We’ve all heard the mantra “there will always be someone better than you.” It stings because it’s true. No matter how hard we work, there will always be at least one person that’s just seemingly so far above our level that we lose hope of ever catching them.
But maybe catching them isn’t the end goal. Maybe it’s the exact kind of challenge we need to keep ourselves motivated to do better.
Many aspiring writers worry too much about being like other writers. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve and have the kind of success you see from writers you admire — we’ll get to that in a minute. But it IS possible to focus too much on trying to be as good if not better than someone else, and that’s not going to get you very far in whatever specific writing ambitions you might have.
A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, I started a blog — this blog. But at the time, the only reason I wanted to start a blog about writing was because Meg Cabot had a blog. I thought it was super cool that I could read the stream-of-consciousness thoughts of my favorite writer, and in many ways, I wanted to follow in her footsteps and do something similar.
Following the path of a writer I admired didn’t completely end there. But once I started blogging, writing more, and developing my own voice and style, I pretty much stopped trying to “be just like” writers I liked. I wanted to be my own person because I had my own stories to tell.
It would have been so easy for me to become discouraged if I’d kept going while thinking I had to do and write everything like Meg Cabot did it. She was a successful author and I had barely finished a book at that point. You can’t continuously compare yourself to others or wonder why you aren’t “where you should be” yet. That’s why so many people get discouraged and quit too soon. They keep trying to follow someone else’s methods and timeline when they should instead establish and follow their own.
Watching others succeed can give you the motivation to improve. This blog exists because I saw someone successful start and maintain a blog, and that alone inspired me to do the same. There’s power in watching other people, in seeing how far they’ve come and diving deep into their work. It’s not a useless pastime. There’s more than one reason I advise all writers to read — as much as, if not more than, they write.
All this can help you establish a specific goal, which is essential if you want to pursue writing in any kind of capacity whether you want to treat it as a career, as a hobby, or something in-between. I’m not sure exactly what my goal with starting this blog was in the long-term in the beginning, but like Meg Cabot, I wanted a way to reach potential readers and share my thoughts about writing. At the time, that was enough. Look how far we’ve come.
In following other writers’ examples, you don’t have to do everything the way they do it or even take their advice word-for-word. But you should pay attention to their goings-on, their habits, their words, and take what you can from them.
There are many writers out there who have a hard time staying motivated to get their work done. It’s much easier when you not only have a goal, but a few writing role models you can turn to whenever you have one of those classic “I don’t know what I’m doing is this even worth it” moments.
The only ‘real’ competition in writing involves competing with yourself. As you’re working on developing your skills, refining your craft and figuring out where you fit in the writing world, you’re going to face the temptation to compete with other writers at your level and beyond. It’s inevitable, in such a competitive market. Everyone is basically in the same boat, all desperate for generally the same outcome (success, in some capacity).
But the thing is, regardless of your skill level or how much you’ve managed to accomplish (or how much you will accomplish, eventually), there will always be someone you can’t beat. That’s not your fault — it’s the nature of the game. Maybe you see it as a challenge, and (see above) a little motivation never hurt anyone.
What I’ve personally found helps me worry less about feeling like I’m losing a race, though, is focusing almost entirely on competing with myself. Can I write a better article today than I did yesterday? A better chapter? A better blog post? Can I tell less, show more? Can I practice being a better writer than the writer I was the last time I sat down to write?
This kind of thing won’t motivate everyone, and that’s OK. But this is a long, often tiring game, and there are times you’re going to lose. When you’re trying to improve upon your own actions and learn from your own failures, you tend to take more responsibility for the outcome of your future as a writer. And maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s what you really need if you want to succeed.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.