Humans, by nature, like to compare things to other things, be it human to human or subatomic particle to subatomic particle. For this reason, humans also like to compare themselves to people in similar situations as their own. Ergo, a horror writer will almost certainly at some point compare his or her work to Lovecraft or King.
How do you measure your success as a writer? Do you take a passage from you WIP and a passage from a Stephen King novel, print them out, shuffle them around and ask a beta reader to tell you which one is the best?
Unfortunately, the chances are pretty good that your work will not be as good as the super best-selling author you are comparing yourself against. Thus many authors might think to themselves, “I’m not even close to writing like this!” and perhaps even give up.
Since we, as humans, compare things almost subconsciously, I can’t really tell you to not compare yourself to others who have made success, but I can tell you to look at it differently. Stephen King quality should be a goal, not a measurement. Aim to reach it, don’t compare your current work to his. Improving your writing is a life-long journey, ask any of the best-selling authors. They continue to learn the craft, and so should you.
To see how far you’ve come, you should glance to your goal, but also glance back to see what you have overcome*. When you do this, you can see what areas you’ve improved on and which areas you still struggle with.
When you look upon the goal too hard, your mind will want to even things out and you will start to copy the goal instead of reaching it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn from the masters of writing, but each author has a voice that needn’t be substituted with a copied one from a grandmaster.
Find your voice and look at how far you’ve come. See your goal ahead, but realise that there is room for movement. This will allow you to grow as a writer and then get the hell onto that NY Times Bestseller list.**
* Read some of the stories that you wrote five years ago and you’ll find yourself wondering, “Did I write this?”
** That’s every book writer’s dream, right? If not, substitute the correct dream in there.