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Agony Editor: There will always be better writers than you. And that’s okay

(Evan Munday)

Dear Agony Editor,

I’m writing a novel and, after some initial struggles with it, I’m now really excited about the story and the ideas and themes it explores. The problem is, I just finished reading a book that deals with these same ideas. The plot is different, of course, but now I’m feeling discouraged about my idea, and think there’s no way I can do as good a job as this other author has. Should I keep going with this book, or should I start from scratch?


Dear Discouraged,

Repeat after me: There will always be better writers than you. There will always be better writers than you. There will always … well, you get the point.

You could be wrapping up your 10th bestselling novel or walking the red carpet at your book’s film adaptation or preparing your acceptance speech for the Nobel and there will always be a better writer out there, somewhere, being more brilliant. Determining the value of your work by comparing it with another author is a trap that most of us fall into at some point.

Having said that: if you’ve read a book that you think does a better job than the one you’re working on, does that mean you should abandon ship? Hell no. While your ideas might not be unique (and most writers’ ideas aren’t), they’re unique to you, your experiences, and your life’s landscape.

No two people (writers or otherwise), live the same life. Don’t downplay what you bring to those ideas and how your writing might shed new insight. Up until you started comparing yourself to other writers, you were excited about your book. Instead of focusing on another writer’s accomplishments, I suggest you put reading aside for now, keep your head down and focus on your own work.

If you need a break and want to read something, pick books outside your genre. Or read crappy books. Anything that’s not going to make you feel you’ve failed before you’ve had a chance to succeed.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.