I do not like to compare myself to other writers. It still happens inadvertently. But I still don’t like doing it. At this stage of my evolution, I feel it is simply not a good practice; my concern is that matching my abilities against those not as skilled will lead to complacency and a bit of an undeserved ego rush (both debilitating in their own ways), and acknowledging how far behind I am against the more advanced writers could very easily conjure up impatience and frustration towards my own development (also debilitating). Don’t misinterpret…I’ll always glean ideas and advice about how to up my writing game from those whose works I enjoy, but I stop short at the comparison game for the simple reason that the very act is too close to self-praise for my tastes. I would rather have somebody else sing those songs on my behalf.
Not too long ago, one of my beta readers insisted that my science fiction world building skills were worthy of mention in the same sentence as Vernor Vinge. Having read Vinge, I don’t agree with the claim at all, but the compliment let me know that I (at least in the eyes of one person) was on the right track towards strengthening an extremely important story telling skill…which, of course, put a smile on my face.
Admittedly, though, this practice of basking in the praise of others opens me up to a potential problem. In the words of the late great Jim Hendrix:
”…and I don’t like compliments…they distract me.”
I enjoy hearing someone tell me my (pick a part of my writing game) is on par with (pick an established writer). My concern here is that, if I’m not careful, I will start interpreting today’s compliments as a validation that I have already succeeded in my writing goals…which could lead to me pausing (or outright ceasing) any improvement efforts I would have made tomorrow…which will no doubt lead to me becoming stagnant, and, consequently, ending up sitting in a puddle of apathy while watching my writing skills and output shrivel and die.
That’s the trap I believe Mr. Hendrix was referring to.
But I brought my own circumnavigation to the game. My goal is to be a better writer tomorrow than I am today. More towards the topic of validity, I want to keep hearing compliments for as long as I write. So, before I become too lethargic from excessive basking, I use that compliment’s jolt of adrenaline as motivation to make myself even better tomorrow than what a single reader thinks I am now. Here’s how I put that philosophy into play: later during the same day I was treated to that generous world building compliment, I grabbed a copy of Vinge’s “A Fire Upon the Deep” to find out why someone thinks I’m at that level, then used my observations and my interpretations of his having created a world and species that were so radically different than anything I’d seen before as my motivation to create worlds and species that would give others a reason to offer me equivalent praises. Essentially, I drew motivation from someone’s ability to accomplish something impressive, not his/her actual accomplishments.
Ultimately, I’m striving to hear people tell me that the stories I create today are better than those I created the last time they read something of mine.
I will gladly allow myself a moment of distraction for something like that.
Then, I’ll get right back to work on the skills and the stories that will allow me to hear that same kind of compliment sometime in the future.