by Kate M. Colby
We’ve all been there.
Your classmate’s story is praised in workshop, while yours is torn apart.
“Poorly written” romances dominate best-seller lists, while your science fiction novel languishes in Amazon’s 2,000,000 ranking spot.
The author you follow on Instagram posts their third cover reveal this year, while you struggle to finish your manuscript.
There’s a thousand ways that we writers experience jealousy of other authors. We constantly compare ourselves to our peers in writing groups, our Internet friends, or the hallowed greats like Stephen King. We long for the secret to their success. How do they write a first draft so quickly? How do they have so many Pinterest followers? Where do they find time to publish and write a daily blog?
We take other writers’ successes as inherent failures in ourselves as creatives. Newsflash: art isn’t a zero-sum game.
Let me get personal for a minute. Throughout high school and university, I longed to be a writer, but I hardly ever wrote. I seethed with self-loathing and jealousy in equal amounts. As I became more entwined in the literary community, I saw myself in competition with other aspiring writers. With each person’s success, I thought one more seat on the bus to authordom had been snatched from me. Around senior year of college, I finally wised up.
But others I know didn’t. I’ve lost friends over jealousy and unnecessary feelings of competition. I’ve had close friends flat-out ignore my writing career. I’ve had acquaintances insult or downplay my abilities in order to praise their own. It sucks. It hurts.And I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
Why do we feel jealousy?
Easy: because other writers have what we want. Be it a publishing contract, a movie deal, or even just a finished manuscript, if you want it, some writer has already accomplished it. When I used to see a more successful writer, I would instantly translate that into: “Well, shit. I’m so far behind. I’m never going to amount to anything.” OR “They don’t deserve X. They just got lucky. Why can’t anyone see what a talentless hack they are?”
The good news? I don’t ride either of those thought trains anymore. In fact, the moment I feel a twinge of jealousy, I actually get really excited. Why?
Because when channeled properly, jealousy can be a force for good.
The positive side of jealousy
Jealousy and competition are natural human feelings. If you acknowledge them and channel their energy into something positive, it can be motivating for you. The next time you feel jealous, take a moment to deconstruct your emotions and get down to what’s really bothering you. But don’t stop there: make a plan to fix the real issue so that this doesn’t happen again.
Here is how my jealous moments play out now:
- Address the feeling: Okay, Kate. You’re feeling jealous.
- Forgive yourself: That’s okay! You’re human. It happens.
- Find the “what:” Let’s see. I’m jealous that this author started writing a book after me, but is publishing it before I publish mine.
- Find the “why:” I wish my book were ready to publish.
- Take responsibility and make a plan: Well, what can you do to make that happen? How about we turn off Netflix and do some revising? Let’s eat out one less night a week so we can afford an editor. Let’s stop being nervous and contact the cover designer.
- Ride the high: Awesome, I know exactly what to do! I just have to be patient and work hard. I’m going to write right now.
Ways to handle jealousy
Notice this section is not titled “ways to quit being jealous.” That’s probably never going to happen. There will always be someone more successful than you. There will always be something you want that someone else has already achieved. But, there are ways to handle your jealousy in a healthy manner.
Act in opposition to your feelings. A writer friend on Facebook posts that they’ve signed with an agent? Like the post or write a supportive comment. At first, you can console yourself with the smug satisfaction that you were “the bigger person” in the competition your mind constructed. Eventually, your gut reaction will change to genuine excitement for them. I promise.
Figure out how they did it. I want to be Joanna Penn so bad it hurts. She writes kick-ass fiction books, super-helpful nonfiction books, and is a beloved authority figure in the self-publishing community. But instead of hating her and avoiding her, I follow her progress. I read her books. I read the articles she posts. And you know what? I’m learning how to create a career like hers, one step at a time.
