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?