Friday, February 10, 2017

Why You Need to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers (And How to Do It)


Have you ever looked at another writer's work and thought, "Wow, that person is amazing"? Of course you have. If you're anything like me (in which case, you have my sincerest sympathy), you've probably ended up chasing that thought with this one: 

"Crap. Why can't I write like that?"

It's inevitable. At some point, you'll end up comparing yourself to another writer and find yourself lacking. It's a terrible feeling.

And you know what? It's entirely your fault. You're being an idiot. Stop. Here's why comparing your writing to other people's (or to some kind of amazing, Batman version of yourself) is a habit you need to break: 
Why You Need to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers (And How to Do It)
1. You are only seeing one side of the story. That story you just read? It was a finished product. It was something that another writer had polished enough to deem fit for others to see. You didn't see the hard work that was put into it. You didn't see what a mess it was at the start. You don't know how many times that writer trashed the idea or sat on the floor wearing a coffee stained t-shirt and glumly wondered why they couldn't be like their favorite author. You saw this process for your own story, but not theirs. Of course theirs looks better. 

2. You have terrible judgement. At least when it comes to judging your own work. Think about it. How long have you been staring at those pages? No wonder it seems a bit dull at this point. How much information do you have stored in your head that didn't make it into the story? Of course the plot seems flat. You are too close to this story to see it clearly. That shiny idea of your book that you keep dangling out in front of you? It's just an illusion. Chasing after making it more like that one author's story isn't even an option. Give up on this poisonous dream. 
Come home to sanity.
3. You aren't them. This should be fairly obvious, except apparently it isn't. You are not that writer you keep comparing yourself against. Therefore, measuring your style and voice and story and success against their's is absolutely crazy. It'd be like me trying to compare my drawing skills to my friend's photography skills. It will get me nowhere because that's comparison isn't valid. So that author you envy? He (or she) isn't you. He doesn't have your experiences or your creative process or your writing style. No wonder your story looks nothing like his. Its yours. Uniquely and wonderfully and annoyingly yours. Nobody else on earth is capable of writing your story. This book of yours has to exist in your words on your terms or not at all. So you do you. Don't try to be some writer that you aren't. Because, honestly: 

4. You absolutely do not want to be like any other author except yourself. Do you really want to be the next J.K. Rowling? The next Maggie Stiefvater? The next [insert author envy here]? I'll answer for you just in case you're about to answer wrongly: No. No, you do not. People remember the authors that are different. That take on their stories with a passion and voice that is their own. I'd rather be known as Hannah Heath than that writer what's-her-name who tried to emulate the voice and style of C.S. Lewis. 

So. Now that we have that out of the way. How can you go about making sure you don't slip back into the stupid mindset of comparison? 

Step 1: Be like Batman. Don't compare yourself to Batman. Just take some tips from him. Never give up. Work hard. Be confident in your abilities. Know you are awesome. Don't ever let anything tell you otherwise. 
What do they (or that stupid voice in your head) know? You're Batman! Or...you know...You're [insert your name here]! 

Step 2: Look backwards or forwards, but never to the side. You're allowed to look forward at where you want to go and behind you to measure how far you've come. That's it. Don't look left. Don't look right. It doesn't matter what anybody else is doing. All that matters it what you are doing with your ideas and your abilities. 

Step 3: Learn from rather than compare to. Do you really admire that other writer? Then take notes. Figure out what it is that you enjoy about their style. Pay attention to what makes them special. See how you can put your own spin on it. Admire, look up to, learn from, grow. But don't you dare think that you won't ever have a story that is as worthy as theirs. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you. Do you really want to spend it feeling sorry for yourself? 

Step 4: Be patient. Yes, patient. I hate that word as much as the next person, but it's important. You can't expect to write something amazing on your first try. Or even your fortieth. Unless there's some magic potion out there that nobody is telling me about (In which case: Come on guys! Where can I buy it?). You may not be exactly where you want to be. But just you wait, just you wait. Keep working. It will come.

So what do you say? Do you want to stop being an idiot and start being your own writer? I hope so. 

Note: Portions of the above article are copy and pasted from a past newsletter of mine. So if certain paragraphs sound familiar, don't freak out. I'm not stealing from anybody...except my past self. Shhhh. Don't tell her.

Related articles:
Why Writers Should Strive to be More Like Batman
5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity
Be A Writer, Not An Author

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16 comments:

  1. this is awesome, something I've needed to hear!

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    1. Glad it helped you out, Andrea! Happy writing. =)

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  2. Thanks for this! I tell myself not to compare all the time, and then...I compare. ;) I love Step #2: Look backwards or forwards, but never to the side. So true. Yet sooo hard!

    ~Laurie

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    1. Same here. I think, "I will not compare. I will not compare. I will not...Oh, wow. She's a way better writer than I am." =D So Step #2 has always been very helpful for me.

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  3. God I needed this....I am so guilty of this crime against myself. It just tears me down.

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    1. It's one a lot of writers (and just people in general) struggle with. Just know that you are awesome and keep up the good work! =D

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  4. Thanks for a great article, Hannah! You're very right, comparing yourself to someone else is only toxic and unhelpful for all involved. I don't do this so much with writing, but definitely with other things and it certainly applies to all areas of life. Great post, thank you for sharing with us.

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    1. You're right, this is certainly something that applies to life in general. Everyone is always comparing themselves to everyone else and it just leads to people being all oddly similar and very downcast.

      Thank you for the great comment!

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  5. Excellent advice, Hannah! I compare myself to other writers ALL the time, and this is just what we need to hear/read every now and then.

    I like your choice in examples and gifs, by the way! ;)

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    1. Thanks, Azelyn! It's something I need to hear often, so I figured other people probably do, too. =D

      Glad you like the gifs! Batman (all forms of Batman...Lego, '66, Christian Bale) speaks to me on a very personal level. =D

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  6. The only writer you should compare yourself to is the writer you were yesterday.

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  7. Agree with this 100%. The comparison problem I usually run into is the "speed of writing" one. Whenever I see someone tweet about writing 1000+ words in an hour, I feel inadequate. Because at my fastest "speed," even when I'm totally focused, I can get maybe 1000 words in 3 hours. The words just don't come to be as quickly... But I've learned that it's OK. I'm not the only slow writer out there, and every writer's "speed" is different. So I've taught myself to focus on other milestones like finishing a chapter or scene, or getting through a particularly rough spell. That sounds like your #2, on looking backward or forward but not to the side.

    Thanks for writing about this topic, btw! It's so hard for us to NOT compare ourselves to other writers that having every reminder of avoiding the comparison game is helpful. :)

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    1. Sara, this is exactly the same thing I struggle with. It took me a long time to realize that I simply don't write the way many others seem to. To quote Baymax: I am not fast. =D

      I write for a set amount of time each day rather than setting word count goals. It has helped me a lot.

      Thank you so much for sharing. I know we're not comparing, but it's always good to hear from other writers out there with similar experiences. =D

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  8. This is so very true. Writing is like good cheese: it gets better with age :D But we all have our own flavor to offer (I hope you like cheese or this comment will mean nothing to you). And I always have to remind myself that I like a variety of authors and voices. J.R.R. Tolkien is very different from Lois Lowry, but I love them both.

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    1. I love both cheese and Tolkien, so this comment speaks to me on a very personal level. =)

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