It's basic human nature to size yourself up against other people.
This is painfully true among writers.
With some authors releasing a book every other month and making it onto the New York Times bestsellers list time and time again--as you try to squeak out just one mediocre novel, while holding down that full-time job, raising kids and staying on top of the laundry--it's common to think you'll never be that good, never find that kind of success.
Plus. how can you be the cool kid when that guy produces Mercedes-eqivalent novels and you feel like you create a Honda at best? How can you even compete with the likes of successful writers who everyone adores?
When I was 7 years old, I had an extraordinary amount of confidence. I guess I didn't really know any better. My mom had bought me a Wonder Woman bathing suit and every day I'd put it on and pretend I was Diana Prince, ready to save the neighborhood from whatever evil lurked. I had convinced myself that I could persuade others to believe I was an actual superhero.
Then, the neighborhood boys had laughed in my face.
I was crushed for about half a minute but decided nothing was going to keep me from earning their friendship and respect. I (subconsciously) kept the Wonder Woman suit on as I worked to keep up with them--climbing trees, playing baseball, etc. Later on, I realized they didn't accept me or like me because I could make a basket or hop a fence like a pro, they were my friends because I brought my own unique qualities to the table.
Over the years, I've sat in many writer's critique sessions or live read events where a fellow writer has read their work aloud, and one of the following phrases usually goes through my head:
1. "Wow, that is some terrific writing. I'll never be as good as this writer, no one will ever read my work."
2. "This woman PUBLISHED a book on TALKING CATS?!?!?! Really?!?! Okay, maybe there's hope for me. I can do this!"
I try to remember the latter when the former creeps into my brain.
When faced with self-doubt, you have to channel your inner Wonder Woman (or other superhero you relate to) and just keep writing. You may not write the next "The Girl on the Train", the next "Me Before You", or the next J. K. Rowling novel, but you most likely have a unique voice and story to tell.
I'll post a future blog that will discuss the value of beta-readers and critique groups, but acquiring critical feedback from others (this does not include your mom, your best friend or your favorite english teacher), is key in this journey. Yes, it's scary...at first. Only recently, did I read my work-in-progress aloud to my local RWA chapter. My face turned bright red and my hands were like ice. Someone asked "But you read at those live lit events, why are you nervous?"
Not the same, I replied. Those were truths, for the most part; this was a boy-meets-girl story I made up in my head and it can be embarrassing to share (especially sex scenes!).
Nonetheless, you need to do the work if you truly want your end result to be as perfect as it can be and understand that your best may be different from someone else's best.
There's a powerful quote by Joseph Chilton Pearce that says:
To live a creative life, we must first lose the fear of being wrong.
All successful writers start somewhere. Personally, I have been writing for over 25 years and I finally feel like I'm "getting it."
Most poignantly, Barbara Kingsolver said:
Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
And, always remember, you will find your audience. I mean, there's an audience out there reading books about talking cats, for pete's sake! If anything, that should encourage you to stay strong in times of self-doubt.
If you want to commiserate, I can always be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.