Author Toolbox · Writing

Comparison is the thief of joy – Author Toolbox

For this month’s Author Toolbox, hosted by Raimey Gallant, I wanted to talk about something all creatives struggle with at some point in our lives and careers – comparing ourselves to others.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop

As writers, it’s easy to pick up a book by a published author and compare our writing to theirs, usually finding ourselves inferior – we are our own worst critics. It can be even more discouraging if we read a book in our particular genre and see similarities in the plot, characters or world-building.

Many famous authors avoidΒ reading within their genre whilst writing for exactly this reason. Not only does it prevent them from comparing themselves to others, but it lowers the risk of unconsciously borrowing from their fellow writer’s story.

The thing we often forget is that every author’s journey is different, and we are all at different points in that journey. You can’t compare your saggy middle to someone else’s happy ending.

Is it fair to compare a relatively new writer’s work to that of the greats, like Tolkein or Austen? Of course not. But we do it to ourselves all the time, expecting our abilities to be far more advanced than they have reason to be. Would you do that to a good friend? No? Then don’t do it to yourself!

Comparison is the thief of joy Lyndsey's Book Blog

So, how do we quiet that voice of doubt in our own minds? How do weΒ prevent ourselves from constantly comparing our work to others’ and only seeing the negatives?

The thing to remember is that we are all unique, and our voices and our stories are unique because we are. Even if a story has been told a million times, it hasn’t been told by you, with your voice and experience shaping it.

There is nothing new or original in this world, everything is either an updated version of something else, a slightly changed and modernised adaptation, or takes inspiration from several different sources. We make our stories fresh by finding new ways to tell them.

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Every writer’s process is different. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you create your characters or your plot first? Do you write in the morning? At night? With music? In complete silence? Prefer tea or coffee?

What works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, so remember to take all advice with a pinch of salt. And a slice of lime. Read craft books and writing blogs, and take the tips you like, leave the rest.

Remember that every author’s journey is distinct, whether they are published traditionally or they self-publish. It takes some writers years and hundreds upon hundreds of submissions and queries before they sign with an agent and publish their first book. Others receive offers of representation within weeks. It’s part luck, part networking and four parts hard work.

So, next time you find yourself reading a great book and wishing you could create such vivid worlds filled with vibrant characters, just remember that someone else will read your work one day and feel the exact same way. There is room for all of us in the literary world, and more than that, someone out there needs your book. You are someone’s favourite author, they just don’t know it yet. So, write your stories, share your creations, and remember that the only writer you should compare yourself to is the writer you were yesterday.

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Can’t resist comparing? Need a little self-esteem boost? Try this. Paste your current WIP into I Write Like and find out which famous author’s style yours most resembles. Make comparison your friend, not your enemy. (I write like Agatha Christie apparently!)

Until next time, writer friends!

Lyndsey

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Comparison is the thief of joy Lyndsey's Book Blog

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58 thoughts on “Comparison is the thief of joy – Author Toolbox

  1. We all need the reminder not to compare ourselves to other writers on different places on this writing road. As part of my revolving desktop backgrounds, the quote about only comparing yourself to the writer you were yesterday comes up regularly to remind me that I’m doing okay. I’ll check out “I Write Like” for a bit of fun this weekend πŸ™‚

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    1. It’s just a bit of fun, I’ve got no idea how it works, but it was a nice little boost to get someone so well known and talented as Agatha Christie! I can only dream of being as successful as she. But that’s the point, we’re all on our own paths, and looking over the fence at someone else’s won’t help, we never know how someone got to where they are, what hardships they had to go through and obstacles they had to overcome to achieve their success. Better to water our own patch and watch it grow πŸ™‚ (I’m mixing metaphors wildly here but you get the gist.)

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  2. I think the most vicious comparison I’ve made so far is my later WIPs to my first, and so far my best. I’ve gotten over the envy of my slightly younger self’s imagination. To be fair, the first story I wrote had been percolating in my mind much longer than the later ones. The idea that I’d already peaked, with nothing to show for it was hard to take, though!

