Comparison is the death of joy.
– Mark Twain
Mark Twain may have been onto something. But every now and then, comparisons might be just the thing to cure those thoughts that like to tell you you aren’t good enough.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my writing and have had more days than I care to admit that I feel insecure or like it won’t be good enough. I wake up in the middle of the night or have a thought just as I’m fading to sleep that I’m absolutely crazy for doing this, for even attempting to do this. Some days I feel like there’s no way I’m ready to put my stories out there for the world to see and judge; like I’m just not going to be good enough.
But I also know that this is a very common feeling among writers, contrary to the self-obsessed stereotype often portrayed in movies and TV. Realistically we’re all just terrified. We’re piecing something together one word at a time and hoping that our audience has some kind of positive takeaway from it all. Keeping that in mind helps with those days of insecurity. What also helps is something that I’ve seen mentioned a lot by other writers: the day you read a particular book and realize that you can do better. That happened for me recently. I bought a book on Kindle which was a collection of short horror stories. It had some really good reviews and seemed similar to what I’m currently writing. But it turns out it wasn’t very good at all – to the point that I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t been so determined to study it.
It started out well, the first story being intriguing, disturbing, and well-written. I went into instant panic mode, thinking “Oh, God. My writing isn’t like this.” And it’s not. I simply have a different style. But that panic was calmed by the fact that after that initial story, everything just fizzled out. Some of the writing was still good. Some of it was terrible. The further into it I got, the more I found myself rolling my eyes at the stories and frankly overly-literary language. In addition, the stories just became less interesting and more predictable, many of them having a last line that was more like a punchline but you already knew what was coming before you read it.
I think what killed me more than anything were the typos. I get it, if you’re self-publishing, you may not have the money for a quality editor, and proofreading and grammar may not be your strong suit, but it became ridiculous by the end of the book. The number of typos, repeated words, and words missing or misspelled, became incredibly distracting. It came off as unprofessional and careless. I couldn’t help thinking “I can definitely do better than this. I’m just starting out and I know I’m already doing better than this!”
I still find myself worrying sometimes that my writing won’t be good enough and that I’ll have someone ranting about the first book I publish, like I am now for that unnamed author. And it’s especially hard not to feel that way when you’re writing horror, which is a genre that not everyone can get behind. But that’s OK. I know I’ve still got a lot to learn but at least I know that if a book like that can make a few people happy, whatever I put out into the world can do just as well or better. It may not be a high bar but it’s enough for now, and it gets me through those rough days when I don’t have quite as much faith in all of this.