Read! Be a consumer–this applies to all aspects of life: know the market, at least know what others are doing. For writer’s it means reading… not writing.
About nine months ago, I got a great piece of advice from Piper’s Dojo, a service that sends out weekly tips to improve your bag-pipping game. The advice was so simple I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked it: listen to other pipers. I started listening to other soloists (as I don’t play in a pipe band and that music/style is slightly different) and started to hear how certain things ought to sound–especially on tunes I also played. I learned a few tricks, reinforced good techniques, and began to notice some weak areas to work on. If I never broadened my scope, I would never improve. It’s the same with every aspect of life–it’s why industry leading companies hire consultants… we need to get out of our own heads sometimes.
I’ve played in bands, I’ve worked in youth ministry, I’ve written books. Across the board, I’ve encountered others who think they are at the top of their game and refuse to look at what others are doing because they are too busy “doing it their own way.” Over the years I’ve seen bands who do some stupid things that hold them back or even spell doom for the group; bands that succeed are willing to take a hard look at other groups that are having success and find ways to emulate successful traits. Bands that fail claim to be the greatest and refuse any guidance or advice (of course they aren’t “signed” yet and have an excuse for that.) …this isn’t the seeming narcissism that comes with always being and self promotion mode (but really isn’t vanity–its a promotion mindset–artists will understand what I’m talking about,) it is actually the refusal to create with open eyes. The reason for that is fear.
Don’t be afraid of that self-comparison. It is a good thing to have a standard you are trying to achieve. If you are afraid because you won’t meet those “market standards,” then you probably should have spent some time on another draft/paid for an editor, or rerecorded that track in the studio, or instituted some changes at work to improve yourself.
Know what’s out there. Read. Keep an open mind. If you “don’t have time,” then get creative. I’ve been reading indie sci-fi lately by listening to it on Audible while driving and working out. If you want to be good at something, you will find ways to hone your craft.