Wednesday, February 6, 2013

4 Reasons Not to Compare Yourself with Other Writers

Being the gooses that we are, one mistake we writers will inevitably make is to compare our work and our progress toward success with that of other writers. It usually starts out innocent enough, with a genuine interest in improving our writing. We'll look into how other writers have succeeded. We'll read their work and learn how they use language. Learning is good, right? But then the cracks begin to show.

You know the signs: you'll read a book that's so great you'll think you'll never be able to write something as good. Or you'll secretly grumble because someone published the very first book they'd ever written and you're slaving on book seven with no signs of a contract.

And so the spiral into a morass of negative thoughts begins. The threat of giving up becomes all too real and the very thing that started as a way towards helping your writing becomes the thing that harms it. Below are my reasons why it doesn't need to get that far:

1. The volume of work is hidden. As writers, we sagely claim no one can understand the amount of work that goes into writing a novel. Certainly, none of our friends or relatives could possibly have an inkling. I'm sure most of my friends think I spend all day goofing off or staring into space. Only other writers get that it's not just about writing a story; there's all the rewrites, the edits, the countless scenes that had to be written, polished, then tossed. So why do we forget that when it comes to comparing our work with that treasure we found in the bookstore? Like crows to a shiny, all we see is the finished work and marvel at its glory. Common sense? Pish posh! Leave that to the mathematicians.

2. The lone author is an illusion. Even though only the author's name is printed on the cover as the creator of a novel, no one produces a book on their own—not even self-published authors. There's a team of people behind every good book. The critique partners, the beta readers, the cheer squads, the editors, the publishers. So when you compare yourself with other writers, you're actually comparing yourself with a whole team of experienced professionals.

3. Overnight successes don’t happen. You want the manuscript you’re working on to be the one everyone falls in love with. You want a bestseller. You want recognition. You want the world when it comes to your writing. And you want it all now. If other authors have it all now, then why can’t you? Well, you can’t have it all now. Not even the authors falling into the 0.0001% category of those who earn millions from their writing got it all now. Overnight successes are a myth. Good writers need to be thrown into the fiery pit of big candy-floss dreams, claw our way up from wastelands of self-doubt and knock backs, and cling with tenacious hearts to the ugly rope of hard work until we drag ourselves free only to go through it all over again. And that takes time.

4. Everyone is unique. Trite, but true. While a lot can be learned from listening to other writers' processes and their journeys to publication, it's impractical and improbable that you’ll take exactly the same road. You’ll have a different background, different connections, a different approach, and a different voice. This doesn't mean different is bad. Different is simply, well, different. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it except suck it up and find what works for you.
.
How does comparing yourself with other writers affect your work? How do you avoid it?

This post was written for Alex J Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers' Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. If you'd like to learn more, then click here.

#IWSG

52 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great points, Lynda. Constantly comparing yourself to others and putting them on a pedestal will only make you more insecure as a writer.

    Having people that you admire and aspire to be like is fine though, so long as you don't go down the road of "why can't I be like them? I suck compared to them!"

    Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh come on! I was planning on having an ovenight success story. Are you seriously going to tell me I can't have it now?

    I'm taking my ball and going home then... ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Encouraging post. I was reminding myself this week that most *overnight* success stories often took ten years (or more) to get there.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A few years back I also dreamed of writing a novel and having it published, but after finding all of these very informative writing blogs through the A-Z challenge of 2011, I realised just how tough it is to be a successful author.
    I've now decided to make my living on what I love doing more - teaching English. So I can read books and love each one for what it is without having to worry about competing with it for publicity or selling power!
    But I think the whole idea of not comparing yourself with others is a valid point for life in general. I only compare myself to myself. If I'm doing better than I was doing 2 or 3 months ago, then I'm succeeding :)
    Duncan In Kuantan

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes there are many stories of overnight successes that take years. We all slug away at our own rate and we can only write through our own voice.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great post Lynda. Pointless to compare ourselves as our voice is unique...

