Writers: Judge Yourself by Your Own Standards

‘Comparisonitis’ is the most infectious disease in the writer community. Can you blame us? When John’s book has 100 five-star reviews and Jane has written six books this year and Joe has landed a major publishing deal, it’s difficult not to feel jealous and shame yourself for what you are/aren’t accomplishing.

Here’s your gentle reminder to CUT. IT. OUT.

nanowrimo-badgeAs I’m writing this post, we’re halfway through NaNoWriMo 2016. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an online challenge where writers attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Some writers meet this goal in 24 hours (seriously — here’s proof), while others struggle to write 1,000 words over the entire month. NaNoWriMo is a great way to kickstart your writing project and meet new writer friends … but it’s also a vehicle for self-doubt. As you watch your ‘Buddies’ word counts climb, it can spur you to work harder or make you feel like an utter failure.

What you have to remember is that NaNoWriMo — like all writing — is not a competition. There are an infinite number of stories to be told and billions of readers to read them. The only person you should be worried about is yourself.

Take it from my experience. During my first NaNoWriMo, I went in with a plan, rocketed through the challenge, and wrote over 80,000 words that would become my first published novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1). This year, I was utterly unprepared for NaNoWriMo. I didn’t have time to write an outline before November 1, so I went into the challenge with everything but a plot. Literally. This is my third book in the Desertera series. I have characters, a world, a list of questions to answer, and a looming series finale … but I had no idea what should actually happen in this novel.

Regardless, I powered through the first ~11,000 words. By this point in the book, I realized the key story structure issues and could already imagine a better story arc. I had a choice to make. I could continue with NaNoWriMo (which is honestly the path I recommend, especially if you’re writing your first book and just need to finish something), or I could stop writing, craft the outline I should have started with, and rewrite.

Initially, I didn’t want to stop writing. I was embarrassed to watch my friends out-write me, and I felt obligated to keep pushing because I had publicly committed to the challenge. However, I had to remember, this isn’t just me anymore.

Though writing is my passion, I’m not writing ONLY for fun. I’m writing to build a catalog of books, to make writing my full-time career, and to please a small (but wonderful!) readership. Winning NaNoWriMo, while a great accomplishment, can’t be my goal if it sacrifices the quality of my book or yields 90,000 unusable words that will delay my production schedule. So, I chose to fail in the short term to succeed in the long term.

writer-1Now, it’s your turn to look in the mirror. What are your goals for your writing? If you’re just writing for fun, do whatever you like! But if you’re writing for professional purposes, you might have to make some tough choices. Even if you’re also writing with hopes of creating a full-time career, your choices might not be the same as mine. That’s the beautiful thing about authorship: each writer, each book, each business is unique.

As you come up against roadblocks or simply notice recurring patterns in your writing or business choices, ask yourself three questions:

  1. How does this action further my writing goals?
  2. Is there a better way to work toward these goals?
  3. Do I feel satisfied and confident in this choice?

If the answers are unclear or nonexistent, it’s time to reevaluate. For me, pushing through NaNoWriMo would have yielded content, but it would have been poor content. By giving myself permission to plan and write my book properly, I will write a better rough draft, ease the publication process, and do what’s best for my business. Can you say the same about your writing choices?

*Note: this post is not an excuse to procrastinate or give up on your dreams. If you’re thinking of dropping out of NaNoWriMo or giving up on a draft just because it’s difficult work, you’re tired, etc., that’s not the same as making a small sacrifice in pursuit of a larger goal. Not sure? Let that nagging feeling in your gut be your compass.


Has comparing yourself to other writers been a challenge for you? How do you evaluate whether a writing choice is best for you or you just ‘keeping up with the Rowlings’? Share your tips in the comments!

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips
19 comments on “Writers: Judge Yourself by Your Own Standards
  1. OMG! How did someone did it in one day?? No way!!

    True, Is best to fulfill your own goal and have something of quality then doing 50 thousand words that you will have to scratch later on. Good luck for the next novel! I’m super excited for Desertera 3! Will it be the last one or are you planning on a long series?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. amo says:

    “Keeping up with the Rowlings'” – bahahah! That’s great. And so’s this post. I’m facing a bit of a similar choice this year too – I’ve fallen behind on my word count, and I’m constantly choosing now to *not* “nano” this novel (my phrase for adding unnecessary verbiage or bizarre side scenes just to inflate the word count) but instead “write” it, i.e. make it as good as I can for the time being. And it’s hard to think that I might not win this round – I’d hate to break my winning streak… But the novel matters more than the “win”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Randy B says:

    I think you were correct. Better to start over than have 50,000 that are unusable. And you learned to have an outline of a story before you start on a new idea for a book. Enjoyed the Avenger and looking forward to book 3.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! You make a great point. I outlined the first two books, which worked well for me, and this little test proved pretty definitively that I can’t write by the seat of my pants. That should help me in the future!

      Like

  4. It’s hard to give up on a challenge like NaNo. I didn’t even sign up, for the first time in five years, and that was somewhat painful. But yes, you must think of your readers! (I say this a tiny bit selfishly, because I’d like another Desertera book out sooner rather than later). NaNo is a great tool, but is probably most useful for those first few books. Now you know you can finish a book and what your process needs to be. I’m the opposite. NaNo taught me that I’m a committed pantser. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mirymom says:

    Reblogged this on Mirymom's Blog and commented:
    Some good points here to consider. Finishing something just to finish it isn’t always the healthiest/best choice. I like to look at what other writers are doing for inspiration and motivation in the sense of personal competition, but I also know that not everyone has the same variety platter that is currently “my plate” in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Helen Jones says:

    Comparisonitis is the worst, isn’t it? Good for you for being brave enough to set NaNo aside and work towards what your book needs, instead. I know I would do the same, even though those ticking word counts would be playing on my mind. In the end, you have a long term vision and you know what you need to do to get there. Good luck with book three! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Writers: Judge Yourself by Your Own Standards by Kate M Colby […]

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  8. […] really got away from me. After learning the much-needed (but still a little painful) lesson of obeying my own writing process, I got a little off track for the month. However, despite taking a few steps backward in my fiction […]

    Like

  9. theryanlanz says:

    Hi Kate! Per your earlier permission, I scheduled this article to be featured as a guest post on http://www.ryanlanz.com on Dec 20th. As usual, it has your credit/bio/link. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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