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.
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 avoid 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!
So, how do we quiet that voice of doubt in our own minds? How do we 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.
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.
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!