Ever find yourself comparing your work to the work of some master you’ve always admired?
The worst possible time to do this (and therefore the time it’s likeliest to happen) is when you’re working on a first draft. The double-worst time is when those first draft pages are the middle pages of a novel, when your energy is waning and doubts are high.
Why should I bother? you ask, holding your sketchy, hesitant, wordy page up to a favorite passage from Nabokov, or Melville, or James, or Alice Munro–whoever floats your boat the highest.
Why is their greatness not flowing from my pen? you ask.
It might be, it might not be. I can’t help you there.
But I can tell you, hypothetical writer, that in addition to being masochistic, self-defeating, and just plain ill-advised, your behavior is also based on a fundamental error.
You’re comparing in the wrong direction.
Look down, not up.
There was nothing on that page until you put it there.
It did not exist until you made it.
If you must compare, here’s my advice: go with the Zero, not the Hero.