There are stories published in books, and stories that have never been published. There are stories that have been read by more people than live in Kansas* and there are stories that have been read only by you, the writer. Don't compare yourself to others.
There are also stories that have never been written. Stories only you can tell.
Fiction or nonfiction, the stories you write are unique to your experiences and your creativity. But if you compare yourself to others, you might never write them.
Someone may have written a memoir about their father. The book might have __ 5 star reviews, and be on the New York Times bestseller list. So why would you write a story about your father? You might think, “It has already been written.”
You are wrong. A memoir about a father has been written, but the story of your father has not been written.
When I was twelve, my father taught me how to skin animals. I wasn't old enough to babysit yet, so I couldn't earn any extra money from taking care of the children of family friends. My father paid me to skin the animals he trapped on his trap line. (He trapped with permission from the game warden, and with permission from the farmers, who were protecting their livestock.)
This story has never been written, and unless I write it, it never will be.
Comparing Your Writing to Other Writers' Is Dangerous
The danger of comparing your writing to another writer is it might prevent you from writing your own story.
The value of a story does not lie in how many people have read the story. Before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published on June 26th, 1997, before J.K. Rowling found a publisher to accept her manuscript, before the story was written, it was just an idea for a story about a boy attending a school of wizardry.
The manuscript for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a good story even if only J.K Rowling had read it.
What if Rowling had compared her character to Frodo Baggins from The Lord of The Rings? What if she had compared her writing to J.R.R. Tolkien and felt her writing wasn't as good? “This story will never sell. Why should I even bother to write it?”
If Rowling hadn't written her story, if she had given up at the eleventh rejection notice from a publisher, we wouldn't have been able to meet Harry Potter.
Yes, yes, I know, the Harry Potter books have sold millions and millions of books, and not every story that is written will be as successful as the Harry Potter books, or the Lord of the Rings books.
However, there is always room for another hero.
And why not the hero that you write?
The world doesn't need another J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien; the world needs you. Don't compare yourself to others. Keep writing, and write like you.
All Writers Start Somewhere
A baby learning to walk cannot be as fast as Hicham El Guerrouj. He had been walking and running for twenty-five years and seven days when he broke the world record for the mile at 3:43.13 in 1999.
A writer starting to write will not write with the same quality as Stephen King, who has published more novels than there are states in the United States.
A baby first sits up, then crawls, and then takes the first step. And after the first faltering steps, they walk, and then they run. Babies fall down while they are learning to walk. Writers start with words, then sentences, paragraphs, and then a final first draft. And after a first draft, they edit. Babies fall while learning to walk, and writers write first drafts while completing a story.
Don't compare yourself to others.
Did the sentence you wrote this morning sound better to you than the sentence you wrote yesterday?
Do you ever compare your writing to another writer? Does it make you want to quit writing? Let us know in the comments.
Today for practice, I want you to compare your writing. I want to you to compare your writing to something you wrote before.
First, find a piece you have already written. It might be a section of your work in progress you wrote months ago, a story you have not looked at in a while, or a practice you wrote for another post here on The Write Practice. The older the piece you choose, the better.
Now, take fifteen minutes to rewrite the piece. How would you tell that story now? How would you approach that idea?
When you are done, share the original and your new version in the comments below. How have you changed and grown as a writer? How can you see other people have grown? Please remember to leave feedback for someone else so we can all encourage one another and grow together.
*2.192 million people live in Kansas according to a 2015 census. Over five million people have read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.