by Meg Dowell
I have a favorite author. John Green is the kind of writer I would love to be. He is clever and cultured and knows his young adult audience so well you sometimes forget he’s almost 40 (sorry, John).
I admire him on a deep, creative level, as I’m sure many writers do. But that’s sort of where it ends. A long time ago, I’m sure I compared myself to other writers all the time. “I wish I could write like …” or, “I can’t believe she has so many fans.” I think we all do that, for a little while. But as a writer, at some point you realize how pointless this is. Trying to stand up and measure yourself against another writer just doesn’t make sense.
Why is comparing yourself to other writers such a waste of time?
Everyone progresses differently along different paths
Let’s say your end goal is to self-publish a science fiction novel. Plenty of writers have come before you and have self-published science fiction novels. They have reached the finish line you eventually want to reach. But the roads they take to get there will likely not be the same as yours. You will have different experiences. You will take less or more time to write the first draft or go through the editing process. There are 100 different ways to reach your finish line. Everyone, including you, will get there a different way.
To think you can know exactly what someone else did to get to where they are, and follow their exact footsteps, doesn’t really make sense. Why would you want to do that? Becoming a writer, in the most generic sense of the idea, is a journey. The experience is almost more significant than the end product. The same way you don’t want your book’s plot to be identical to someone else’s, you don’t want your story – your growth from aspiring writer to professional master of the words – to mirror one that’s already happened. Would I love to be as successful as John Green? Uh, sure. But He followed a very specific path that at one point involved lots of data entry for a publisher. Yeah … no thanks.
There is no set way to measure every single person’s success
It’s hard to see writers with more blog followers than you, or more book ratings and reviews than you … or however you tend to measure “success” as a writer. It’s not fun to feel inferior. But back to John Green for a second. He’s sold over 10 million copies of TFIOS. To him, a previously published author with a YouTube channel and a strong young adult following, that’s a metric of success. Now look at me. I’m lucky if I sell one copy of my ebook this year. If I sell one, or five, or 10 – to me, that’s success.
Your success early on honestly has nothing to do (IMO) with how good of a writer you are. Really. TFIOS is a good book, don’t get me wrong. But I’m going to give an unpopular opinion here and say it’s not amazing. If it had been JG’s first book, we don’t know how well it might have sold. Success is different for every single writer in their own individual situations. You have to tailor your level of success to fit the circumstances. So you don’t get thousands of views on your blog daily. I sure don’t. But you likely get more now than when you started. That’s better than nothing. That’s still growth. Count it as a success. Don’t worry about where other people are at. Focus on you.
There are lessons to be learned
Along your journey, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and do things “wrong,” and you’re going to feel disappointed and discouraged. In some way or another, every writer experiences all this. But everyone gets something different out of it. That’s your journey to make, not someone else’s. Enjoy the steps. Embrace the good times and the bad. Learn what you need to learn from every outcome. You’re only human: you can only focus on so many things at one time. Focus on growing, and learning … at your own pace.
In school, were you ever taught to take your time learning a new way to do math? My teachers finally had to sit me down at some point and tell me to stop worrying about what everyone else already knew and focus on learning it on my own. Just because you’re “behind” or “not as good” at something doesn’t mean you should feel bad about it. That’s easier said than done. I know. But in the beginning, you have to focus on you. And your “beginning” might last years. Mine did. That’s okay. Everyone learns the best way to do certain things in time. It’s not about how fast you get there. It’s about
the climb the progression. YOUR progression.
I appreciate other writers’ work. I love to read and I love seeing people grow. I’m a writer, too. I’m aware that there are many, many people out there who are better than me at what I do. More successful, maybe. There are people younger than me who have published novels. Big-name blogs. YouTube channels. Does that mean I’m not good at what I do? No. It means I’m on a different path. That’s how it should be. You have to accept that growing as a writer is slow, and most of the time, you have no idea whether you’re doing the right thing or not. All that matters is what you keep going. Really.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.