As writers we can feel we are in competition with other writers. At times, it feels like everyone we know fancies themselves a writer. Then there are the writers we do know, who are getting published annually, monthly, weekly. There are great writers we read who make us want to throw up our hands and say, “Forget about it. I’ll never write anything that good.” And then, there are those writers we see and think, “What the hell? That piece of crap got published? That piece of crap is selling millions?! I give up.”
First, these thoughts are all part of our inner critic’s master plan to stop us from writing. The critic is quite creative in covering all the angles, all the possibilities, for why we should not be writing. Don’t worry about the success of others, especially if you haven’t started writing yet. Think about the story that you have to tell that no one else can. Once you’ve created the best story you’re capable of, then you can worry about publishing. For now, just worry about finding the time to sit, silence the inner critic, and write that story.
Second, we are not in competition with other writers; we are in conversation. As a writer, you have joined that community. For me, one of the best things to come from being a writer is the writers I have met and befriended, who support, inspire and challenge me. Also, it’s comforting to know there are others out there, who don’t think writing a novel or whatever is delusional.
Find Your Teachers
We don’t have to know the other writers to learn from them or feel their support of our efforts. We are not writing in a vacuum; as the poet Liam Rector reminded his students, “we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.” Read the kind of stories you want to write. Read the kind of stories you don’t want to write. Read how your favorite author struggled with the blank page. Read widely and enter into the conversation. Look to other writers – alive and dead – and let them inspire you, teach you, and yes, even piss you off, so that when you sit down to write you have something to say. Listen. Pause. Respond. What effect has the world this writer created had on you? How did they do it? What do you have to say about it? What can you add to the conversation?
Read the work of the best writers. As Jane Kenyon advises writers, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.” Reading the best work raises your vocabulary, your knowledge of the world, and your writerly skills. Watch how they handle plot or dialogue, how they move through time, how they weave in historical facts. Learn. Each writer, each book, is a teacher.
What About Those Hacks?
And what about those horrible writers who get published without the ability to craft a decent sentence, whose pages are filled with clichés? We can learn from them too. Even if it’s that they thought they could do it and they did. They were not sitting in front of the blank page wondering what you were writing and whether they should even bother.