He writes better than you do. She finishes projects faster than you can. They all have original languages in their fantasy worlds, and you just write in italics. Your friend already got published. You can’t help comparing your work to everyone else’s. It’s like scratching a mosquito bite. You know you shouldn’t, but you just can’t help yourself. Falling for the comparison game, however, is one of the greatest threats you will ever face to your success as a writer. Here are a few reasons why the game is rigged.
You Compare Yourself to More Experienced Writers
Practice makes perfect, and more experienced writers have much more practice than you do. Holding your work to high standards and working to improve your writing skills are both good things, but make sure you aren’t demanding instant perfection. The fact is, there is no “perfect” story, and there will always be someone with more experience and training. Remember, many great writers don’t even like their own work. You will always find someone with stronger characters, smoother sentences, or deeper plots. Keep in mind that someone may see your work the same way you view your idol’s. Be kind to yourself, just like you’d be kind to a student. Great writers continue to learn and evolve at every stage of their career.
You Compare Incomplete Work to Finished Pieces
Imagine comparing two chefs. One gets to finish preparing their meal. You judge the other based on the raw supplies they bring home from the grocery store. Sounds unreasonable and kind of weird, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what you do when you lament the quality of your first draft compared to the brilliance of another author’s revised, edited, proofread, and polished novel. It ultimately makes no sense. Don’t begrudge your newborn for being shorter than John Cena. It’s silly at best and it will give you a complex at worst.
You Write Things Other Writers Cannot
Every writer is unique. That sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. If you criticize your own work because it doesn’t look like someone else’s, you devalue the very things that help great writers succeed: unique voice, original ideas, and a fresh perspective. Your work does not need to look like Hemmingway’s prose. It doesn’t need the twists George R. Martin employs. Could your work be better? Sure! But only you can improve it. Editors and peer review partners will help you gain a better understanding of your own work, but the ideas, the characters, and the words all come from you. No other writer has what you do, so why compare apples and oranges?
Ultimately, comparing yourself to other writers is just bad for your writing. It compromises your drive and restricts your imagination. Fear holds you back and you ask “Is this good enough?” so often you fail to actually commit words to your story. Maybe your sentences tumble into each other and you forget how to use a comma half the time. That’s fine. You are still learning, and you always will be. Writing is a process. Comparisons only slow it down.