Avoid the Lens that Distorts Your Writing Success

I’m not that great a writer.

At least, that’s what I tend to tell myself – a lot. I read things by Stephen King, David McCullough, Langston Hughes, and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADorothy Sayers. I read pieces from The New York Times and The New Yorker.

I think, “Man! I wish I could write like that!”

Compared to those writers, my writing, well, sucks. Why do I work so hard if I will never be good enough?

Can you see the mistake I’m making here? Can you see why it is so easy to set myself up for failure?

The mistake is that I’m looking at things all wrong. I’m asking the wrong question. And I’m not alone. As writers, we tend to be our own worst critics.

What I should ask is, “What is my writing ‘not good enough’ for?”

Although it is important to read good writers and good writing to improve our own work, the danger lies in comparing ourselves with the top five percent in the field. It’s okay to set the writing bar high, but setting it up in the ionosphere is a recipe for failure.

Comparing ourselves to the best in the business is like comparing a junior varsity basketball player to Michael Jordan in his prime. The teen is nowhere near Jordan’s level and, chances are, he’ll never get there. Can that student become good enough to get a college scholarship or even make it to the NBA? It’s possible, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t work toward excellence. But the reality is that he probably never will get that good.

When I compare myself to the normal writing I see on the Internet or elsewhere, it’s a completely different story. I recently received an e-mail from a department manager in reply to a question I asked. It was nigh on incomprehensible!

So, when I compare my writing to the average, run-of-the-mill writer, I’m not only good enough, I’m far superior. It makes me feel good, competent, successful.

To avoid falling in the trap of writing despair, we need to:

  • Set stretch – but attainable – goals for our writing
  • Learn from the masters, but avoid doing a one-to-one comparison
  • Understand the average person doesn’t write as well as we do
  • Know that we are more than good enough; we’re excellent writers!
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