Revisiting Bad Writing: Comparisons

Comparisons

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As Buddhists say, “Comparisons are the root of all evil.” And despite bad judgment, the rule to follow for parents of multiple children. So, too, for an aspiring ‘anything,’ this is a golden rule too quickly forgotten. We draw comparisons between ourselves and every expert we come across. It is best not to put ourselves up against others because it is truly hard to compare anything as a whole. So the rule is: don’t compare. But should it be?

Recently, I started reading a wonderful book by a self-published author. Every line is terse and bitter in the best way. And worse of all, the next line is the same. I could get down about this, but instead, I noticed something else, which was, for this author, not always true. Among the self-published books I’ve read, certain authors interest me and I find myself reading more of their work and I notice the one comparison many fledglings overlook: themselves.

The author above’s first works were immature and highly stereotypical, but with his newest one, he had grown—a lot! The same is true with another writer I converse with. Her first book was riddled with basic errors—shifting voice, flat dialogue, and big info dumps—but on her second time around, it was easy to see a tighter, more controlled narrative. She had figured some things out!

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This should not be surprising. Even looking back on my own work, I’ve noticed more concise sentences and sharper grammar than before. It’s an uphill battle, though, and too often we keep eyeing the peak while ignoring the progress we’ve made. It gets even harder the higher we go. Like learning a new language, the first change is so immediate it is easy to spot, but as we go up in levels our rate of improvement is sometimes harder to determine. It’s there, but we don’t see the fine shade it has grown into.

In this way, I feel comparisons aren’t so bad. We’re not trying to beat those long vetted professionals. We haven’t played the game enough. But beating ourselves every step of the way isn’t as gargantuan as the other options seem. Seeing how much you sucked before can only be a booster for you to keep working hard.

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