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Learning From Other Authors’ Strengths

by Lindsay Harrel

Comparison.

It’s the big no-no word in the writing world, isn’t it? We’re always being told – and probably telling others – that we shouldn’t compare our writing to that of anyone else. It makes sense. After all, we each have a unique voice, and I’m bound to tell a story differently than you would.

But what if, in some cases, comparison was a good thing? Not in a “this-person-is-so-much-better-than-me-and-I-should-just-give-up-now” kind of way (what, am I the only one guilty of this?!) – but in an “I-can-really-learn-from-this-author” way.

I think we all want to be authors who are constantly growing in our writing ability, whether unpublished, single-published, or multi-published. There are multiple ways of doing this: attending writing retreats, reading writing books, asking questions…and finally, reading the work of other writers.

Not only do we need to read other writers’ work for the sake of knowing what’s new in our genre, but we can really learn some great techniques from others. Remember – the purpose isn’t to feel bad about yourself! It’s to examine what others have done so you can implement those techniques in your own voice, in your own way, in your own books.

Recently, I’ve read some books that have taught me a great deal. I read these books for pleasure, but I couldn’t help but notice ways that I want to emulate these authors’ techniques. Here are three such books and what the authors did well:

HeretoStay_mck.inddHere to Stay by Melissa Tagg (Bethany House)
Not only is this a super-cute romantic comedy set in a quaint small town, but I was blown away by Tagg’s ability to create fresh word pictures in my mind. She doesn’t settle for clichés or common phrasing. The writing just zings and pops off the page. I read several phrases over and over again – they just have a great cadence to them! This book was a great reminder to me that I need to not get lazy with my wording. Instead, I need to write tight and make every word count.

HB SomebodyLikeYou_4.inddSomebody Like You by Beth Vogt (Howard)
This book deals with some difficult issues, but Vogt doesn’t shy away from them. In my own writing, I find myself not wanting to tackle certain things head-on because I’m afraid of how some readers will perceive them. I really admired Vogt’s ability to be honest through her characters, who have real flaws. This is a great reminder to me to not create cookie-cutter characters who simply do the predictable thing.

It Had To Be YouIt Had to Be You by Susan May Warren (Tyndale)
Warren’s books always have a strong spiritual thread throughout – but they’re so subtle they don’t knock you upside the head. I know I’m always tempted to show the character’s “AHA!” moment through something that sounds preachy, so I appreciated Warren’s ability to relate spiritual truths in a way that flowed naturally and came about organically. That’s something I want to strive for in my own novels.

Your Turn: What writing tips or techniques have you learned recently by reading another author’s books?

Lindsay HarrelLindsay Harrel has a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in English. Represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Agency, Lindsay was a 2013 ACFW Genesis Finalist and is a 2014 Genesis Semi-Finalist (Contemporary Category). She works in marketing as a copywriter and has worked in the past as a business writer and curriculum editor. Lindsay lives in Arizona with her husband and two golden retrievers in serious need of training. Connect with her on her blog or via Facebook or Twitter (@LindsayHarrel).

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5 Responses to Learning From Other Authors’ Strengths

  1. Melissa Tagg says:

    Oh Lindsay, thanks SO much for the nice things you said about Here to Stay. I have to say, after just reading your manuscript last week, one of the things that really stood out to me is how you used such STRONG nouns and verbs…verbs, especially. Love that we get to learn from each other!

    And as for comparison…yeah…it’s a huge struggle for me. I love how you turned it around! And Beth and Susie’s books both taught me so much, too! Man, I love their writing.

  2. Beth K. Vogt says:

    Lindsay, this post is so encouraging — and you turned comparison upside down and made it such a good thing! Thanks for encouraging me today! Cheering you on as you pursue your dream.

  3. I’ve learned so much from all these writers too! I love the idea of taking a negative idea and turning it around. You’re right, we shouldn’t compare ourselves, and think about giving up. We should look at other writers’ work and find ways we can emulate them (in our own voice). Great spin, Lindsay! :)

  4. Yes, Lindsay! In fact, I’d say we must compare ourselves to others?that’s called learning! I’m constantly learning what works and what doesn’t work for me as a reader. That translates ever so slowly to making a difference in my writing. You’re right: we’ve got to keep the give up and the pride out of it.

  5. Kariss Lynch says:

    This was beautifully said. I’ve found myself hitting the pause button on my writing to read a bit more. Not only does it refresh me but it helps me grow as a writer and a person. Admiring someone’s God-given talent and story is so much more enjoyable than comparing what they can do to my own journey! Thanks for the encouragement!