The Comparison Blues

Writers are well-known for their low self-esteem, and I’ll admit that I’m no exception. In general, I dislike my own writing. There are occasionally days when I’ll look at my writing and go, “Hmm, not too shabby.” But, while I love the process of writing, I generally despise all things I write.

 
In some ways, this is helpful. It makes me look at my novels with an extremely critical eye, and it also helps me embrace critique much more easily. But, in many ways, this mindset just isn’t healthy for me. It took me years to realize this, and when I finally did, I knew I had to change my outlook on writing. In particular, I knew I had to stop comparing myself to successful writers, or I would drive myself insane.

 
I think all writers, including me, have examined the work of famous authors to see what works and what doesn’t. While this process is almost always helpful, what comes next just isn’t healthy. After I examined their writing, I found myself comparing myself to the actual author: John Green has such amazing voice, and I don’t. Patrick Rothfuss can build such amazing worlds, and I can’t. Stephenie Meyer can attract millions of readers, and I never will.

 
Thinking like this comes naturally to me, but it isn’t as easy to stop doing. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, and it’s not like I could just flip a switch and stop. But, after some thinking, I realized some things that made me reconsider the way I compared myself to other writers.

 
1. People don’t pick up my novels to read John Green.

In other words, if people want to read a John Green book, they’ll pick up a book written by him. When people choose to read one of my novels, they expect to find a unique voice. My unique voice.

 
No, my writing isn’t nearly as good or deep or emotional as John Green’s. But, in some ways, I think being different is a good thing. After all, if I didn’t have a different voice and outlook, then everything I wrote would feel old and over-done.

 
2. I’m not nearly as good as Patrick Rothfuss, but maybe someday I’ll come close.

I don’t think writers ever stop learning. I’ve talked to experienced writers and beginners like me, and everyone seems to agree on this point: There’s always more to learn. Whether it’s about writing itself, or the publishing industry, or marketing–the learning just never stops. Since I’m still a teenager, and since I plan on writing until the day I die, I figure I have about 60 years left to study my craft. And that’s plenty of time to develop some skills, right? So I don’t feel like I need to panic about all my inadequacies quite yet.

 

3. Maybe I’ll never have millions of readers like Stephenie Meyer, but that doesn’t matter much.

This is perhaps the most important thing I realized: It’s my love for writing that counts. Yeah, having a million readers would be nice. But what’s even nicer is that I get true joy out of my craft. Even if I had no chance of being published, I would still write. Even if I couldn’t show my work to a single soul, I would keep writing. And, personally, I think that sort of love is what gets writers places. I could read every writing manual on the planet, but if I didn’t have passion for the craft, my work would still fall flat.

 
So, after realizing all these things, I feel like I can read “The Fault in our Stars” without banging my head against a wall about my own, er… faults. What about you? What are some things that help you stop the comparison-blues?

Coming Out of the Writers’ Closet

Some people are totally comfortable having their friends and relatives read their writing. I envy those people big-time. Personally, it scares me every time I hand over a piece of my writing to someone I know well. To the point where I wrote two entire novels before I told my family I was even interested in writing.

 
Now, I can give my writing to my CPs, and they’ll tear it to pieces. I’m fine with this. I actually enjoy this process most of the time. But when it comes to friends and family? Nope. I always feel like I’m going to throw up when I hand over a piece of my writing.

 
I know I’m not alone when it comes to this particular fear, so I thought I’d write a post about how I personally deal with it.

 
1. I always explain that the opinions in my writing don’t always reflect my personal opinions.

 
My family is Catholic. I am Atheist. This is the main reason I waited so long to tell any of them about my writing. I have characters in my writing who not only use magic, but who believe magic is a powerful healing tool. I’m sure most people know how Catholics usually respond to books with magic–when I was young, I was forbidden to read Twilight, The Mortal Instruments, Harry Potter, and many other novels. I have relatives who actually believe J.K. Rowling is a possessed worker of the devil. Basically, in the Catholic Church’s opinion, magic is a terrible and evil thing. In my books, it’s a good thing to have. You can see the conflict right there.

