I sometimes see writers post on social media congratulating another writer’s success but then pivoting to compare their own progress—usually self-deprecatingly, often from a place of despair. They do so as if there is suddenly less space for them. They are sincerely happy for the other writer but seem to feel as if their own chances of success are now slightly diminished.
It makes me sad to see writers get discouraged. One person’s journey has nothing to do with another’s. Although we are perhaps competing for limited space in literary journals or on bookstore shelves, the writing community is supportive of one another—we are on the same team. And I sincerely believe that any writer who consistently puts in the work will eventually experience their own singular version of success, a version which will be remarkably unlike anyone else’s.
“Your journey will be different from the journeys of others. Allow it to be.” — Vironika Wilde, The Art of Talking to Yourself
When I was in the MFA program at UC Riverside, Palm Desert, I was sorted into a cohort—18 students who all started the same term. The cohorts at UCRPDLRMFA give themselves nicknames. We named ourselves “TBD” because our futures were yet to be determined. We quickly realized how lucky we were to have met one another. We were soulmates, and we stuck together through thick and through thin. All of us were writing different things. Some of us are novelists, some short story writers, some essayists, some screenwriters, some memoirists, some poets. It didn’t matter—we were all TBD, and that was that. We even did workshops together, voluntarily, over summer breaks. Several years after graduation, we are still close and in touch with one another—I’m pretty sure each of us is in touch with at least one other member of TBD on a daily basis, but all of us stay connected with some level of frequency.
“Everyone’s journey is completely different.” — Jeremy Piven
While we were in school, TBD was tight knit in an all-for-one-and-one-for-all sort of way. Our journeys then were the same. We had the same goals—to pass our classes, write our theses, and give our graduate lectures. We supported one another in achieving those goals. We graduated during the pandemic, and I still cry a little when I recall seeing my friends on the Zoom screen, gathered in a hotel room to support me when I gave my lecture. At graduation, we all had tears in our eyes when our class speaker asked, “What if we had never met one another?”
“Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.” — Anonymous
But I remember, too, the beginning of our thesis quarter. We were no longer in classes together. We were writing synopses and bios, meeting with our thesis advisors, and preparing to meet with editors and agents. We were getting ready to go out into the world on our own separate journeys. Our goals were no longer the same.
That was two years ago, and in the two years since, our paths have diverged. A couple of us have landed agents and have manuscripts out on submission. A couple of us are querying agents. A couple of us published zines. A bunch of us have had short stories or essays published. Some of us have won writing contests. Some of us are still rewriting and revising our books. Some of us are researching. One of us adopted a rescue dog. One of us fell in love. One of us is planning a family. One of us has directed several plays. One of us has won about a million ribbons with his sweet Lagotto Romagnolo at dog shows all over California. One of us is traveling the world. One of us became a photographer. One of us was admitted to a photography school in Montana for fall semester. (Those last three may be the same person, and okay, I might be slightly envious of his journey.)
“Everyone’s life is different, and everyone’s journey is different.” — Dolly Parton
We have taken different paths and are doing different things, but we are still TBD, always. No matter our journeys, that will never change. And one thing I love about TBD is that we don’t compare our journeys to one another’s. We just root for one another. Some of us will have earlier success or longer success in our writing careers. And each of us has a different idea what writing success looks like for us. Some of us will continue writing for pleasure, but will not pursue a writing career. All of us will forever be in each other’s lives and in each other’s corners.
“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.” — John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
This is what I wish for you, dear writer—belief in yourself and in your work, a community of love and support, the knowledge you will arrive at your destination in due time. I wish you the quiet understanding that your journey is all your own, unique like a snowflake. I wish you the excitement of knowing your future awaits, and it sparkles like a diamond.