Comparisons of Death

We’ve all done it. We’ve read a wonderful, brilliant book and wondered. Wondered how the author comes up with such beautiful prose; shaken our heads at the plot twist that we never could’ve imagined.

But isn’t that bad for us? Shouldn’t we be reading shit books and telling ourselves how great we are? Is that not what all the writing blogs tell us.

Contrary to what the title of this blog post is, no.

Well, yes. To some extent. The writing bloggers aren’t a bunch of idiots, as much as we amateurs might wish they were; they know their stuff.

But writing is a very personal thing. Not everyone writes in the same way just as no one thinks in the same way — and isn’t that what writing really is, using words to express that which mere mortals can only feel and think?

I’m getting I-want-to-be-quoted-ish there, but you know my point: we all have different ways of getting our work onto paper. And so the writing blogs aren’t always right.

And this is one of the places in which I think they’re slightly wrong. The principle is brilliant: don’t read good books — or at least don’t compare yourself to the author — and you won’t feel inadequate. Look at books where you know they’ve gone wrong — where you feel like you could have done better — and put into words why it’s so bad, and then you won’t make the same mistake, or will be vigilant of it in your own writing.

Brilliant idea. But don’t most of us write because of our love of reading? Do we not write because we want to be as good as those writers we revere? And can we not learn something from them?

I think so. I think that knowing why something is good is equally important as knowing why something is bad. And I also think that, while reading the work of a master can make you feel unworthy, it can also spur you on. Sure, Markus Zusak is astoundingly good, you can think to yourself, and I’m not even good yet, but one day I will be. I will be the best writer there has ever been and that guy will turn up to one of my book signings wishing he was as good as me.

Comparisons can kill our writerly spirit, crush it to little bits and make it into soap. But they can also motivate us to do better, to be better, and make soap out of something a bit more wholesome.

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