"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Thursday, September 8, 2016

5 Reasons to Compare Yourself to Other Writers

“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”
--William Shakespeare

Forget what you’ve been told.
You know: the well-intentioned, widely circulated advice that contends that you should never compare yourself to other writers.
Hogwash. This kind of counsel can stunt your creative growth, limit your horizons, and cause complacency.

In fact, I have encountered this misguided information so often online, I felt compelled to address it here to set the record straight and put you on a more progressive path on the road to success.

Here’s one well-written piece that discourages comparisons for creatives that I came across:

I respectfully disagree.
Comparisons are natural and necessary.
In fact, raise your hand if you can remember Venn Diagrams from back in grade school.
For those that don’t, it was simply a teaching technique that allowed students to understand relationship dynamics; how to look at similarities; and how to classify and contrast things and people.

Even behaviorists compare the actions and habits of different groups in order to establish patterns, identify distinguishing characteristics, and learn from our similarities and differences.
Without really being conscious of it, we do it all the time. At least, if I’m being honest here, I know I do! Whether it’s comparing my home to that of my friends, or my peanut butter cookies to my mom’s, or my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, or my blog to yours; comparisons happen each and every day.
In the real estate arena, neighborhood "comps" help to assess property value.

Comparisons are simply a judgment tool; not a measuring stick where you come up short.
And if used properly they can actually work wonders for you both personally and professionally.

Here’s why Comparisons are a Smart Approach to a Better Writing Career:

1. Comparisons help you to understand your U.S.P. or (unique selling proposition).
 For example, when I compare my blog to other blogs, I like the fact that I provide greater variety than the ones I frequent. Some may be better writers, or have bigger audiences, or have a cuter headshot. But, I think that my ability to write and publish over 600 blog posts on everything from how rap songs can help writers to become better, to interviews with other successful writers, to motivational quotes and commentary pieces, to links and bios to other bloggers deserving recognition, to providing actionable tips for busy scribes, makes me a bit different, diverse, and improves my “positioning” in my niche. I hope you would agree. 

2. Comparisons help highlight weaknesses.
Again, using myself here as an example. When I look at other blogs in my niche, I notice that my posts are a bit shorter than many of my peers. But, that’s my style. I can choose to act upon this information or not in the future. No harm, no foul.

3. Knowledge is power.
The more you learn, the more you’ll earn.

4. Because others are comparing you.
Comparisons help others to make more informed decisions. It’s done in dating and mating, in hiring practices, and many others aspects of life. As writers, we should be mindful that we’re being constantly compared to other writers/bloggers too. It’s done by editors, potential advertisers, agents, and busy readers; as we compete for their limited time, dollars, and resources. Don’t be naive, believe!

5. Comparisons keep us grounded.
Awesome talent abounds in the blogosphere. If you’re ever feeling a little “big headed” about your accomplishments, all you need do is to check out the books and bios of hugely successful folks that are raking in the big bucks, garnering a cult-like following, and earning a full-time living, while we‘re still struggling to reach the “big stage.” Writers like Stephen King, John Grisham, Toni Morrison, Joel Osteen.
Can I get an Amen?
The moral of the story here? You can always get better….wherever you are.
This realization helps to “keep the fire in my belly.”

But comparisons can be a slippery slope. 
Here are some general guidelines to consider, when you dare to compare...

Don‘t torture yourself with the results.
The objective of “constructive comparisons” is to get better; not to feel worse.

Refrain from comparing apples to oranges.
Newbies shouldn’t compare themselves to veteran writers, or to scribes with Ph.D. degrees. That’s like comparing a starter home to a celebrity mansion.

Don’t JUST compare yourself to others.
Compare today’s “you” to yesterday’s you.
Is your bottom line bigger? Have you made progress in your goals? Are you increasing in confidence?

I polled a few other successful writers to get their take on this timely topic.

