Creative Comparison

One of the most painful periods of being a writer is starting.

When first developing your craft, there is so much you don’t know in terms of terminology and technique, but also your own process.

There’s a unique pain in recognising how much there is to learn and that you are only just beginning even though you long to be in the middle of things.

Beginning a writing practise can be hard especially when our early attempts look nothing like the novels that inspired us to write in the first place.

And this may be a new writer’s first mistake: comparison.

Unfortunately, comparison is not limited to new writers. We all suffer from it no matter the level of our career or stage of writing.

Comparison can be good or bad, depending on your perspective.

We understand, intellectually, that first drafts are supposed to be bad, and yet we still feel disappointed when that first attempt at a story doesn’t resemble the edited, bound, and available for purchase books on the shelves.

Unfortunately, you can’t go to a bookstore and say, ‘I would like to see draft two of A Song of Fire and Ice and draft three of The Overstory.’ We don’t get to see the rejects, only the best version of that story.

Comparing our work or where we are in our author journeys is a losing game and one that will deplete your energy and motivation.

Hearing, at 35, that Stephen King published 25 books by age 28 (slight exaggeration) is unlikely to fuel your creative fire. Instead, you’ll probably decide that it’s too late, you’re behind the eight ball, and who would even want to read a novel written by an old fart like you?

In one way, literature is seen as inaccessible, stuffy and pretentious, and in another way, claiming your desire to be a writer can come across as foolish, childlike, irresponsible, unrealistic, and avoidant.

Comparison feeds these underlining narratives. We say, I am not a real writer because…

  • I don’t have a publishing deal.
  • I don’t have Stephen King on speed dial.
  • I don’t pay my mortgage with book money.

Comparison is often worse whenever we’re not creating as our lack of personal productivity and progress becomes evidence against us.

‘She’s publishing another book? Didn’t she just release one last month? How is that possible? Meanwhile, I haven’t touched my manuscript in six months.’

Ebooks aren’t better or worse than physical books; it’s just a matter of preference. Both have strengths and weaknesses, just like everything else!

Creative comparison can be doubly destructive when we strongly admire someone else’s work or when someone publishes something similar to what we are working on.

In both these instances, it can be all too easy to give in. Thoughts like, ‘they are so much better than me,’ or ‘they’re doing the same thing as me, only better’ or ‘I can’t write a book about a school for wizards or teenage monster hunters because that’s already been done!’

Yeah … cos no one ever wrote about those subjects before…

To move forward, we need to accept ourselves for where we are at in our writing journey and how developed your skills are. Note: both these components are highly nuanced!

You may be great at plot, but all your characters sound the same, or maybe you come up with great premises/concepts, but you’re self-conscious about your vocabulary.

Sometimes, comparison can be a good thing.

It can show you what is possible in a story; it can highlight a weakness you were unaware of or serve as an inspiration by giving you something to strive towards.

One writer’s use of language or description or structure could inspire you to lift your own game, for example, Eleanor Catton’s work has inspired me to be more specific in my character description and to spend a little more time on this detail.

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparison, measuring our beginnings against other people’s middles or endings, it is important to remember that writing is an activity with no expiry date. You can only grow with time and practise, as you read more books or write more stories.

There’s no rush. No need to compare.

It’s okay to go slowly and to stick to your own lane.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you compare your work to others? Do you complain about how you’re not further along yet? Does comparison look different for you to how I discussed it here? Leave your comments below!


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Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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