    ReplyDelete
  8. The longer I've slogged along on my own novels, the less I compare my success with other people's. There is so much that has to happen before a book ends up in a reader's hands that it is pointless to assume I can judge anything anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think that last reason is the one we need to remember most. We are all taking our own paths and with our own style. And most important, with our own goals. We'll never be like anyone else out there. And that's really a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I learned many, many, many years ago that comparisons were unhealthy ways to gauge yourself. Nothing is as it appears, so that "overnight success" that you think the other writer accomplished probably took a good ten years! It's only now that you've heard of him (or her).

    Very good post, Lynda.

    ReplyDelete
  11. It's a tight line to walk - having an idea of the road ahead can be helpful, but by the nature of it happening to someone else, a stranger, we can't see all the suffering, self-doubt, they went through.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is so true! And something we have to constantly remind ourselves of!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree with everything you said, just sometimes one might forget it. We should keep those posted somewhere we can see them daily. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. yes, we are all unique, and some are more special than others LOL

    ReplyDelete
  15. Lyn, I agree overnight success is a myth. And comparing ourselves with other writers can only make us miserable as everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

    ReplyDelete
  16. So true! I love that image of the army of helpers, supporters and cheer leaders behind every book, along with the countless hours and that ugly rope of hard work. I've struggled with a bit of this from time to time, envious of the beauty of someone's prose . . . and then I get back to work, because I love writing and I'm doing my best to put some foundations under my dreams.

    ReplyDelete
  17. LOL - Funny you should post this. I posted on the same topic. It is hard not to compare our books and our career paths with others.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Excellent points, each and every one. Once writer's understand these things they have a much better chance of becoming authors. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  19. #2 is the reason I adore those things some authors do, generally at the end I think, where they spend several pages listing everybody "without whom this book would not exist." It always includes significant others, experts in all sorts of obscure things, and of course the editing/publishing team. I'm always amused and encouraged by these.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I loved reading this excellent post. You have to be true to yourself. When young Elvis Presley started to record, he was asked who he sang like and he replied "nobody else, just me". Trying to sound like (be or write like)another will only make one a good copier.
    I get your message here and it is a good one - and not just for writers eh?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Comparing ourselves to other writers is so natural. And, yes, sometimes damaging. I think the thing that pains me most is what you wrote at the top. When I see someone get the first novel they ever wrote published after writing for six months, I get discouraged. I've been writing seriously for more than a dozen years trying to find that "right" novel. So, blah, I know it's not healthy to compare, but some days I can't help it. But it's also true we're all on our own path and I get that. :))

    ReplyDelete
  22. Very true!

    I can't help comparing myself with others but I try to do it in a positive way by learning from them rather than just feeling jealous.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I never compared my ability with another writer but I have often tortured myself walking through the aisle of published books because the route to publication, for me, has been difficult.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great points, Lynda!

    I think I used to compare myself, years ago when I was a new writer. I don't do it anymore. I've learned that we are all on a different mission, in a different lane of traffic. Some move faster than others.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Sage advice Lynda. We each need to go our own way.

    ReplyDelete
  26. "Never let them teach you how to write." One of my favorite teachers told me that a long time ago. Thanks for bringing back some really great memories.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Wonderful post, Lynda. It's hard not to want to succeed right now when there are other writers who seem to do so well all the time, but boy do I know that hard behind-the-scenes work goes into what looks like overnight success.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Definitely good not to compare ourselves to other writers...but we do it anyway. Sometimes it can spur us into harder work, though too much comparing can lead to discouragement. The path to publication can be long, and it's difficult to keep our heads up and keep dog-paddling. :) Good thing we have IWSG and the writing community for encouragement!

    ReplyDelete
  29. great post, Lynda! I've learned never to compare myself with other writers (or other people in general). We each have our own unique journeys to publication .

