I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways we, as writers, see ourselves. Not how we see other writers, how we actually view ourselves.
Be honest for a moment. It’s hard to see your own work without comparing it to another writer’s, isn’t it? This can be really good: we can learn from others’ work and make our own better. We can compare our style, topic, or even voice (though this last one might not be the smartest idea) to another author’s, helping better explain our writing.
These comparisons can lead to a lot of heartache, too. If you’re anything like me, you’ve thought along these lines before.
What if others don’t see my work as…
- Commercial enough: Will it ever sell? Will it appeal to a lot of people?
- Literary enough: Will it be respected? Will it only appeal to a few?
- Strong enough: Will it only draw the dreaded rejction “too quiet”?
- Hip enough: Am I trying to be cool and not getting it? Are my characters really authentic?
- Long enough / short enough? Do I fit within my genre’s range?
And the biggie…
- Good enough? What if others are being kind in their critiques, not sharing what they really think about my work?
Then there’s comparing your own work to itself…
- I only have one story in me? / I’ll never write anything as good as this story again?
- I’ll write and write and never sell?
- I haven’t found my voice yet?
- All of my work is a joke?
- I work and work and never improve?
You get the idea. I think I can say with a degree of accuracy that writers can be insecure. It’s hard to gauge our skill, ideas, or style in the midst of creation and often, even after. The world is largely quiet in response.
A healty dose of comparison can be good, keeping us on the right track. Too much comparison will keep you from writing the stories you have to tell, even those really, really bad ones.
Writing is risky. There is no guarantee others will like it or even you will like it. You might end up looking foolish, untalented, perceptive, or great. Comparisons can only get you so far. It’s only when you’re willing to move away from the security of comparison (because even though it can be discouraging, it can also feel very safe), you’ll be able to tell the story you need to, in all its wonderful (or terrible) glory.