Cup of Dcaf: Managing Comparisons in Writing Style


I don’t think it’s any surprise that a lot of people get discouraged while writing novels—or poetry, or short stories, or…well, you get it. There are a whole host of reasons why these things all too often end up unfinished: lack of time, lack of motivation, the sheer difficulty of writing 50 or 100 thousand words.

One thing, I think, often goes overlooked, and that is the tendency of writers to be readers. This is a good thing, of course. One of my two main rules for writers is “You cannot be a writer if you don’t read” (the other is “you cannot be a writer if you don’t write”—it is stunning how many people call themselves writers but never actually write anything, though that is a post for another day). Reading is essential for writing. If you don’t read, you can’t learn the craft, you can’t learn how to use voice properly, you can’t learn point-of-view effectively. The list goes on.

However, a side effect of reading is that, while you learn, you also find yourself comparing your own writing with what you’re reading. I know I find myself doing this from time to time, and it can be very discouraging. Just recently, I read The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss (which I reviewed here), and I hit a block in my writing soon afterward. Rothfuss writes undeniably beautiful prose. He is poetic and evocative and has a style all his own.

It’s easy to get jealous.

What I had to do, in the end, was tell myself that he has a style all his own. His style is not my style. His style would not work for the kinds of stories I write (for the most part); my own style does. Whenever I find myself becoming discontent with my writing because it’s not as detailed as Robert Jordan or as poetic as Rothfuss or as visceral as Stephen R. Donaldson, I now calm myself down and repeat it: I am not Jordan or Rothfuss or Donaldson. I am me, and my style is my own.

So, I suppose I’ve come up with a third rule of writing: “Write your own style.” It is great to have inspirations, to build your style from reading a variety of things and finding the best voice for your writing through wide experience—but constantly comparing yourself to those with more years of writing and more books under their belts is a fruitless task that will only end in giving up.

Don’t give up. Read. Write. Write your own style.

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