Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Don't Compare Yourself to Other Writers (Seriously, Don't Do It)

Do you know Julius Caesar? That fellow who rose through the ranks of the Roman army, fought wars against the Celts in Gaul, brought back a fortune in tribute, along with an army of personal guards and foreign legionnaires, and practically crowned himself Emperor of Rome? The guy who began the line of Caesars, and whose title was the model for the Czars and Kaisers of the modern-day? The man who swept down to Egypt, and with a wave of his hand (or other body parts, if you believe the rumors) decided who the new ruler was going to be?

You know, THIS fucking guy!
So, what does the man who strong-armed one of the greatest empires in history do in his free time? Celebrate his awesomeness with impromptu parades? Pose for badass statues to be carved? Host a wild rumpus with his staff and supporters? Well, if you were Julius Caesar, you wept at how unsuccessful you were compared to your idol.

You see, the whole reason Julius was in Egypt in the first place was because he was making a pilgrimage to view the body of his idol; Alexander the Great. Alexander, for those who don't know, conquered most of the known world by his late 20s, established cities bearing his name like he was opening up a restaurant chain, and remains one of the most legendary figures recorded history has ever boasted. Julius was no slouch, but his empire was so much smaller, and he'd come to rule it so many years later, that all he could think about was how he didn't measure up.

Don't Do This With Your Writing

We all have our idols when it comes to writing. Those authors whose work thrilled us, and who made us decide that "author" was the answer we were going to give when career day rolled around. In many instances our idols are responsible for the genres we work in (or start off working in), and the styles we adopt before we discover our own voices. All those things are fine... but seriously, don't compare yourself to your heroes. In fact, don't compare yourself to anyone, if you can avoid doing it.

Or you might find yourself making this face. A lot.
Now, I don't mean you shouldn't compare your work to other authors in order to make a sale, or to explain your style. For example, if someone told me their novel was a hard-boiled medieval fantasy about a spy trying to prevent an assassination that read like the love child of Dashiell Hammett and George R. R. Martin, I wouldn't be able to get my wallet out fast enough. However, if I were the author of that awesome-sounding book, I wouldn't focus on trying to meet the achievements of either of those two authors.

The reason why is simple; I'd be comparing apples to oranges.

Books, despite all being rectangular bits of portable magic recorded on dead trees, are not things you can compare objectively. While there are numbers you can compare, such as copies sold and awards won, those numbers are made up of so many different factors that they're meaningless in any practical sense. If you were trying to match a weightlifting record, or run a race in a faster time, then those are instances where you're trying to do the same activity as someone else, but better. However, your idols already wrote their books. You can't do the same thing, because you're writing a different book.

So embrace that. Write your book, and step out into the sunlight. Drink it in, water your roots, and someday it's likely that you'll be the one inspiring someone to put words on the page.

Hopefully this week's rant didn't jolt anyone, and no one tripped on my soap box on the way out. If you'd like to help support me and my blogging efforts, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to keep the tap turned on. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference! Lastly, if you'd like to keep up-to-date on all my releases, make sure you follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too.

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