What to do instead of comparing yourself to other writers.

Navy galaxy as the background. White lettering reads The only writer you should compare yourself to is the writer you were yesterday.

Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt

The only person you should compare yourself with is the person you were yesterday.

These quotes are probably already familiar to you. But recognising a quote and taking action on the advice are two very different things.

I have suffered a lot from comparisonitis in many areas of my life. Parenting, appearance, salary, driving, writing and many more. If someone else was doing the same thing as me I would compare myself and interestingly I always found myself lacking. I have been working on reducing how much I compare myself to others and I want to share with you what I have learned so far. 

Challenging my thoughts when I compare myself to other writers is not yet automatic for me. I do not know if it ever will be, but I want you to be able to write without comparisonitis holding you back.

Why comparing ourselves to other writers does not work

We are all approaching writing from different perspectives. Our prior experiences and expectations of writing are different. So a one size fits all approach will not work. 

What worked for a writer thirty years ago will not always work for a writer struggling to avoid the current alluring distractions of social media and streaming services. What works for a writer that discovers the story as they write will not always work for a writer that likes outlining first. While I believe that we should try out different approaches and techniques I try not to get too caught up in giving my writing project a value dependent on how well Stephen King’s writing advice works for me. Try is the word here. Some days are more successful than others.

Not all writing advice will work for you – find your own way

There is a lot of writing advice out there. But not all of it will be relevant to you. Treat it like a pick ‘n’ mix. Look for the advice you like. What will fit into your life right now? Try it. If it does not work move on. Learn from it. You might need to adapt it or get rid of it altogether. 

You are building your writing practice for where you are right now.  After all the best time to start writing your book was yesterday. Move beyond the perfectionist thinking of waiting for the right time. There is no perfect time. And if you think now is difficult and you still manage to figure out what you need to get writing done imagine how amazing it will be when the ‘right’ time does happen. I wrote more about perfectionist thinking here.

Comparison is the thief of joy

There is absolutely space for your story and your writing. Maybe not the first novel you write. But if your second novel is going to be the one that you publish then you need to start writing the first one now so that you can get started on the second one.

You can not use up creativity but feeling jealous and inferior to others will kill it. Don’t ignore or repress these feelings. Acknowledging them is more powerful. I recommend trying to understand why you feel that way about this writer but not that writer. It can help you understand yourself which always leads to creating stronger characters. I have talked about journaling before here. This is how I trace the roots of any of these unhelpful feelings. Trying to understand the cause often stops me from feeling ashamed about having these negative feelings. We are only human and no one is above feeling jealous or inferior so be sure to give yourself grace and understanding. Giving myself grace is another, almost daily, thing that I am working on.

Deciding to write is one part of the process. Actually sitting down and being vulnerable is a whole other step. And this is where we can be jealous of other people’s progress. We can feel inferior because our ideas feel like they are not enough. But, as always, feelings are not facts.

Are you comparing yourself to other writers?

Benefits to comparing ourselves to other writers

But looking at other authors can be helpful to see what is possible. After all, if one person did it then someone else can do it right?

But do not use it to beat yourself up with and feel bad about your progress so far or what you feel is your lack of progress.

There is enough space for everybody. Have you looked at the list of categories on Amazon lately? There are 10,000 different subcategories for all of the different genres and subgenres. Your idea for a book will fit into at least one if not more of these. And more people are reading since the pandemic started.

Now is the time for writers. And the options are expanding. The knowledge needed to self publish or navigate traditional publishing is all available. Joanna Penn, Writing excuses. More people are talking about it in more detail. You are not on your own. There are many communities sharing all of this information.

Ideally when you read something you like you should feel like I want to try this out, I am going to sit down and see what my version of this idea looks like. Fanfiction, where writers use existing characters and settings to write their own version or another chapter or episode in the character’s lives is one version of this.

Writing is one area where we are very much standing on the shoulders of giants. The way stories are delivered and absorbed is constantly evolving as humans consume stories indifferent ways. For anyone who has sat through children’s television programmes as an adult you will have experienced this first hand. Often, a lot of them are frustrating to watch as adults because we know which character is going to cause the fire in the opening five minutes (looking at you Fireman Sam). But children enjoy them because they are still learning how stories are told and they love the characters enough to look past lazy storytelling.

The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday

Your style, your approach is all your own. Even if you don’t feel that your ideas are ‘original’ enough. I am going to use romance as a counter argument to this way of thinking. When you strip down romance (pun very much intended!) to its most basic story it’s one person meets another person and they pursue a relationship. And romance readers will read this storyline over and over again. So, originality cannot be the excuse you use for not writing.

Action steps

The action steps for this post are going to be a little different. As I am still learning how to stop comparing myself to other writers I have included three resources to help you.

The Power of No Comparison by Patrice Washington

One of the first things I needed to understand was that I am not seeing the full picture. I know my full story but I am often comparing myself to strangers. I do not know what they went through or how their life is right now. So there is no point in presuming that they feel happy and fulfilled with inner peace shining from every pore just because they happen to have reached one of my personal goals. Patrice Washington has taught me not to compare my beginning with someone else’s middle or end. She has a great podcast episode on not comparing yourself to others.

Creative Types: How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others By Molly McCord

Replace compare and despair with admire and inspire is just one of the many takeaways I have from this blog post. It has some great references to Ikea as well as actionable advice.

When You’re Tempted to Compare Yourself With Other People, Try This Psychological Trick by Amy Morin

Amy Morin (author of 13 things mentally strong people don’t do)  wrote a great article on comparing yourself to others and she suggests approaching the situation from a different angle and ask yourself these three questions:

What information does that person have that could be helpful to me?

What can I learn from this individual?

What knowledge, ideas or areas of expertise does this individual have that could be useful to me?