    I love the “I write like” app. The comparisons change based on the passage you choose, so you may find that even in the same story, you write like several different authors.

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    1. That’s so interesting, but it makes complete sense now I think about it, if you’ve been plotting your first book for years and put all your ideas into it why wouldn’t you consider it your best work? But you will have grown and improved so much with your actual writing, it might just take another amazing idea to smack you in the face before you see that you haven’t peaked yet! πŸ™‚ Ooh I’ll have to try pasting smaller passages in and see who I get now, that’s my night sorted!

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    1. Self doubt is bad, no matter what triggers it, we just have to remember we can’t see our own work clearly, and art is subjective so even other people’s opinions may be wrong! πŸ˜€

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  3. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚ I love the advice that our stories are unique because we are.
    Comparing myself to other writers led to a slump a few years ago. I had what I thought was an amazing idea only to find that someone had beat me to it! I’ve edited my idea now, and it’s all good.
    Apparently, I also write like Agatha Christie πŸ™‚

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    1. Ah a fellow Christie-ite πŸ˜€ I’ve heard from a few people who’ve started writing a book, or finished it, and then come across one that’s been recently published with tonnes of similarities, and it’s discouraged them from querying. I can imagine it’s really disappointing, but I bet there are as many differences as similarities, if not more, and by the time you query or publish the other book will have been out for years and might be forgotten (sorry other author!). But, like you did, editing it will make it a brand new story that hasn’t been done yet, so no loss πŸ™‚

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      1. Exactly: there will always be differences too, especially with fantasy since it’s so broad πŸ™‚ Nowadays I just let things that are similar to my writing inspire me. After all, if someone wrote something similar and it was well received, that can’t be bad news for my own story right? πŸ˜€

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      1. It’s interesting, I get a different answer based on which section of my MS I put in (maybe cause of the dual POV the writing changes a bit?) but I got David Foster Wallace πŸ™‚

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  4. I know so many insecure writers because they want to perfect (like ). Well, sweetie, you’re not like her. You never will be. That’s a good thing. If you try all her techniques, you’ll learn and grow. But it you imitate her, you lose your own voice, and that’s not what you want. Celebrate your uniqueness and carry on!

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    1. I read and write mostly YA fantasy so I don’t really avoid reading while I’m writing, but I definitely go for things that are different enough I can’t really compare too much! It’d be heartbreaking to work that hard and realise it was too similar to something else already out there πŸ™

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      1. I write the same! I avoid similar books as well–it’s too huge a genre to be able to compare myself to all of it (though boy does my brain try). But yeah, it really is an awful feeling! I actually just had that happen to me. Welp, I guess this is why we write so many books.

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  5. Like you I mainly read and write YA fantasy and don’t avoid reading in my genre while writing. But I was careful when I was worldbuilding so I wasn’t tempted to steal… too much because, well, “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” So when I was too tempted I just made sure I combined it and modified it enough to be unidentifiable.
    I tried out the I Write Like and am another Agatha Christie. It’s sad, but I want to dig into how they analyze the work.

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    1. I would love to know how they do it! For my WIP almost every element of the world and magic etc is inspired by myths and legends, and my local area (near Sherwood Forest) so millions of books have used the same inspiration (fairies, elemental magic) but hopefully I’ve given it a fresh twist 🀞

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      1. I use folklore and myth as the basis for my fantasy as well. I feel nothing is richer than history. Wow, I would love to live near some place with that kind of influence. The closest I get to living near Sherwood is being close to the woods where the Jersey Devil is from. Somehow it just doesn’t have the same mystique. LOL.

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  6. You make a good point in saying we’re all unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. A lot of writing craft books seem to forget this (and marketing books are even worse – they act as if there is One True Way to book marketing success).

    Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Yeah it’s in their interest to make out their way is the only/best way so you’ll buy their book, but it’s just not true, every successful person had a different journey so there’s no one perfect way to succeed, just lots of different imperfect ones 😊

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    1. Exactly, it’s great to look at successful authors for inspiration and motivation, but when it starts to cause self doubt and jealousy it’s time to take a step back and focus on our own goals. There could be someone else looking up to us and wishing they were where we are!

