the time of the Howling Pit. We're fighting for attention, we're fighting for review spots, we're fighting for agents and publishers. Oh wait, hold on. Getting ahead of myself.
So in the realm of pure writing, yup, the only competition is you and honestly, we're hoping that you as a ego-driven-creator don't even show up. Weird, right?
Now, when it comes to publishing or putting the work out there, well, sorry. Competition is a fact of life. It was a fact of life forty years ago when we had a thriving book industry and bookstores, often multiples in every mall and newsstands, etc. When books were reliably mainstream and mass market. I know. I'll stop before I sound like an Old.
But you know what, we're still in competition for attention. That's absolutely true. It's not any damn fun, either. I've largely stopped on that end of things. Yeah, I put my shingle out there and give out that Good Free Content every once in a while (should be more often, but I've had health crap to deal with and couldn't face it.) But in terms of being plugged-in and being a cool kid in my chosen genre? You're absolutely trying to get in the door with a bunch of other people at the same time, particularly when you're starting out. And it feels like I've been starting out since, uh, 2003 even though I finished my first novel twelve years before that. Sure, there's hundreds of people covering whatever genre you want to specify in. Try getting covered unless you don't need to be covered. I know. Those servers don't pay for themselves.
I'm not even going to get into getting published traditionally, much less getting the kind of deal where you can live exclusively off those deals. That's not even a dream anymore. It's just safer that way. And, folks, I'm talking as someone who does have a multi-book deal with a publisher. I'm blessed to have been able to make that connection. It's not anything I can live off of. But who needs money anyways?
Yes, we're absolutely in competition until we're at a point where we don't need to be (and even then, we still are.) It's unfortunate. Readers can only acquire so much. Reviewers can only cover so much. Publishers can only publish so much. We live in a world of limits (and expectation), now much more so than ever.
And yet, where it matters most, or should, there aren't any at all. I believe that's what the zen masters regarded as a koan. First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is.