I’m going to be honest with you. I have this problem (which is a fairly common one) where I compare myself to other people. I’ll spare you the mushy, self-esteem-issues stuff because day-to-day it doesn’t bother me that much.
But when it comes to my creativity, comparing myself to other writers is really not okay. I’ve come to realise this in the last few months, and want you to know why (even though we all do it from time to time) we need to stop. It’s a matter of taking pride in yourself and your own writing rather than trying to find ‘the answer’ in other people.
Common complaints of the chronic comparer
Ever finished an incredible book, one that had a profound effect on you, and wanted to know more about the author? Of course you have. Flick to the author bio, do a quick Google search. You find out they started submitting to publishers when they were 15, they had a book deal by 20 and they’re making tonnes of money, or even worse, they never wanted to be a writer, they just sort of ‘fell into it’ and got extremely lucky – suddenly it’s like someone’s let the air out of you. Here you are in your 30s bumming around still trying to write that first novel and wishing your MS was even half as amazing. This is your life. And look at theirs. Tragic.
Stop. Stop right there.
You’re no doubt familiar with the scenario above, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an acceptable way to judge yourself as a writer. The more you compare yourself to others this way, the more you devalue yourself.
Such thoughts might go along these lines:
They’ve written so many amazing things / I haven’t written anything good
They’ve been published so many times / I’m not even good enough to get a response
They write every single day / I can’t even write once a week
These sort of thoughts are neither productive nor helpful to your development as a writer, so banish them from your mind the second they start to creep in.
Making yourself depressed over what other people are doing only wastes time that you could be being productive, that you could be making a change toward the things you’re complaining about. If you’re feeling low because Ray Bradbury wrote an early draft of Fahrenheit 451 in just nine days and you’ve been sitting on your book draft for over a year (yes, this is my life) then stop pouting and get a wriggle on. Instead of getting depressed about it, use it as motivation to get your head down.
Pep talk: you are awesome
Okay. Here’s the sentimental, motivational part: every artist is different, and just because your methods or techniques aren’t the same as everyone elses’ doesn’t mean they’re any less valid. Emily Dickinson shut herself up to write, but that doesn’t mean we all need to become hermits. Hunter S. Thompson was a gonzo journalist who did tonnes of drugs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to report a story.
Own your habits and your quirky creative identity. Find your own voice. Write by your own rules, and don’t let anyone else dictate how you should do it.”
Yes, there are writers who’ve been published young, or who mingle with big names, or who got a crazy-lucky break into the industry (Evie Wyld, I’m thinking of you). But the thing about those amazing writers is that they didn’t get where they are now by being someone else, they did it by being the writer they were meant to be; by being themselves and putting in a lot of hard work. You might not be where they are, but if you don’t believe in yourself you won’t even get close. As the saying goes:
Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”
How to compare constructively
While comparing yourself to other writers in a negative way can be damaging to your creative self-esteem, you can turn the experience into a positive. Instead of wallowing and feeling crummy, think about your achievements and inspire yourself to keep creating. The worst thing you can do is give up because you don’t believe in what you’re doing. Think about those writers that simultaneously excite and revolt you with how amazing they are. They’re amazing because they tried, because they put in the effort, and in the end they made it.
Find the positives
Maybe your stories and poems have been rejected a lot, and you haven’t won any competitions, but at least you’re submitting them which is a massive dedication in itself.
Maybe you haven’t been writing much lately, but maybe you’ve been pursuing other creative tasks like reading your favourite books. Or researching some important plot points. These are also valuable uses of your time.
Turn your self talk on its head. Find a plus amidst the minuses. Give yourself permission to be awesome, stroke your ego a little. It’s absolutely acceptable, I promise.
Vent to a friend
Sometimes the only thing you can do is text a buddy or meet up for a drink after work and let loose. Chances are, they totally understand where you’re coming from (especially if they’re a writer too) and can balance out your frustration with a fresh perspective.
Talk to writer friends, or find a Twitter or blog post about it. I guarantee you will find others in the same boat. It certainly helps to hear that you’re not alone in the way you feel about your writing idols (and trust me, we’re all right there with you on this one).
If you’re unhappy with where you are in your creative journey, make a change. Don’t waste another minute. You can twist those negative feelings towards other writers back around and set yourself some achievable goals. Want to write more or even finish that novel? Set deadlines and cover your walls in post-its. In love with the technique or style of a particular author? Give it a go in your own writing and see how it works. Challenge yourself by saying, ‘yes, I can do that too’ or ‘I’m going to do it even better’. You might just surprise yourself!
Happy writing x