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  7. Writers shouldn’t worry about reading in their genre while they’re writing. If anything, it will help them look for ways they can improve their own stories, or make sure they are writing something different. Eventually, a writer will have a similar idea to another story, but each person will have their own take.

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    1. That’s so true, I love reading YA fantasy and I don’t think I could stop even when I’m writing. It’s useful to see how others have done it whether that’s to reassure us we’re on the right track or to help us avoid writing something that’s already been done to death.

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  8. Apparently I write like Anne Rice. I don’t compare my writing too much, but I do compare my pacing, how quickly I get my work done, forgetting that I’m not just writing a novel, I’m also maintaining a blog and studying craft. My husband reminds me constantly of this and tells me to be kinder.
    Great reminder and I love your title. Comparison is the thief of joy!
    Ann

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    1. Oh I struggle with this too, I know some people who can write 30k words a day, I manage that in about a month! It can be disheartening to hear stories like that, but with practice I’m sure I’ll improve my writing speed, and I need to give myself a break because I have a full time job, a blog, a family. I’d love writing to be my main job – maybe one day! πŸ™‚

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  9. I love to read books by writers who I think write better than I do. Somehow this motivated me to try harder. When that little voice in my head tells me I’m not good enough, I go and read a positive review on Amazon and make myself smile. The thing to remember is not everyone will like what I write. But some people do, and that’s enough πŸ™‚

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    1. That’s such a lovely way to remind yourself of the positives, I can’t wait until I’ve got good reviews to look at on my bad days πŸ™‚ You can never please everyone, but it’s amazing if some people love what you do!

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  10. This is me a majority of the time. Every now and then when I’m immersed in the magic of creating I think I’m God, but that swiftly ends during the read through. Your logical enthusiasm was just what I needed, Lyndsey. In fact I could do with this in an IV! πŸ™‚

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  11. The comparison monster truly is a beast! I’m good about avoiding it in my life outside of writing, but I definitely feel it in my writing life on an almost daily basis. Working to eliminate it though!

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    1. At least you can avoid it outside of writing, I can’t help seeing people with fabulous lives and successful careers on social media and wishing that was me. I forget that some of them might wish they had what I have. The grass is always greener!

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  12. Great post! I’m taking a writing class right now, and I feel myself feeling torn between envy that I didn’t come up with some of the ideas my classmates have had, and wonder that my peers are producing such compelling works of fiction. The latter always wins out, however, and it’s a great motivating force for me to improve my writing as well πŸ™‚

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. It sounds like a great class, I like the quote about if you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room. Absorb as much as you can from your class mates, and remember that your own writing feels duller because you wrote it, you know it inside out. They might hear your writing and feel the same way you do 😊

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  13. I think I need to re-read this post every time I pick up a new book. By the way, I just plunked the first 6 chapters of my current MS into that link, and I also write like Agatha apparently. I’m not sure about that, but I’ll take it!

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  14. Writers are especially at risk of this (even more so if they quit their day job to “be writers” like yours truly). Always good to see reminders like this article that tell us to look forward to our future, not look down on ourselves. And to remember that even big “successful” authors have people to compare to and problems of their own!

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  15. Thank you for writing this!! I feel like we all compare ourselves to others and need to remember that we are all unique. I will never be the next JK Rowling or John Steinbeck because I am me and I will be me even if I am successful!

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    1. I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome in my day job, and it can be even worse as a writer when there are so many easily accessible works of art by incredibly talented authors. We just have to remember it’s not a competition, there’s room for everyone and we’re all unique so there’s no need to compare πŸ™‚

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  16. What a great post! Thank you for the reminder and inspiration! I’m a firm believer that we writers are way too hard on ourselves and comparison is one of the kickers! Thanks for sharing! (Now hurries of to copy WIP into suggested app–SO COOL!)

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