Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
One of the things I often discuss with my clients is their writing and publishing schedule—making sure their manuscript due dates are spread out enough so they can meet their deadlines. This requires honesty and self-awareness from each writer, because they have to be able to realistically predict how long it will take them to write each book for which they’re contracted. In these conversations, I find writers sometimes look at what their friends are doing and think (for example), “She can write a book in three months, I should too.”
But that’s the surest road to making a poor decision. We can’t compare ourselves to others. We have to know ourselves and accept the fact that we’re unique individuals and our experience isn’t going to be exactly like anyone else’s.
Some people write a novel a year. Others need two years to get out a good novel. Still others write two (or even three) novels a year. Wherever you happen to be on that spectrum—it’s okay. It’s who you are. Don’t let anyone try to talk you into being something different.
The same thing applies when we talk about plotting versus pantsing (meaning whether or not you plot and outline before writing your book). It’s great to try different techniques, see what works for you. And it may take you several books to find your most effective process. But don’t try to be either a plotter or a pantser just because your friend or your favorite author does it. Find who you are, and be the best you that you can be.
Most writing teachers advise you write first drafts quickly with very little self-editing along the way. And yet… some people function better if they do a little editing, or even a lot of editing, in the first draft. Listen to good advice, but try not to compare yourself to others.
The worst kind of comparison is when we compare our success with that of others. It’s so easy — and human — to fall into the trap of pitting our book sales against our friends or competitors. Sometimes it feels like the only way to know how we’re doing. It’s how we “keep score.” But here’s the truth: there will always be someone selling more books and making more money than you, just like there will always be people selling fewer books and making less money. You will never get ahead, nor feel any better, by comparing your “author success” to others.
You have your own unique path. Your own processes, techniques and methods. You’ll have your own path when it comes to sales. There’s no single “right” way to be a writer.
Don’t try to be someone else. Just be you. Because after all, you’re the only you there is.
In what areas of writing or publishing have you been especially prone to comparing yourself to others?
I love this post, Rachelle. I need to paste it to my computer! My comparison woes come when I read something that is totally beautiful – the writing, the plot, the characters. I LOVE reading books like that, but sometimes as I finish the book I realize that I’ve developed a full-blown inferiority complex. My best weapon then is prayer against envy. Then I shift into student-mode. How can I learn from this author? That’s when envy really fades and excitement takes over.
I love the way you deal with envy–through praying and learning from the author. Great words.
Thank you, Jeanne. God is the greatest mentor, isn’t He!
Yes, like when I read your writing Sue! Agree with you totally — one of the challenges and joys of writing is that you can always improve, always learn. I’m hoping this will keep my brain active way into old age! What is this author doing that’s working so well? And when you read something really bad, instead of being smug that “I would never make THAT mistake” to be honest with yourself and take a reality check. We learn from each other.
Thanks Rachelle — always rational, always helpful.
Thank you, Janie! And oh, can I get smug sometimes. Until I go back and read something I wrote that royally stinks, that’s when the reality check sets in! We DO all truly learn so much from each other.
Very clarifying. I normally edit heavily as I go. In my latest book (non-fiction), I tried writing the last 4-5 chapters fast, ugly, and without editing. Yes, the comparison (aka “coveting”) got me. Other authors write fast; I should too.
It didn’t work for me. My final edit was brutal, I ended up throwing out one entire chapter, and radically revising the others, and carefully crafting two new ones. So, I know what I have to do going forward.
For me, the moral was, “You shall not covet.” And “Be yourself.”
Thanks so much–this post was similar to church services where I thought the pastor was preaching exclusively to me.
Although my first novel took over a year, contractual opportunities led me to a book every six months for a while after that.
My friend and mentor, Jim Bell, preaches “get it down, then get it right.” That is, don’t edit. I edit as I go along.
Although everyone is talking about plans and software to help outline, I remain mainly a writer of what Donald Westlake calls “push fiction.” (Sounds better than seat-of-the-pants).
To sum it up: whatever works. Thanks for the affirmation.
