Have you ever read a book and been so amazed by it that it made you feel like you were a crappy writer and could never begin to write anything remotely like that and why bother? I think it happens to a fair number of writers. We are often unable to judge our own work, thinking it’s either better than it is, or much worse. We are frequently more likely to believe that we suck than that we are really good. So then we read something we love and womp! we’re bashed over the head with our own inadequacy.
I’ll admit it’s happened to me where I’ve read other books and felt a bit hopeless. But that response is really a sad one. First, we ought to be able to read and celebrate great writing without judging ourselves. We ought to be able to just enjoy ourselves like everybody else. And often it’s possible. I often read just to enjoy. But when the writing is particularly good, then I have to step back in my head and admire it, and that can lead to envy. Or, inspiration.
Case in point. I was recently reading Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina. It’s a debut YA novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What first caught me was the almost effortless and yet deep and thick worldbuilding. The characters were round and vibrant and I kept wishing I’d written that. And that. And that. It didn’t hurt that it didn’t read particularly YA. I picked it up because it sounded good and didn’t pay much attention to the fact that it was YA. I will admit that sometimes YA stories are a bit young for me, but this wasn’t one of them. This was one where I both got lost in the story and at the same time, marveled at the story and the writing.
Did it get me down? Not at all. It inspired me to write. Instead of feeling that I could never do this, I felt that I wanted to reach for words, to play, to create story. I wanted to go be in my worlds and rub shoulders and dig and taste and feel everything. I wanted to immerse in a way that I haven’t been able to for months, what with life, family, and other stuff going on. So I did.
The things is, it’s really easy as a writer to start feeling like your work is the worst ever. Especially when you’re in the middle of writing and struggling with everything from characters to plot to description. You want your vision to make it onto the page, but sometimes you feel like it doesn’t translate very well. That you failed make it live and worse, you doubt that you will ever be able to.
When you look at someone else’s book, you see the final product, but not their blood, sweat, and tears. You can’t see their doubts and fears, their sense of failure, their middle of the night struggles. It’s easy to compare your messy, dirty process with their bright, shiny finished product and yet if you could stop yourself for a moment and think about it, you’d realize how crazy that is. But that’s writing–it’s crazy-making sometimes.
I don’t have any advice today. Mostly I have just this: if you’re admiring and enjoying the book you’re reading, then do your best to keep enjoying and don’t think about yourself and your writing. Let yourself have that delight and that pleasure. It feeds your creative spirit and it will turn into inspiration for you.