I’ve got a great analogy for you guys.
When I was young and in shape and totally not dorky or weird at all, I rode dirt bikes every day. My dad would pick up my sister and me from school, bikes in the back of the truck, and we would head out to the dirt bike track and ride around until it got dark. It was the BEST! But then eventually I made some friends and started realizing my fun putting around didn’t really match up. I was slow, and they were fast.
I wanted to be faster.
I wanted to race and not be the last bike over the finish line.
So what did I do? I got on the bike and rode around and around and around, all by myself, trying to make myself faster. It worked, a little. But then my friend (a racer for over a decade with several motocross championship titles to his name) would get on the track too and just blow me away. I’d grit my teeth and seethe in his dusty wake, hating how I was so much slower.
I’d say, “How do I get faster?”
And he’d say, “Follow me.”
And I’d say, “Uh no. Screw you. You’re way too fast. You make me feel slow and stupid.”
And he’d say, “Just follow me.”
And so I did. My dear friend took pity on me and would ride juuuust fast enough to stay ahead of me without completely zooming away, which he was totally capable of doing. I wanted to stay behind him so badly that I’d push myself harder with each lap, pulling the throttle back more than I ever did, soaring over jumps faster and higher than ever before. Within days, I was faster. Within weeks, I was unrecognizable on the track. I actually looked like someone who knew what I was doing.
My friend was practically born on a dirt bike track and he knew exactly what he was doing. By making me follow him, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I made myself go faster, work harder, and get better. I would have never gained this skill just riding around the track by myself, because when you’re alone, you’re only as fast as you want to be. There’s no marker. No level to reach, no way of striving for more.
That, my friends, is the same way you can level up as a writer. Several people have told me they enjoy writing books but they never read other books because it makes them feel stupid when the writing is so much better than theirs. Friends, this is NOT the way to live your life!
Read widely. Read the good authors. Read the outstanding authors. Read the best sellers and the popular books. Do it as much as you can, and definitely do it more than you write. By following in the wake of an excellent writer, you too will gain better writing skills. Their awesomeness will seep into your brain, subliminally teaching you how to pace, plot, write, and tell stories. Use their talent to motivate you, not discourage you.
Before you know it, you won’t be the last bike on the track. You’ll be crossing the finish line at the same time as the writers you admire.
Now, go pick up a book.