I know I’m not the greatest writer in the world. And that’s a knock at myself; none of us are the greatest writer in the world.
The key is to become aware of our strengths and make them our focus, while also becoming aware of our weaknesses and working to improve on them.
It’s good practice to read work by similar authors and learn from it as well:
- What do they do that works?
- What do they do that doesn’t work?
- What do they do better than us?
- And how can we use that in our own writing?
A few years ago, I listened to all of John Green’s novels in the car (except for that one with the singing). Anyhow, when I was writing my first book, I felt like the style it was written in was more similar to John Green than any other authors I’ve read. I’m not saying I copied his style; I’m just saying it’s similar. Similar enough that I can learn a lot from his books.
One book in particular stuck out to me. It was Looking for Alaska. I remember at the time thinking it was one of the most enjoyable book I’ve read in years. I think I even went so far as to track down random people in bookstores and try to convince them to buy it. I just loved it that much.
You’re thinking: Hey cool. You like the book. Who cares?
But I’m thinking, Holy shit, I suck. I can’t write a book like this one.
But Looking for Alaska was different. And humbling.
I don’t usually get bent out of shape over someone who can write better than me. Like I said, I know I’m not the greatest writer in the world. I’m not Stephen King. I can’t write like Stephen King. And even though a few of my short stories might read like Stephen King, I’ve never tried to convince myself that anyone could ever even compare me to King.
But John Green was different. I never heard of him until after I wrote my first draft, but when I first read An Abundance of Katherines, I thought, yeah, this guy’s audience is who I’m targeting. I could totally see people comparing me to him.
But then he blew me away with Looking for Alaska.
So one thing we don’t do on this blog is whine. That’s not the point. The point is to learn. And there are so many good things to learn from Looking for Alaska. When I read that novel, I could easily see what was missing from Holy Fudgesicles and what is missing from my current WIP. I need more suspense. More mystery. More emotion. Green did that so well in his book, that it’s impossible to not learn from him.
Another thing to remember–and this goes to all aspiring writers out there–pick your author, whether it be John Green, Stephen King, or even Willa Cather and remember, you’re not trying to be the next them, you’re trying to be the first you.
So keep practicing, keep writing, and keep learning.
And just for fun, feel free to leave a comment and let us know which novels or authors you’ve read that have helped you improve your own craft.