A writer recently asked on Quora the following, and I’m paraphrasing: “I used to love writing fiction, but lately I find myself comparing myself too closely to other, better authors in my genre, and so should I just give up?”
The answer, of course, is no. If you love to write fiction, you should never give up. Giving up is the number one way you can fail as a writer. If you give up, it’s over. If you keep going, even for one more year, for one more project, success can follow.
But the silliness of this question is in the idea that because you may not be as talented or prolific or popular as another author in your genre, then you automatically should stop. If that were the case, hundreds of inspiring, beloved novels wouldn’t be on the bookshelves! If anyone who writes middle grade or young adult fantasy read the first Harry Potter book and then gave up, because he or she could never write anything half as good as J.K. Rowling can, imagine the gluttony of compelling books that would never be written.
My favorite author is Stephen King. Since I was about ten years old, I’ve been writing horror and suspense, and not for one second have I thought I was as good as King. And you know what? I’m totally fine with that. I don’t try to write like him, and I don’t pretend to be him. I take inspiration from his work all the time, particularly his memoir On Writing, but if I for one second considered my writing only worthwhile if it was as good as The Shining or It, I would have given up years ago.
I try to keep other authors out of my mind when I write. It’s not healthy to compare your work with someone else’s. This extends to not only the writing but also the advances other authors receive, the sales ranks, the fandom. It’s important, of course, to research these things, and maybe get an idea about what to expect (and not expect) from the publishing world, but comparing yourself to others, in most every aspect of life, is pointless. And usually hurtful. It won’t make your writing any better, trust me, and will most likely get you to stop writing completely.
Ultimately, the key is to write a lot and read a lot, as King says. Read your favorite authors. Read for inspiration. Don’t read to emulate and mimic in your own work. Understand the heights that can be reached in a work of prose, and give yourself permission to experiment, but never specifically try to outdo the work of an author you may immortalize.
Just be you. Write what you love to write, tell the story that you’re compelled to tell, and do your best. Have fun. Try new things. Fail. Succeed. Fail again.
And keep writing.