The scourge of comparison-itis

I’m a voracious reader – of mostly crime fiction – and this means I have a lot to compare my writing to. Every time I pick up a new book to read or see a recommendation on Twitter, my heart sinks a little. When I’m reading and come across a beautiful image or turn of phrase, it sinks a little further.

The spiteful little voice in my head is launching yet another bid to make me compare myself to other writers and find myself lacking. It could be anything from envy of a daily word count or someone signing up with an agent. Of course, I’m delighted for that person and their achievements but that spiteful voice tries to use it against me. The usual questions are ‘Why haven’t you done that?’, ‘You only managed 800 words today, so-and-so did more than 1,000’ or ‘As if you could write like that!’.

Y’see the spiteful little voice knows just how to play me. I’m a very competitive person and I like to excel in everything I do. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you can’t do everything. So no matter how much that little voice tries to get me to really compare myself to others, I fight it.

What I’ve learned as well is that if you spent all your life comparing yourself to others you would never do anything. If I compared myself in my running shoes to Jessica Ennis-Hill, I’d never go running again. Equally if you spend all your time wondering why you can’t write like your favourite writer, you’ll never pick up a pen. Besides, would you rather be a carbon-copy of someone else, or a brand new you?

The best piece of advice comes from the great Steven King, who said ‘Write your first draft with the door closed’. Yes, that’s right – as if no one else is watching what you’re doing. Give yourself free rein to write whatever you want. Either write so quickly that steam comes from your pen and words ripple across the page or allow your words to take a leisurely stroll taking time to describe the scenery and the people you see. In no time you’ll have collected some words on the page and you have something to work with and refine.

In short, you don’t know if your words will be as good as all those ‘proper writers’ whose books you read, or whether your prose will be picked up and tweeted by adoring fans, but you also don’t know how long that writer worked to produce such honeyed phrases.  It may have come quickly or it may have taken hours, but it doesn’t really matter. Comparing yourself to others constantly isn’t healthy – what really matters is your own work.

So, put aside that fear of not being ‘good enough’ or not being able to ‘write as much as so-and-so’, pick up your pen (or open a new document if that floats your boat) and get writing. Who knows in a few months/years, you could be the person everyone is comparing themselves to.

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