Oh! One of my worst habits is comparing myself to others. In writing, in work, in life. It’s kind of consoling to see that (in comparision to others) I’m not the only one ; )
Because I’m a Christian, I try to see my writing life through the lens of the spiritual–and that helps with the comparison game.
God has gifted each of us with unique perspectives and experiences, not to mention family crises and general life. We bring all that to the keyboard with us.
Comparing ourselves to others is to declare God made only one “successful” mold and if we don’t conform ourselves to that, we’ll be failures.
But when Cinderella’s evil stepsisters cut off their toes in an effort to cram their feet into her glass slipper, they didn’t accomplish anything but mess and horror.
The shoe had to fit the right person to be effective.
Maybe Amish stories are great successes. My aunt always asked why I couldn’t write a good mystery. My entire family prefers sci fi or fantasy. But I can’t write those types of stories, and I don’t want to. Why beat myself up because I wear a size eleven and the shoe is an 8 1/2?
All writers need someone to regularly inject confidence into them: you can do it. Your work is special. Stick with what you instinctively know to be true to the gift God put into you. Tell your stories your way, and believe that if it’s done to God’s glory, he’ll be glorified in a way that satisfies all the way to your toes.
I love your thoughts here, Michelle. Your thoughts about comparison are spot on. I also love your last paragraph. We do all need someone who encourages us, don’t we? Encouragement is the nourishment that drives my story forward. Love your thoughts!
Amen to that, Michelle! Encouragers are so very important!
It’s like that fabulously funny, and rather difficult to sing, work of art from “Annie Get Your Gun”.
“Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.”
Frank Butler and Annie Oakley wear themselves out trying to out-do each other, and no one wins.
I STILL blurt that song out when I catch my self comparing me to other people.
I’ll admit I didn’t know the origin on that song, but I like how you use it. 🙂 It’s perfect.
Great. Now I have that song in my head. 🙂
Let me fix that…and upgrade your seat to Opera Class…”Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation…”
How did I miss this earlier? Thanks for putting that song in my head! Or not. 🙂 Good reminder though. Comparing myself to others is a lose-lose bargain. 🙂
I seem to change with each novel I write or begin to write where I edit and write or I just write. I could never promise less than a year. Not to mention, the pressure would be killer with an early deadline like that especially with working a full time job on top of writing.
Thank you for this encouragement and for all the encouraging comments.
I have been coming back to this topic that God wants someone exactly just like you.
P.S. I wrote the first draft of my WIP by hand. It only seemed to creatively flow in that way. Terribly inefficient, but fully me.
Rachelle, the reminder to not compare myself with others is always pertinent. It seems like it’s human nature to compare, whether in writing life or real life. As I learn to find my identity in Jesus, it’s getting easier for me to resist comparing, but I haven’t mastered that bad habit yet. I find myself comparing how long my journey is taking to how long others’ seems to take. Some people move quickly to finding editors/agents interested in their work. I’m still learning craft. I remember God’s timing is perfect and that I want the story I’m writing to glorify Him, even if it takes awhile. I love the reminder to be myself–there’s only one me. And that is probably a good thing. 🙂
I always try to be myself however now I feel like I am competing with my work self and my personal self. At work I have actually written over a thousand pages in 6 to 9 months time frame then I wrote 600 to 700 pages in six months time frame. This is plus editing other reports. Now at work I have major deadlines for mid November, mid December, and mid January. Of course I am on track to complete my writing assigments. YOU would think I would be able to write my novel in no time. NOT happening.
I love this, Rachelle. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. I often hold myself to really, really high standards. We can even fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with…ourselves. I’ve set a deadline of 2 months to draft my next book…because last year, I was able to do it. But last year, I was teaching part time and able to write a little here, a little there. Now, I work full time and come home way more exhausted, plus have a host of other responsibilities. I cannot compare my productivity now with then. I will kill myself trying. And besides, this is my favorite time of year (fall, just before the holidays). I want to enjoy it!
Great thoughts, Lindsay. It’s good to look at our current life and plan goals from that, rather than from what we’ve done in the past. I have to watch that too.