Here are their thoughts as well:

"When I began writing years ago, I'd compare myself to other writers on occasion. And yes, I'd fight a twinge of jealousy now and again. But I knew full well that I had much to learn. So I did my best to  grow and polish my work. I haven't arrived by any means, but now, having more "writing miles" under my belt, I sometimes measure other writers' work with a constructive mindset. I observe what I like (or dislike) about it, what I might do to improve and strengthen my writing, etc. I think observation and comparison with the right perspective can be a good thing to challenge and help us grow. We learn much from other writers' styles, methods, and insight." --Karen Lange

"Yes, just like being back in school, it is natural for me to compare my writing style to that of other writers. I say ‘natural’ because I’ve got a healthy competitive nature that is often motivated by wanting to do the best I can – so in a way, the work of other writers helps me to see the bar and aim that little bit higher.
I’m not envious of other writers though, as I feel proud to be a part of the ‘writing profession’ and embrace everyone’s different talents whatever the genre they excel in. Through comparison, I have looked for my own niche and write with confidence within the area of memoir and nonfiction. I’ve learned to use comparison to boost my confidence rather than see it as a way to crush my feelings."
"Yes, I do compare myself to other writers but not in an overt way, because I think we all have different gifts and different voices; thus it's not really right or fair to compare.
But there's a small part of me that, when I read something really good, says 'I wish I'd written that!' Or if I read something that's a piece of crap I think, 'What a waste of perfectly good trees--!
I write better than that! Not sure if it's positive or negative--just human nature to compare, I guess!!!"
--Gail Merriwether
" I do have a tendency to compare myself with other authors whose writing I enjoy. This can be overwhelming in a negative way if I allow it to be. For example, when I'm reading Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, or Matthew Quick, I might start thinking about how I will never achieve their breadth of vocabulary or descriptive acumen. So when I catch myself doing this, I try to think about the writing skills that I most admire about myself, things like my uses of playful analogy and humor. And then I remember to admire the other author's skills for a) my personal enjoyment as a reader and b) for my own learning purposes (i.e., appreciate without becoming jealous). I think all writers compare themselves with other writers at times, even if they don't admit to it."
 --Michael Priebe 
 "What's important is to try NOT to become discouraged, stay alive, thrive through difficulties, stay on track and keep expressing. Every thing isn't a numbers game.
Writers are not runners. I ran long distance in college. Our coach used to tell us the most important thing is to pace yourself and enjoy the run. You will win if you keep running. This is how I pursue a lot of things. It's negative to compare because every writer starts from a different starting point.
I tell emerging writers (I'm still emerging) that don't follow anyone else's path. So, if you compare yourself with another writer, there's a tendency to try to duplicate that writer with the hope to get the same success results as that compared writer. Things aren't that simple. I believe there's wisdom to learn from other writers --- the do's and don'ts.

So, it's very negative to compare. Envy will slip in. But we each have our own stories to tell and express in our way. The uniqueness makes life more interesting and beautiful like a field of wild flowers."
--Henry Jones 

Your turn, readers.

Now that I've given you my take on this topic, what's yours?
Be honest. Do you compare? Do you think it's helpful or hurtful?
Do tell.

Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net



  1. Comparing is good when done in the ways stated in the article. However, many times people do it when they're emotional and feeling low, which isn't healthy at all. Keep in mind that there a lot of great writers, but only you can deliver in a way that's uniquely you.

  2. I compare myself in an effort to learn. Why is this writer doing that I'm not doing? What am I doing better?

    1. Steph,

      Interesting approach. Thanks much for sharing.

  3. I like how you referred to comparison as a "judgement tool". With the right perspective and balance, it can serve us well and help us be the best version of ourselves.

  4. Hi Karen,

    Glad to have you add to the mix. Much thanks!

  5. I think it's natural to compare ourselves to others. Some of my best lessons are learned by observing others and seeing how I can improve my craft. With that said, I am only in contention with myself, always trying to one up only ME. You cannot allow others' achievements to throw up a roadblock to your own success.

    1. Lin,

      I like your perspective;thanks for sharing it today. :-)