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On Writing with Confidence

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Anonymous asked: “Do you have any advice on not comparing your writing to other writers’ work? I tend to do it a lot.” 

I’m not shy when it comes to sharing just how much I love good writing, or even, I’ll say it purple prose. I’m a huge admirer of Vladimir Nabokov, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few. I don’t necessarily write purple prose, but also, I’m not discouraged by the fact that I can’t write The Great Gatsby.

Let me clarify that. It’s not that I can’t write The Great Gatsby but I haven’t written anything quite like it yet. That doesn’t mean that I won’t one day. The point is, even F. Scott Fitzgerald had to learn how to write. It took time. Sure he might have been incredibly talented, but don’t underestimate the value of practice. 

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, said it takes 10,000 hours of practice with guidance to achieve mastery in a field. There’s a ton of debate now to whether that’s at all accurate, but really, the idea is right. You need to practice a lot to improve. You aren’t going to suddenly become the next Vladimir Nabokov overnight, or at the very least, you can’t just expect that you will. You have to work at your craft. Know that there will be times you’ll fail spectacularly, but in the process you’ll learn. 

Another thing to add, don’t compare your drafts to a published piece of fiction – or actually, do compare, but don’t use it as a way to criticize your own writing. Your early drafts are going to be messy and will need work. A (traditionally) published piece of fiction has gone through so much editing, with a professional editor and a number of industry experts to help shape it into what it is. Even before the author showed it to the agent, it was most likely not a first draft but had probably gone through a ton of edits and revisions to get to where it needed to be. 

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