I think it’s safe to say that every writer on the planet has had a moment where they’ve faced internal judgement. That might be a case of ‘why can’t I write like Big Author’ or a case of ‘my writing is awful’. Internal judgement is a lot like self-doubt in that it crops up repeatedly, and that it comes up again and again. They’re little moments that make us feel like giving up.
Earlier this week I had one of those moments where I faced down that internal judgement, wondering why I couldn’t write as many books as some of the authors I admired. I’ve written one so far but a lot of the writers I look up to have fix, six, and even twenty or more books written. Some of them earned multi-book deals from their first book. Others make their living from writing.
Here’s the flip side of that: That’s not every single writer. It’s not every single author. And very few of those with multiple books or a sustainable writing income are at the start of their writing career. They’ve been working to get to that point for years.
Which is where I have to pull up a mirror and face the fact that the people I’m comparing myself too aren’t me.
The fact of the matter is that no, I haven’t written a multitude of books–yet. No, writing doesn’t provide a steady income, never mind being my primary means of living–yet. That yet is the keyword there. Getting to that point takes work. A lot of work. Writing is a long-term road trip.
The people I keep comparing myself to aren’t at the same point in that road trip. They may not even be taking the same route, or have the same end destination. I can’t compare myself to them because while yes, we’re all writing, we’re not all doing so in the same manner.
Since I can’t compare myself to others, the only person left to compare myself to is myself. Admittedly, that’s a dangerous thing to do. Most of the writing I have is very much still in the draft stage. Some of them have so many plot holes they’re like a sieve. They have enough grammatical errors they could be considered some sort of disordered dictionary. My word count alternates between ridiculous fillers to needing at least at least another twenty words per paragraph–all on the same page.
On the one hand, comparing my own writing to itself is problematic, because the writing isn’t technically ‘good’.
Here’s the thing: it’s a draft. The only reason I know what ‘good’ writing looks like is because I’ve read hundreds of books. Books that have been edited and re-edited before my eyes ever saw them. If I’m comparing my early writing with the writing that is again, at a different point, it’s still comparing myself to someone else.
On the other hand, comparing my writing is the best thing, because at least I know what sort of work I have to do. My worst writing is still writing, and that’s at least a step ahead of not-having-written. If I can get a step ahead of not-having-written then I can get ahead of every other problem later.
Maybe this draft doesn’t live up to my expectations. I can fix it later.
Maybe this section is just boring me. I can skip ahead and fix it later.
Maybe my writing skills just aren’t high enough to reach my vision. I can improve those skills by writing more.
Maybe this idea sounds too much like someone else’s idea. Every ‘new idea’ is just a remix of an old idea.
Maybe there’s too many other writers writing. If they can get published, so can I.
Part of not letting that internal judgement get to me is in answering all of the the things I judge myself for with a little bit of compassion and logic. I may not have a dozen books written–but there’s also nothing to say I won’t eventually have that many written. I may not have a perfect draft–but it’s only a draft.