Self-esteem is one of the biggest problems and benefits a writer has. It races upward and plunges downward in mere moments as you get a good criticism, then a bad criticism; as you read through a part that you love, as you start writing a part that you hate. Writing is full of these twists and turns, making you revel in the joy of creation and sending you to burn in doubt and self-pity. Hateful? Yes. Everyone hates it.
But when it comes to comparing ourselves to others, we push all this aside. We put on the face of confidence and assuredness. Yes, I might be stuck in writer's block and my critique partners are a little too confused about the story, but I'm still a writer. I've come this far. I am learning, and growing, and already quite competent.
When we see another writer, however, this changes.
They just finished a novel, or a short story, or something. They're sharing it with the world. They're obviously euphoric and proud of themselves-- good for them. They should be. You've been there, you know how it feels, and even though you're stuck in writer's block, you're happy for them. And then you actually read what they wrote.
And it's good. Not just okay, or a good start, but it's solid. Flaws, yes, but everyone has flaws-- this thing could probably query pretty well as it is. You blink at it. Then you blink at your writer's blocked WIP.
You start comparing.
Some comparison is healthy. If you use the Plot Twist In-A-Box (guaranteed to get a reaction out of 99% of readers), and a published author uses it better, you can compare the two to see how you can improve. If you think your setting is taking too much space, you can look at another writer with a massive setting and see how they handle such a problem. Comparison works.
But you'll notice I mentioned specific things. You aren't comparing your entire novel with A Tale of Two Cities. You aren't comparing your life experiences with those of Alexandre Dumas. You're comparing characters with characters, or descriptive style with descriptive style. You're comparing elements of the whole, not the entire thing. You are comparing with the goal of learning.
When you compare yourself with another unpublished writer, it's often not that simple. You aren't comparing to learn, because you've been around much longer than this other writer. Or, you aren't comparing to learn, because they've been around longer than you and that would give them a big head. You're comparing because of pride.
We see a published author and think, Since they're published, they must have a lot to teach. I'm going to learn from them. We see an unpublished author and think, I'm not published yet, they're not published yet, but who's closest to it? We learn from the people who have finished the race, and compete against the ones who are still running. But publishing isn't a race.
Everyone can teach you something. You can learn philosophy from a child. You can learn nursery rhymes from an octogenarian. It doesn't matter who they are, they can still teach you something. We know this when it comes to published authors, but unpublished writers? People who just started a manuscript yesterday and already have prose more polished than us?
Yes. You can learn. Everyone can learn from everyone. Instead of looking at it with the competitive mindset, look at it with appreciation. When you compare, you realize how good they are and despair about how you measure up-- just lose the last part. Realize how good they are. Say how good they are. If we build each other up, we create a community of unpublished writers that is healthy and strong. We create a community that can push more people toward publishing, rather than hold most back while a couple shoot to the top. The goal is for everyone to be published someday. That's not going to happen if you keep comparing yourself negatively.
So what if someone learned in a month what it took you years to learn? They're going to have other struggles, that you also had but overcame already. They're going to look at you and try to learn. It's your job to encourage them. It's your job to encourage yourself. You're both learning, you're both headed for the same goal, and there's plenty to go around.
Comparison can be healthy, but appreciation is so much more so. Enjoy what other unpublished writers write. Revel in their progress just as much as you do in your own. Positivity is so worthwhile.