 
When I first gave my mom one of my novels, I was utterly terrified that my parents were going to make me stop writing, and haul me off to an exorcist. I repeated about twenty-bazillion times that it was a fantasy novel. Yes, a FANTASY novel. As in, I don’t believe anything in it is actually real.

 
Luckily, no exorcisms followed. My mom actually enjoyed the novel, and she was perfectly okay with my explanation of the magical elements. But had I not taken the time to explain that vital fact–that my characters’ beliefs don’t represent mine–then things probably wouldn’t have gone so smoothly.

 

 

2. I tell them there’s no need to finish it or tell me what they think.
Whenever I hand my writing over to someone I know, I always say this. If they enjoy my work, then that’s wonderful, and I’d love to hear their thoughts. But if they find it offensive or terrible or boring, then I don’t expect them to fake a smile and tell me it’s great. This seems to take a lot of pressure off people, and makes the whole experience go smoother.

 

 

3. I just say no. 

Sometimes, I just have to tell people that they can’t read my writing. Period. No exceptions. If I believe that my writing might harm the relationship I have with them, then I just say no. It’s not worth losing a friend of relative over something as trivial as a piece of writing. And it’s also not worth the nerve-wracking feeling of worrying how that person will judge me. In cases like this, I just tell people no. They might think it’s rude, but I’d rather be considered rude than a worker of the devil, or worse.

More Books on Eating Disorders, Please

Just earlier this year, I was about 30 pounds underweight. I have two medical conditions that affect my stomach in various ways. Basically, I get extremely nauseous every time I eat, and I have a lot of severe stomach pains. As you might guess, it’s incredibly difficult for me to keep on weight. Yesterday I went shopping, and I was able to fit in a size 4 pair of jeans without them slipping off my waist. I almost screamed I was so happy.

 
My BMI (Body Mass Index) is now just barely within the “healthy” range. The fact that I’m no longer a walking skeleton is something I’m so, so grateful for.

 
But other people seem to think differently. The other day, I had someone in my charter school class say to me, “Wow, you’ve gained weight.” I was about to start gushing about how happy I was, when she added, “You know, my friend has this super awesome diet she uses to stay skinny. I could tell you about it, if you want.”

 
My jaw just about dropped to the floor. I don’t remember exactly what I said in reply–I was in total shock. But I have no doubt that I wasn’t very pleasant.

 
The sad truth is, when I was 30 pounds underweight, I was constantly getting told how “beautiful” my figure was. Practically every girl I knew “wanted my figure”. Even adults would gush about how “lucky” I was to be so skinny.

 
It’s not easy to make me mad. But these “compliments” almost put me over the edge. There is nothing beautiful about every single one of your ribs showing. No one should want to feel light-headed constantly. And there’s not anything lucky about throwing up at least twice a day.

 
Unfortunately, we live in a world with unrealistic expectations of beauty. To put it frankly, this has got to stop. It’s not healthy, and it’s not right. There are thousands upon thousands of people out there with eating disorders, all because of our culture’s bizarre interpretation of beauty. People are dying because of this so-called beauty.

 
Despite all of this, there are only 77 YA books in Barnes and Noble’s book catalog categorized as “Eating Disorders”. This is out of over 67,000 YA books they have cataloged.

 
Fortunately, some of those books are fantastic resources. My favorite on the subject is WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. Unfortunately, there’s a painfully obvious lack of books on this topic.

 
I’m not sure why this is, but I am sure of one thing: We need more books about eating disorders. There needs to be more awareness about the conditions, and people need to become more open to discussing the topic. Publishing more books about eating disorders would be a big step in the right direction. It would provide people with the knowledge they need to maybe save someone’s life.

 
Yes, they’re usually depressing. Yes, they’re heavy topics. But that doesn’t mean eating disorder books should be left unpublished.

 
To end this post on a positive note, here is a link to a list of YA books about eating disorders. This is the largest list I could find, and there are only 106 books. But it’s a start, and I encourage you to read at least one of these books. You never know how it might change your life, or the life of someone else.