Some Thoughts On Comparisons19:00
It’s Camp NaNoWriMo right now, which means that I am deep, deep into writing a new first draft. I mentioned in my bonus vlog on Mondaythat one of the things I’ve been struggling with the most so far this month is switching my brain from ninth draft mode, where things are partially polished and fairly sound structurally, to a messy, rough, plot hole ridden first draft. Now, don’t get me wrong, first drafting is absolutely still my favourite part of the writing process. But at the same time, it has been sparking quite a few thoughts about comparisons.
Have you ever read a book that blew you away with just how good it was, and then looked at your own novel only to be discouraged by how bad it is? Or read something from one of your writing friends, and then shuffled your novel under a pile of papers so no one could see the mess that you’re working on? Have you ever read your own writing and cringed at how bad it seems? I don’t know about you, but this is something I feel often.
Why does our work always compare so unfavourably to everyone else’s?
I think the first issue is familiarity. We’ve been looking at our own writing for so long, staring at it, searching out flaws, looking for problems on purpose, especially when we’re editing, until we almost hate even looking at the words. Your brain is programmed to look for the problems, the inconsistencies, the holes. We can’t see the good parts because, consciously or not, we’re searching for the things that wrong with our writing. It’s why we need to take time away between drafts, so that we can come back and see our own writing with eyes that are fresh and can see the good parts as well as the bad.
Another factor is where your book is in its writing journey. This might be your first draft, but what your writer friend is sharing could be in its fifth. Or they’ve just selected the best moments from their novels to share, revising them many times to make sure that they’re only presenting good moments. No one wants to show their novel in a bad light. It’s like watching a highlight reel of their novels, while you’re still slogging through the hours of hard work in your own. Or you’re comparing the novel you’re editing to a book that has had literally years of work put into it and dozens of eyes working on making it better. How is it fair to you, or your book to compare your first draft to someone else’s final product?
And finally, every writer is different. I personally love books with beautiful description, lyrical writing that leaps off the page in brightly coloured images, deep messages and uplifting, meandering plotlines. These aren’t the books that I write. And when I compare my books to these, mine appear unfavourably. Because it’s not fair to compare two different styles. How can you compare apples with oranges, or sparsely described, action filled novels with slower paced, musical tales wandering through thoughts and themes? Your book is beautiful, just in a different way.
My first draft compares terribly to my ninth draft. My ninth draft compares badly to many of the books that I love to read. And that’s ok. Because my first draft is only in the beginning stages. My ninth draft is written completely differently to the books I love. And I’ve been working on them both so much I can’t see where they are. Sometimes we just need to a step back and see just how good our writing can actually be.