If you are a writer (and you are), then I know you are reading. As we read both masters and peers, it’s easy to fall into comparing yourself and even disillusionment. How can you learn from your reading without letting it distract you from your own writing journey?
Writers as Readers
As writers, we know how important it is to be reading. We read for pleasure, to learn and grow, and to understand our lives and world. Some writers prefer to read one book at a time, while others bury themselves in three or four books bounding between the titles based on their needs or whims.
Reading informs every part of our craft, but it can also pose a danger.
Danger of Comparison
Whether you are reading a master in your genre or a peer struggling through the same phase of learning you are in, you’ve probably felt that twinge of envy when something goes right. I saw a comment from a writer just yesterday that said, “I have to finish my manuscript before I can read this book by author X, because I know I’ll never write as well as her. I’ll feel like giving up.”
Conversely, you might read a peer who isn’t where they want to be yet and think, “Well, at least I’m better than him.”
Both attitudes are detrimental to you as a writer, because they are focused on the wrong thing: other people. How can you learn from others without comparing yourself and while protecting your own motivation to keep writing?
Antidote to Comparison and Envy
There are two things you can do to combat comparison and envy: describe the writing and practice gratitude.
The next time you read a sentence, paragraph, or chapter that takes your breath away, stop and reread.
Describe the writing
First, describe what you see in the writing that makes you swoon. Is it a description of a character or setting that is especially vivid? Or perhaps a sentence that makes you gasp in delight?
Whatever it is, reread it and figure out what is making it work. If you can identify how a writer is creating a certain effect, you can experiment with similar methods in your own writing.
Say thank you
The other antidote to comparison and envy is gratitude. When I was a part of the National Writing Project, we wrote thank you notes after every public reading. It could be a quick, “I loved the line…” or “Thank you for your description of…”.
It reminds me a little of our OREO critique method here at The Write Practice, where you sandwich a question between two things you loved in the writing.
Receiving those thank you notes buoyed my spirit and kept me going when I wanted to give up. More importantly, writing them shifted how I listened.
Embrace the Process
Very few writers would tell you they are exactly where they want to be. Each writing project seems to require something new of the artist.
Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t mastered some element of your writing yet. Stop comparing yourself to other writers. Just keep going, describing what you see and being grateful for what you read, and you’ll get better with each draft and project.
What authors have inspired envy? How do you keep comparison from stealing your motivation to write? Let us know in the comments.
Today, you have two options to practice. Set a timer for fifteen minutes, then choose one:
Reading practice: Read for five minutes or until you find a line, description, word, or effect that catches your attention. Pull the line and describe what makes it work. Model a line or paragraph in the same style as best you can. Then write a sentence of thanks (I know that feels weird, but try it, even if you just write it in your journal).
Writing practice: Write a scene where a character wants something, but they’re thwarted by comparison or envy. What will they do?
When you’re done, share your writing in the comments below, and remember to leave feedback for your fellow writers.