Writers need to guard against making unhealthy comparisons to other authors
As writers we read the work of others, we look at their books, and we notice their successes. Though this happens in any profession, writing is a more public endeavor, so making comparisons is harder to avoid. Yet we should strive to sidestep assessing our work in the light of others.
Two dangers lurk when we make comparisons. Too often we look at another writer and deem ourselves as less than. Occasionally we do the opposite and puff ourselves up. Both are unhealthy conclusions, but let’s focus on the first one because most writers struggle with it. I call it writer envy. Here are four prescriptions to overcome it.
1) There is Only One You: Though our writing isn’t like (fill in the name of any famous author), remember that no one writes as we do. No one can write like you as good as you can. Just as Stephen King is the best at writing like Stephen King, you are the best at writing like you, and I am the best at writing like me. There is no other.
2) Strive to Improve: Have the mindset that every writer can grow as a wordsmith. That goes for the beginner as well as the mega-bestseller, and it goes for you and for me. As long as we pursue steady development, our writing today will be better than our writing from yesterday, and our writing tomorrow will be better than our writing today. That puts things in perspective and reduces the urge to compare.
3) Don’t Copy: One reason to read widely is to learn how to improve, but we never want to imitate other authors. Though copying another writer flatters him or her, it does nothing to enhance our writing ability (remember tip #1).
4) Help Others: There are always people we can help. Usually, they are a step or two behind us, but they can also be at our level or even a couple of steps ahead. That’s why I have this blog and post something, that is hopefully helpful, every week. I also occasionally give presentations on writing. I used to worry when a more advanced writer would listen in. But I eventually realized they have an attitude for continuous learning (refer to #2) and hope to pick up something from my words. I hope so, too. As a benefit, teaching something is the best way to learn it, so by helping others, we help ourselves.
Writer envy can overwhelm us or we can choose to improve despite what we see others doing. May we all be writers who move forward without so much as a glance at our fellow writers.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.