Yes, those favourite books lining your shelves, you know – the ones you go back to again and again because they are just that good – can help you get published. But, before we go there, let’s lay out some cautions about comparing your unfinished to work to someone’s finished, professionally edited, and published work.
The Comparison Trap
Every author, aspiring and published, eventually falls prey to comparison. Why can’t I complete a manuscript as fast as so and so? Why isn’t my book ranking like this person’s book? Why isn’t my blog getting the same amount of traffic as that one? Will I ever write as well as [insert favourite author here]?
The problem with comparing is that it sets the bar unrealistically high, especially if you are comparing your beginners work to someone’s advanced work. Comparing tempts you to beat yourself up for not reaching those unrealistic goals. It tunes your ears into someone else’s unique voice when they should be tuned into your voice.
What if you spent as much energy as you do comparing yourself to others on finding your own writing groove? What if you embraced the limitations that come with your current season of life and enjoyed however much or little writing time you have? What if your stress about not measuring up was transformed into being the best writer that YOU can be?
Escape the Trap
The next time you close a book that stirred deep emotion, instead of immediately comparing your work-in-progress to that finished book, go back and study it like a textbook. Study like you’re a month from graduation and you need to up your GPA to graduate.
Break it down:
- What scenes were your favourite?
- What scenes made you cry, laugh, or feel anxious?
- What descriptions came alive?
- What characters did you love/hate?
Why were those your favourite parts? What verbs did the author use to convey urgency? What words created a visceral response? Did the author use many adverbs or adjectives? How wordy or tightly written was the scene?
Make lists and take notes:
- List powerful verbs.
- List unique words and phrasing. (Always note where they came from for future reference.)
- List descriptors that stirred you.
- Note pacing. What kind of urgency was in the scene? How was it conveyed?
- List ideas that come as a result of this time.
Save those notes and refer back to them when you are struggling with a dead scene.
Benefits of Comparing
Sometimes a little comparing is good if you approach it from a healthy point of view. Did you know Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before it was published? Your pile of rejections doesn’t look so bad now, does it? Even the “greats” struggled.
Did you know it is reported that it took Margaret Mitchell TEN years to write Gone with the Wind? Maybe taking a whole year, or two or three, isn’t as wrong or unprofessional as you thought?
If you’re determined to compare yourself to another writer, avoid the headlines that lead you back into the trap. Skip the “self-published, debut author makes millions” because the likelihood of your novel or my novel making a million is slim. (But, we can keep hoping!) Instead, read the info that encourages you to be the best writer you can. Work at your own pace. Develop your own voice. Tell your own story—because no one else can write your story.
Understanding why you love certain books or writing styles can help you improve that manuscript and earn that book contract.
All for His glory,