Author craft and the curse of comparison

Every creative artist longs to master his craft, and it is no different with authors. But is there one common author craft yardstick for all authors in a given genre?

I suppose every romantic author yearns to churn them out like Nora Roberts. And every horror writer would die to write like Stephen King.

I also dare to suppose all upcoming authors constantly compare their own works to the works of the queens and kings of their genres and find themselves coming up short.

In the snotty samsara of self-development experts, comparing yourself with others is taboo. It is a ghost that haunts you. Like unrequited love, it causes grief; it makes you pine. And heaven forbid you find yourself consistently lacking in your comparisons. That is a monster that could tear out and gobble up your heart.

Whoa now. Not all experts are right all of the time. And most experts just feed off each other; there is a commonality to their pronouncements because there is little individual effort to break out of the mold, to dig beyond the “safe” parameters.

There another side to the comparison coin, and it is not as darkly foreboding. That side asks you, how much are you in control of yourself when you make comparisons involving yourself? What are your findings and what do you do with them?

comparison

comparison

If you think you are not as syrupy as Nora Roberts, that’s ok. (I stopped reading romance sometime after I passed out of school, so I really don’t know if Nora Roberts is syrupy. I am just presuming that you cannot be a successful romance author unless you are dripping sweet guck all over the place). Not being as syrupy as Nora Roberts is no reason to make you do something faint-hearted, like quit writing. I mean, this lady, E L James, has been wildly successful with her 50 Shades crap and I suspect the last thing her work drips is syrup. Wouldn’t want her setting the standard for author craft.

So you think you are not as creepy as Stephen King. That’s ok too. Dean Koontz is nowhere near as creepy as King (at least in my opinion), but he is doing great. The kind of great I wouldn’t mind doing, not at all.

The big question is, do comparisons charge you up or do they deflate you. Ideally, of course, they should have you ranting at yourself because you just know you can do better, and you are darned well going to do better, cross your heart and hope to die. If you don’t get a new book on the NYTBL every full moon, that’s ok too. You should be ecstatic if your publisher howls for more every moon and your fans smell blood every time you tweet.

And if that’s your approach to this comparison thing, you have got a pretty good grip on this self-development thing.

I dare say the difference between the abandoned manuscript and the neat paperback the author fondles lies in knowing and accepting that Roberts and King, and James and Koontz, too, had their writing idols, their tendencies to compare, their moments of doubt. They, too, had to decide at some early point in their careers whether they wanted to hold ‘em or fold ‘em.

He faced his demons. She listened to her heart.

Your comparisons should concentrate on the craft, on the sweat that went into perfecting that craft, and on the best ways to work up your own sweat.

Comparisons should take you toward being the best you can be, before they reach out further to being the best there is.

“She reminds me of Nora Roberts” is nice, isn’t it?

“He writes as good as Stephen King” is better, no doubt.

“She writes better than Nora Roberts” is thrilling, of course.

“He makes Stephen King look pedestrian” is horror author heaven. The ultimate.

But to get there you need to work as hard as, and probably harder than, Nora Roberts or Stephen King.

And to do that, you must murder yourself. Other people who put you down, question your writing abilities, can be ignored or handled with a bit of Nora Roberts syrup. The worst enemy is not other people, however: it is you yourself. You don’t ignore your pessimistic side; you subject it to a bit of Stephen King misery. You murder it.

All part of author craft.

It is not the critic who counts… the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly… Theodore Roosevelt

we dared

we dared

You think so, too?

  • Charles Ray

    Write like yourself – the you that you can be. Enjoy the others, learn what it is they do that makes you like them and adapt it for yourself, but compare – heck, I’d like to be handsome like Brad Pitt, and rich like Warren Buffett, but I’m not, so there!

Author craft and the curse of comparison

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 3 min
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