What do most of us see when we read our own writing? Can we make clear comparisons to the writings of others?
I remember when I was in my twenties I couldn’t see much difference between my science fiction stories (which were regularly being rejected by publishers and agents) and science fiction stories being penned by SF luminaries such as Heinlein, Clarke, and Silverberg.
Yet when I look at those same stories today, the difference between the luminaries’ writings and my own of that era seems greater than the difference between night and day. Are we doomed to wait for years or even decades to achieve this kind of impartial perspective?
First, why couldn’t I see the clear differences in quality back then? The obvious explanation is that in my youth I simply lacked the analytical acumen to see things clearly. Perhaps that was part of it, but I think it likely that there was a more important element missing in my vision: Honesty.
It’s hard to hear – and nearly impossible to conceive – that your writing babies aren’t especially cute or bright or interesting, and that your handcrafted world is lackluster. Imagine your response if some relationship critic told you that your friends are dull or that your love affairs are uninteresting? Or worse, that you yourself are dull and uninteresting?
Because we are so emotionally tied to our creations, it’s difficult – perhaps even next to impossible – to be completely honest in appraising them. So when we read writing that actually features truly beautiful “babies” with fascinating lives, I think we tend to gloss over their superiority to our own creations. We tend to look at those other possibly more brilliant worlds with half-closed eyes while viewing our own through rose-colored glasses.
I believe the solution to achieving a more impartial and accurate perspective is to remove those glasses.
Some authors and bloggers recommend that we set our manuscript aside and wait several months to attain a better perspective, and while that may help (though I’m skeptical about such a long-winded process; we’re not immortal, after all), it still doesn’t address the fundamental issue of seeing our writing honestly.
Toward that end, I would suggest a rather shorter but more effective (albeit painful) method: find a book that you greatly admire that is in your same genre, and compare several of its pages to several of yours in meticulous detail. Note examples of the writing that stands out in your beloved book, and see how they compare to favorite passages from your book. How do your best phrases and sections stack up against those in the book you admire?
Next compare a synopsis of your novel, including the high points and overall story flow, to those elements in one of your favorite novels. How does that comparison look?
You may find these suggestions to be neither pleasant nor easy, but I’m guessing you may find them edifying.