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

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

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?

Filed Under: Craft


  • C. Yolanda Anderson Williams says:

    Thank you for your post, Sara.

    It is very encouraging for each writer to find his/her own voice in writing. Penning our own truths is what truly matters. I believe that doing so, helps us to come alive in our writings.

    Best wishes, everyone!

  • Sham says:

    I loved to read the article. It clears away quite a few things, puts confidence back to where it should be, but still I have a question: You write what you want, to express yourself, the words just flow; sometimes blocks occur, you leave it fearing it will never come to a conclusion. After some days, you come back without hope to give it an ending or a perfectly plausible middle. The story isn’t so great, but it is a second story you have written in your life{actually my life}, the first for a competition; but it has grown from a two line structure to a 2000 word count story. It may not be a great story, easily discarded perhaps, because of its way of telling, the only redeeming feature is it has been written. Now, would you call it writing? Or trying to learn the craft; better off doing a nine to five routine?

    • Sham says:

      Thank you. I am already registered with The Write Life

    • Thanks for reading, and thank you for your question! I would definitely call that writing. Sometimes you need to give a story space and work on something else, and when you come back to it after some time, you will see how you can improve it. Then again, some stories we write should never be published and should really just be seen as exercises or stories that helped us to learn our craft. I have a lot of things I’ve written in my late teens or early twenties that I don’t ever intend to show anyone. I could look at those things now and say, “wow, this is awful,” but the truth is that I needed to write those stories/poems/plays to get to where I am with my writing now. Does that answer your question?

  • Kit says:

    LOVE – thank you for this eloquent article, Sara!

    Comparisons thy name is ME, so I shall bookmark this and save the last line, in particular, forever!


  • Wayne Bursi says:

    I’ve been reading some advice from successful writers lately and exploring what their routines are like to see what I can learn about Here are six of the most common pieces of advice I came across that have helped me a lot improving my writing here at Buffer. It also features actionable tips for you on how to implement them in your own writing.

  • Great post Sara,
    One of the best ways to bring heavy headache to yourself is to start comparing yourself to other people whom you think are better than you in your career.

    Its always better to see the success of others as a motivation. It should be an energy boost for us and after seeing such result, we should use it to assure our self that we can also achieve better.

    I also agree with your point that what worked for someone might not work for another so, its best to figure out what works for us and then stick to it.

    • Thanks for reading, Theodore, and thank you for your thoughts! I totally agree that other people’s success should be a motivating factor and not something that makes us feel bad as writers.

  • Kayla says:

    This is super hard to do, but I know it’s the best way to increase my success and stop worrying that I’m not doing as well as X, Y, or Z in the same industry. As long as I’m improving on my past performances that’s what really matters.

    • Thanks for reading, Kayla, and thank you for your thoughts. It really is hard to do, and I was writing this to myself just as much as I was writing it to anyone else! And yes, improving for yourself is the only important thing. 🙂

  • Liz Laughlin says:

    I loved this! Very helpful to me. Thanks so much.

  • Excellent article, Sara, and sound advice for all writers!

    I believe that writing is a fundamentally spiritual activity, and in matters of spirituality, it is to be expected that each person’s journey will be unique. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be learned from others, but it does mean that at some point, you have to take the steps that make sense to YOU.

    Sometimes, I find that editing expands into writer’s coaching, and writer’s coaching into spiritual direction. I am even in the process of working up a rate sheet for such services that are less about polishing a specific project and more about guiding professional and personal growth through the act of writing.

    Again, great article, Sara!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Coaching

    • Thanks for reading, Trish, and thanks for your thoughts! I have found that as well in my own freelance editing work. I went back and read over this article, and I realized a lot of it applied to life in general, even for non-writers. Comparing ourselves to others can be detrimental in all walks of life!

  • God, this is all so true. I’ve found it’s so easy to get caught up in all the advice and stories and help articles and critiques that I forget what works for ME. And honestly, at the end of that day that’s the only thing that’s going to make you happy, never mind successful. Thanks for writing this, we need it!

    • Thanks for reading, Marian, and thanks for your thoughts! It can be so easy to get bogged down in all of the advice, can’t it? Sometimes you just need to take a breath and remember why you love writing in the first place!

  • Adam Colwell says:

    Your exhortation to find the story you need to tell, Sara, is a vital message that all of us as writers need to hear and embrace. After all, it’s our story that trumps comparisons, critics, and rejections, allows us to find our voice, and ultimately sets us apart. Whether as a coach or editor/ghostwriter, I teach my clients that the most important person to keep forefront in mind as they write is not other writers, agents/publishers, or even their editor – it’s the reader. In any genre, as you write to satisfy the felt needs of your reader, it gives you a singular focus that, more often than not, results in writing that shines and, as you stated, helps you appreciate your writing journey. Thank you for your insightful and encouraging post.

    • Thank you for reading, and thank you for your thoughts, Adam. “In any genre, as you write to satisfy the felt needs of your reader, it gives you a singular focus that, more often than not, results in writing that shines and, as you stated, helps you appreciate your writing journey.” That is so spot on. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to tell a story you love and hope that the reader will love it, too.

  • Ian Anderson says:

    Hi Sara,
    Just to let you know the links in your bio’ to your blog and youtube channel 404’d when I had a peek to see who you were!

    Otherwise, all good lol!
    Stay well

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