The little girls could have been twins with their ruffled peach skirts and delicate, egg-shell bows eclipsing gold-brown ringlets. Their movements on the rustic floor were not rehearsed or even in rhythm. And yet, their dance was far more beautiful for being unstudied; for their not being aware of the tables ringing the wedding reception or the watchful adults inhabiting them.
I was never much of a dancer myself. When we first moved from Lancaster to Nashville, we attended a charismatic church where the children sprinted around the central aisles during worship, waving pastel streamers and wearing ourselves out so that we collapsed in a damp, Sunday-best heap beneath the chairs. After the sermon, we were toted over our fathers’ shoulders—our arms and hair hanging limp; our eyes crunched and brow furrowed in a bad imitation of sleep—to the station wagons or passenger vans.
It was really quite fun.
I was never much of an artist, either. But this did not stop me as a child. I loved to skip from one to six in the cheap Paint by Numbers sets or scribble outside the coloring book lines. With a Q-tip, I’d mix rainbow colors into one muddied hue and use my nails to score figure eights into a shiny, Crayon-waxed sheet of paper.
I was in fourth grade when I realized I did not draw trees like my other classmates—particularly the one classmate I most admired, with her gentle voice and curling brown hair. So I balled up my notebook paper and began again. I didn’t draw the tree as I saw the tree – with smudged pencil shading for bark and overlapping branches. I drew the tree as my dear friend saw the tree. Line by line, I copied her cloud-like boughs and sturdy truck.
Her drawing was not wrong. What was wrong was how I tried to make her artistic identity my own.
As my debut novel, The Outcast, prepares for its launch into the publishing world, I find myself glancing over the shoulders of other writers—trying to see what they’re creating and comparing this creation with my own. I glance down through Goodreads ratings and Amazon reviews, trying to predict my own novel’s reception.
But my story is different from theirs, for I come to the dance clad in the unique experiences that set me apart, just as their unique experiences set them and their stories apart. If, at the reception, I had forced those darling, festooned girls to stop their off-kilter pirouettes and instead move to the metronome of my command, the beauty of their care-free dance would have been lost.
So, we should embrace the differences we bring to the same art instead of trying to fit each work into one convenient “creative” mold. Picture the plethora of beauty we could then unfurl—dancing around the Maypole of imagination, each of us bringing a streamer colored not from one muddied hue, but from a pallet of life experience uniquely our own.
Do you also struggle with comparing your work with the work of others? How do you remain focused in a world that thrives on comparison (think of shows like American Idol, DWTS)?