The Evils of Comparison
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
― Oscar Wilde
The saints are the sinners who keep on trying.
— Robert Louis Stevenson
Do you think you’re a crappy writer?
Why do you think that? Did someone tell you that your writing sucks? Where did this belief originate?
Whose voice do you hear in your head? Was it a teacher in the third grade or the fifth or the tenth, telling you that you’re not good enough to be a writer?
I call bullshit!
You’re not being fair to yourself — You’d never ask a child to paint like Rembrandt, dance like Nureyev, or sing like Pavarotti, so why are you down on yourself because you can’t write as well as Hemingway, Jane Austen, or even Danielle Steel?
How is it fair to ask you to compare your writing experiments with the best, most polished, fully edited work of the best writers on the planet? No wonder you come up short. Even those authors didn’t have a perfect story out of the gate, and they’ve had years of practice.
It’s not fair, and I want to you quit doing that, right now.
Let me ask you:
Do you love to read?
Do you have a favourite author or genre?
Would you like to write as well as those authors?
Look, if you can string words together in a sentence, you can be a writer. Nowadays, with the technology available to us, even someone who’s dyslexic or illiterate can write a book, using dictation and transcription. Any smartphone can do these things so nobody has a valid excuse not to write their stories. And everyone’s story is unique. Yours deserves to be read.
“Oh,” you say, “but I don’t know how to write a story properly, with a beginning, a middle and an ending. I don’t know how to put the pieces together, or make it interesting.”
Everyone, even your favourite authors, had to learn how to be good at what they do. But you have no idea what they had to do to get there. You don’t know the challenges that some of them face every day, or the crippling fears that they may be hiding, but they’ve learned to work through all that and reach the finish line.
Some authors learned how to write as children, others as students, or adults. Some of us even learned as seniors. There’s no age limit on becoming a writer. It simply takes dedication, love of the craft, perseverance and lots and lots of baby steps.
It’s an “aha!” here, an “aha!” there;
Here an “aha!”, there an “aha!”;
Everywhere an “aha!”
Ol’ McWriter had a dream, E—I—E—I—O !
Keep in mind that the vast majority of people, even those who were good writers in school, never do much writing once they graduate.
You, on the other hand, have a dream. You should be proud of yourself for wanting to be a better writer, a better person. Rather than beating yourself up for not being as good as your favourite professional, look for those places where you don’t measure up and find ways to get better — take classes, read blogs and books about the subject and keep learning, one “aha!” at a time.
Take the time to study, to learn from the writers whose work you love. Model their story structures, word choices and character development. Learn how to craft a good story using online courses, books and blogs, and keep writing. The more you practice, the better you get, especially if you do it intentionally. (For example: today, you could study how to write a good visually immersive description and tomorrow it’s how a minor character flaw has an outsized impact on an important decision. Or what IS a metaphor, anyway? — Baby steps.)
Above all, be proud of the work that you do, but try to be
realistic about where you are and what you’re aiming for. Sure, there’s always room for improvement, but remember, you’re in good company. Every author feels the same way. Not one of us is ever fully satisfied with the work that we do. We just reach a point where it makes more sense to stop than to keep tweaking.
But if you want to “be a writer”, whatever that means to you, you have got to get over yourself. Get past that nasty little voice in your head that keeps telling you the same stupid “you’re not good enough” lie over and over. Like Dory in Finding Nemo, just keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. You WILL improve.
Oh yeah…and one last thing — Write a little. Every. Single. Day.
Marita J Hamm
It’s 4:45 am. I woke up an hour ago and could not go back to sleep. All the “I’m not good enough” emotions running through my head. Overwhelmed by issues with a formatter kept me tossing and turning. I finally gave up and got up. I opened email and found your lovely post waiting for me. How did you know that is exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Thank you for the encouragement, Bev. And I like your style. It was as if you were sitting her in my office telling me to not give up.
Marita, this kind of self-talk is so common to creatives of all kinds, and it’s so destructive.
I urge you to seek out the specific words you use when you have these thoughts. If you hear yourself saying words like, “loser” or “fake” or “lazy”, think about all the wonderful times when you were NOT those things.
Pick a particularly vivid one and try to bring up the emotions surrounding that successful incident – the joy, the elation, the satisfaction. And then, every time you hear those ridiculous negative words in your head, you can recall that success to counter the monkey chatter that’s trying to sabotage you. Remember, it’s just your lizard brain trying to keep you safe, and more often than not, it’s wrong.
Oh, and meditation works too. LOL!