‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ – Theodore Roosevelt

As I spend my days working on the plot of my book, and writing chapter outlines in time for a rewrite for NaNoWriMo, this quote keeps running through my mind.

Whenever I think of my story, and my characters, and the world I’ve created, it makes me happy. I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far. It’s immense, and vast, and I’ve worked really, really hard on it. Harder than I’ve worked on anything before. Definitely the best thing I’ve ever worked on too. It is what I’m meant to be doing, I’m sure of that.

But then I pick up a book to read – Brandon Sanderson, Laini Taylor, Jay Kristoff, V. E. Schwab, Leigh Bardugo, Samantha Shannan, the great Tolkien – and all of that changes.

How will I ever write anything anywhere near as good as these books? How will my work ever measure up? How will it ever compare?

And there it is: comparison.

Whenever I think of my story after having read another fantasy book, or even during the reading of the book, my work seems like a big ol’ pile of trash. Like the worst thing ever written, or conceived of. Like I’m totally kidding myself to think I can ever be published, and have my book shelved alongside other fantasy greats.

And this quote personifies this feeling perfectly.

When I don’t compare, I’m happy with my progress, and my ideas, and my writing, and the characters I’ve brought to life. When I do compare, nothing is good enough, and I may as well give up.

We know the solution then, don’t we? Don’t compare.

If only it were that simple.

In a cruel twist of fate or irony, comparison is also kind of essential.

Comparison is essential because one must know what is out there, before they try to contribute to whatever field they’re in. You can’t develop a cure for the common cold without having done your research. Or cooked a meal without first having eaten from different cuisines. Similarly, you can’t publish a book having never read one before.

The first advice any successful writer will give is: READ WIDELY.

How do we reconcile that with the fact that comparison is the thief of joy?

I wish it were easy. Perhaps some people – like me – are more prone to being affected by this ‘comparison’ thing – those overthinkers, with anxiety and worry etched in the lines of their hands and faces. If you are one of these people, it really just comes down to mindset. You have to remember that every writer is different. And every story is different.

Sure, sure, apparently every story has already been written. But it hasn’t been written by you.

You, who are an individual, a person unlike any other person on the planet. Nobody else has the exact same experiences, feelings, thoughts, relationships, talents as you. A class of twenty can be given the exact same writing prompt and there will be twenty different responses. Maybe they’ll be similar. But they won’t be the same.

And some will be more effective than others.

And those stories will be written by the people who are able to keep in mind that every story is worth something. Every writer writers the way they know how, and it may be different to your favourite author, or to a writer acclaimed the world over. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the ability to change somebody’s life.

I remember, many years ago, I read a fantasy trilogy by an Australian author. James Moloney. It’s the Silvermay trilogy, if you’re interested.

By no means is it a popular series. Definitely not overseas. And I’ve yet to hear anyone else talk about it in the Australian book community.

But I loved it. All three books were absolutely phenomenal, and I still remember the feeling of reading it, ten years later. In fact, I think it was the first fantasy series I read after Harry Potter finished, so it kind of brought me back to reading. Reading fantasy, especially.

That experience taught me a lot. Before that (considering I was pretty young and a little starry-eyed), my dream was to have my books read in every country on earth, and maybe even have them sent to Mars so the Martians could read them. I wanted, really, to be the next J. K. But after reading Silvermay, and absolutely loving it, I realised that my work doesn’t have to be heralded as the greatest book to ever exist, or even win any awards.

If I could affect even just one person with my books the way Silvermay affected me, I think that would be enough. I think I could count myself as a success. It’s a different success to what teenage me pictured. But it’s no less valid.

And sure, maybe there are still days and times when I read a fantasy story and think, “my work will never be this good,” days where the comparison steals away all joy and productivity, but I refuse to let it get a hold of me. I refuse to let those thoughts fester in my mind. Because Silvermay is always there, reminding me that, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Maybe my books won’t ever be as good as Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, or whatever else. But they may well be good enough for somebody.

And so I write on. 

And you should write on too. Always write on.

Because that somebody is out there.

And they’re waiting.

Not exactly a writing update today. But something that’s been on my mind lately. I find it hard to read while I’m in the depths of my own writing, because of this exact problem, but I’m learning, slowly, to not let it get the best of me. I hope that, if you have a similar problem, that you can overcome it. Because the world needs your words. Go write.

2 thoughts on “‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ – Theodore Roosevelt

  1. “But it hasn’t been written by you.”
    Thank you for the beautiful words of encouragement. It’s easy to get down in a profession where you work so often alone. For what it’s worth, you are a writer, and what you wrote here has cheered me.
    So you keep writing, and I will too! Maybe someday we’ll get to read each other’s published fantasies.

    Liked by 1 person

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