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

    ReplyDelete
  30. Thanks Lynda,
    I needed to read this.I'm going through the "I'm not good enough.. I'll never been good enough" phase.. without remembering I have drafts, which is more than I had 3 years ago. I'm learning and I'm enjoying the trip.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Comparing myself to other inevitably makes me feel negatively. It promotes jealousy, envy, sadness. Whereas when I put myself in the habit of feeling happiness for others at their successes, I feel hope for myself and abundant positivity.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I couldn't help but do this early on, and I still do at times, especially when I'm down, but I know that nobody's path is exactly the same as any other. We have to find our own way. It's natural to experience envy for those we perceive as more successful, but we can never know how much time and effort they put into their work.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Not comparing ourselves to other writers is not only a valid point, but something that should be practiced in every day life. People are unique, everyone has something to contribute, and everyone has some kind of a story to tell. It puts me in mind of the old classic "It's A Wonderful Life" where Jimmy Stewart's character gets a glimpse of how his life and choices impacted those around him.

    As writers and as human beings, we don't always see the impact; but it's there none-the-less. Perhaps our writing has inspired someone to be a writer themselves; perhaps someone has gained self esteem, perspective on life, or felt a connection because of something we wrote; or perhaps they simply laughed, cried, or felt happy after reading our work. We will probably never know how many people we affect or how we have affected them and that's what makes judging success so difficult.

    Success is about more then the number of copies sold, or the number of dollars earned. Success is far more personal. Success is reaching to the heavens to achieve our dreams, never giving up, and encouraging those around us to do the same!

    ReplyDelete
  34. You're so right. We are each of us unique, and making comparisons only set us off on a negative path:" I'm better than h/she is" is just as bad as "I'm not as good as h/she is."

    ReplyDelete
  35. Nice. All very valid points. I especially like the way you painted the struggle in the 'overnight successes don't happen' reason.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Loved your post. All of them are very valid points.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Writing is a skill, like any other. It takes time to hone and polish that skill. Just as a welder or marksman or doctor must put in time learning their craft and even more years of practicing, so must the writer do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Great post - and so true! Thanks for the reminders!

    ReplyDelete
  39. I know for me, the writing is the easiest part. Everything else is hard work. It's easy to compare yourself with others but I know we shouldn't. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I surely have compared myself to other writers and definitely has put me in the dumps. Thanks for your advice!

    ReplyDelete
  41. This rings so true. I have to stop myself from comparing myself to other writers. It's depressing, plus I know I'm blowing some things out of proportion. Also, we all have different journeys and just because something isn't happening for me right now doesn't mean it never will.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Great post, and so true!

    Reading other people's books is a great exercise in expanding your knowledge, but you don't want it to backfire & get you all bogged down in self-doubt. :)

    ReplyDelete
  43. Lovely post! I don't know how many times I've done this--and then tried to remind myself not to get hung up on someone else's success (though the giant advance for a first time writer deals will probably always irk me a little...). Love your points!!

    ReplyDelete
  44. So true Lynda.
    As the great Oscar Wilde pointed out: Be yourself, everyone else is taken.
    Each writer is an individual with a unique journey... at the end of the day, just be the best writer that you can be!

    ReplyDelete
  45. I'm always full of self doubts. What keeps me plugging along is the fact that other writer go through the same thing.

    Thanks for another wonderful post.

    ReplyDelete
  46. A nice post! I do compare myself to others often, but also like having my own voice in my stories. So, while I learn from those more successful, I don't try to mimic what they've written but only what they've accomplished (in whatever minimal way).

    ReplyDelete
  47. i don't think they write better than me, i like to just think they have a unique voice in their writing, and i look up to them for it! great post

    ReplyDelete
  48. Great points! It always encourages me to hear about an unpublished author's manuscript that's so good they have agents fighting over it (you do hear those stories once in a while.) That proves to me that if you write a truly spectacular novel, it will get noticed, and that puts the control back in my hands, so I concentrate on writing that truly spectacular novel.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Exactly. We each must follow our own path. Excellent post.

    ReplyDelete
  50. You make some excellent points in this post. I feel inspired to continue writing.

    ReplyDelete
  51. You are SO right. We can't see what goes on behind someone else's "instant" success. And besides...it doesn't matter. :)

    ReplyDelete

I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.