I seem to need to hear the everyday! Some of my comparison issues are long it takes to write, how easily ideas come, and how long it takes before being published (I.e. It took two books before my first published book etc)
Thank you for that, Rachelle. I still struggle,
figuring out who I am, but in writing, I think
I know. I just have to do it. Permission helps.
My jaw drops in dismay when I hear of authors who have written twenty novels in three years, or whatever. I’ve been reading, re-writing, correcting amd changing my story for the longest time. My story is much better for it. I would’ve looked like a moron had I submitted it when it was first “finished.” It’s an historical novel, and had several mistakes in it. It’s a mistake to compare myself to others who pour out novels one after another in a short time. Yet, it encourages me to work harder and keep on writing. Maybe eventually I’ll learn how to write better and more efficiently. In the mean time, writing is my life and I love it. Even though I am as slow as molasses in January.
“writing is my life and I love it”-Herein lies the reason why we keep pushing forward, learning how to better rely on the Lord each step of the way.
This is a lesson we have to continually be reminded of–in everything we do probably. I read a book last year and slumped into self-pity for a week because I knew I could never be that good of a writer. Then I read a quote about how dangerous it is to compare oneself to other authors. Too bad I didn’t read it before. It’s so hard not to. But now I’m gonna see that picture of the apple and orange on a scale and kick the habit.
Thanks for the encouraging, thoughtful, much-needed post. 🙂
Just the truth!
Like most of you, I work full-time and am a full-time parent. SO, the work I do falls into the “other time” category. I’ll be lucky if my WIP is done in a year, very lucky. I consider the 35K more words I need and almost cringe. But it will get there. Thankfully, there are no eager fans clamoring for my next novel, (that’s someone else’s burden to bear 🙂
Writing is perhaps the way in which I compare myself to others the least. My main trap is in wishing my words were as eloquent as some that I’ve read.
Thanks for the reminder that you can’t compare apples and oranges.
P. J. Casselman
I compare my ability to see say something that grabs others. Some writers effortlessly pop out a phrase that rings with readers. I’m a story teller, but wish I could write the stories like the true artists.
As a writer, P.J., you never know when what you write is exactly what one of your readers needs. And when that happens, what you’ve written is beautiful.
Rachelle, this is wonderful advice! Sometimes I think when we first start out we try to be like someone else, but if God needed someone else He likely wouldn’t have called us.
Oh, this is SO good! Such a great reminder. Thank you. That’s very true. Everyone’s path is different and will always be different.
This is really good, Rachelle–I found the points about honestly assessing who you are in terms of how long it realistically takes you to write a novel and being a plotter/pantser especially helpful. I’ve been comparing myself in the first area especially lately. Thank you!
Another consideration for writing speed is the genre. For non-fiction, I typically do about 500 words per hour. Memoirs usually proceed at a faster clip. However, when I was working on my dissertation, my pace slowed to about 100 words an hour. As far as fiction, I don’t have a track record for it, but know my 500 words per hour standard for non-fiction would be misleading if I applied it to fiction.
Comparing myself to others has never been a real issue for me. I am me, myself and I.
It takes me a little while to write a book. I did write my latest one in 80-something days, but I’m under no illusions I can ever repeat it. One of those once in a lifetime things that changes how you work. Learned a lot more about my process and managed to write a pretty clean first draft.
I did a quick and dirty (*very dirty*) first draft (4 months), but rewrites are taking forever. I keep thinking I’ll get faster as I go along, but maybe I won’t. I just can’t ever see being able to write more than 1 book in a year.
Putting out a good book is more important than a quick mess.
Great post. Just had a new book idea spark this morning. Looks like I’ll let myself off the hook for not being able to think of every chapter title yet!
Thanks for the reminder Rachelle. I struggle with this in my writers group. There are a few of us who are actually traditionally published,and a few of us who are Self-published.
It’s hard to not compare yourself when you hear about the sales some authors are getting. Makes you want to know the magic formula…and of course, there isn’t one. What works for one author doesn’t for another.
I try to keep my ears on the voice of the Lord as he reminds me that I’m doing it the way He sees best for me.