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How to Be a Successful Writer: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

by | Aug 26, 2015

When I get frustrating news from my literary agent, and then I see famous writers I admire tweeting about their successful careers, it can make me feel bad.

Likewise when I haven’t had a productive writing day, and I notice writers chatting away in a Facebook writing group about their amazing daily word counts.

It’s hard not to compare yourself to your peers, your colleagues, or even the people you look up to in this age of nonstop social media. Comparing yourself to other writers, though, is not only unproductive — it can be downright harmful. And it certainly doesn’t help you figure out how to be a successful writer.

The next time you feel the urge to compare yourself to Stephen King and wonder why you’re not yet a bestseller, here are some reasons why you shouldn’t sweat it.

1. Each writer has a different process

You may read about writers who write first drafts quickly and don’t edit until they are finished. But maybe you like to edit as you go.

You may read an article about how productive it can be to write in the morning. But maybe you work better at night.

Just because one way of writing works well for one writer does not mean you’re not allowed to write in a different way. It can certainly be helpful to find out about different writing processes, but don’t be afraid to try different things and find the process that works best for you.

2. No writing advice works for everyone

It’s important to read writing craft books, to take writing classes, to read blogs like this one, and to seek advice from other writers. A lot of this writing advice will be extremely helpful to you, but some of it won’t.

In a workshop, you might be advised to kill off a character in your story or to take out that last line in your poem. Sometimes advice won’t resonate with you or help you to create the piece you want to create. It’s a good idea to listen to those who have studied the craft, but don’t forget that all art is subjective. Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut and think for yourself.

3. Each writer has a different publishing journey

Some people write eight books before they finally publish the ninth. Some people have a dream about vampires and try writing for the first time and have a bestseller on their hands within two years.

It takes some people two months to get a literary agent and sell their manuscript to a publisher. It takes others two years.

And self-publishing? It works really well for some writers, but others won’t even touch it, preferring the traditional route. Even within the realm of self-publishing, some writers love Kindle publishing, and some writers love iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

There are so many different ways to go about publishing your work. If you try to follow someone else’s publishing path, it may not work. You have to find your own.

4. Your passions and experiences make you a unique writer

It may be tempting to look at J.K. Rowling and think you really need to write a story about wizards because that seemed to work for her. But it’s more important to find the story only you can tell.

What are you passionate about? What excites you? What kinds of experiences have you had that makes your writing unique? Instead of trying to imitate a story that was successful for another writer, find the story you need to tell. Find out how your writing is unique and embrace it.

So next time you find yourself reading your favorite author’s tweets and feeling like you aren’t going anywhere because you aren’t having the same experience, stop.  

Take stock of the things that are working for you in your writing and in your career.

Maybe you don’t have a bestselling novel, but your short story was just accepted by a publication you admire. Maybe you didn’t write 3,000 words today, but you wrote 1,000.

Instead of comparing your writing and publishing experience to the experiences of others, take a minute to appreciate the experience you’re having.

Ever get caught in the comparison game? How do you snap out of your funk and appreciate your own writing journey?