I have been writing poetry since I was in elementary school, and I wrote intermittently through high school. It wasn’t until undergrad when I started reading a lot of poetry, which inspired me to write a lot more often.
There are a few different things I’ve discovered. The first is that it’s really easy to think you’re good at something when you’re the only one doing it. Of course, I wasn’t the only one, but I wasn’t reading anyone else’s work, and so I had nothing to which I could compare myself. What I’m not saying here is that you need to compare yourself to others. Rather, I’m suggesting that you think long and hard about how good you really are at what you do, and do everything in your power to get better.
When I started reading Milton and Keats and Shelley and Byron, I realized that there was a level far above where I was. So far, in fact, that I couldn’t quite see them at first…What I’ve learned from this is that you need to surround yourself with quality people. Like Les Brown says, “if you’re the smartest one in your group, you need to get a new group.” You don’t have to cut out your current group of friends, but start spending time with people who have already done the things you want to do. They will motivate you to get better and to keep progressing, and they might reveal to you a level you never thought possible. Regardless of where you are, you can ALWAYS get just a little better.
And one of the main points there is that you don’t have to surround yourself physically with people who outperform you. You have an unlimited resource to find all of the information and work of other people you want: the internet. Instead of looking at cat pictures, find some area in which you can improve, and then learn how.
Another thing I learned from reading poetry is that when we learn something new, we naturally emulate other people. We do this as children when we look to our parents to learn everything. But at some point, we have to break off and go out on our own. I started my “good writing period” by emulating my favorite poets…namely Keats and Wordsworth. And my writing improved greatly. But when I began breaking away from them and adapting my own style, my poetry flourished and became my own. As I look back at that, I see how it relates to life and to learning: accrue knowledge and copy people who have done what you want to do, and then gradually break away and become your own person.
I think applying these principles to your own work and success will really propel you forward, and have you taking the next step sooner than you anticipated.