Do something about it. If you have a moment of jealousy, then you know what you want. It frustrates you that your writer friend has a finished book and you don’t? Go write your damn book. That Twitter author has better sales than you? Read up on book marketing and business strategy, arrange advertising or book reviews, or publish more books. Outside circumstances may prevent you from achieving 100% of your goals, but if you’re not putting 100% of possible effort in, then you have no one to blame but yourself.
Remember that someone out there is jealous of you. If there is someone ahead of you, then there must be someone behind you. Maybe you don’t make enough money to write full-time yet, but there is a writer out there who has only one book published who envies your five-book series. Moreover, the person of whom you are jealous was once in your position. Keep it all in perspective.
Be kind to yourself. Often, jealousy goes hand-in-hand with feelings of inadequacy. If you are nicer to yourself throughout the entire creative process (keeping your inner critic quiet during drafting, forgiving yourself for missing your word count goal on a busy day, etc.), your self-respect will grow. When it is healthy and happy, you are less likely to be dragged down by bitterness.
And if all else fails? Step away from the situation and eat some ice cream. It really does make everything better.
Guest post contributed by Kate M. Colby. Kate is a writer of multi-genre fiction and creative nonfiction as well as a writing-craft blogger. Kate graduated summa cum laude from Baker University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Sociology.
Nice post, Kate. It is so true not just in writing but also in life. It is important to remember we each have our own path. Your post is a good reminder and provide some needed tips for all of us who have felt these feelings at some point.
LikeLiked by 5 people
Thank you so much for this. X
Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Blog.
Pin Hemingway’s quote in full view: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Helps me!
Thanks for the upfront post, Kate.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t know if I’m so much jealous as irritated by bad writing. Since the book I am writing (still–just began Book III of the Trilogy) began as more of a writing exercise in order to deal with waiting forever for my script to get out and read like it was supposed to do. I’ve been writing since the age of three and published since nine and I never thought to be jealous of anyone. If anything, I liked their successes because it made me believe in creative writing again. I will, however, admit–to my own detriment (I don’t know) that “poorly written” romances do annoy me. Mostly because the first thing that comes into my mind is, “Are you kidding me? People like this stuff?” And I read on page of a certain bad romance (thank you, Lady Gaga) and turned into my 10th grade English teacher in 3.5 seconds. I have a Bachelor’s in English (Shakespearean and Chaucerian Literature) and a Master’s in History (Early Christianity) so I came from a place where editing was a cultural imperative. But I think being a good writer is being able to cheer for other writers. Why put undo pressure on yourself trying to be someone else–much less worrying about how someone else is doing? Sometimes great painters never become legendary in their lifetime. I think it is the same with writing. Just do it. My acting teach taught me, “it’s never no–just not now.” He was always right because everyone of his students–me included–eventually got that one audition that paid the bills if we concentrated more on what we were doing and less on others. So, though I wrote a fan fiction based on the life of Thranduil, I returned to Tolkien (and if I read another volume, I will turn into a Woodland elf), and read what he wrote, but when I wrote my story, it came out all me with a side of Tolkien (because I wanted to make sure it was a plausible story rather than some things I learned that were, uh…never mind). It came out first person, but so far, people find that is follows the chronology of Middle Earth without taking from the original (which was the plan) while being me. (Let me say, that was no easy in some places and toy soldiers helped through the battle scenes). I even learned four Tolkien ME Languages (I actually read Sindarin and Quenya to the point I’m thinking of adding it to a resume as languages I know). I think other writers are beneficial to the art, so I don’t often feel jealous. I feel good that people are actually still reading. 🙂
It’s posts like this that make me so happy that I have a blog. It’s good to receive the message that we–perhaps–don’t want but need to see and read.
To tell the truth, I have come to prefer the slow path to success. Many authors who achieve “instant” success, i.e., the first novel wins the Pulitzer or Man Booker Prize, or some great honor, never write another successful novel.
This is so helpful! As a creative writing student, I sometimes can’t help comparing myself to the writers I’m so often surrounded by. Glad to understand how those feelings of frustration can be used positively!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner.
Reblogged this on Books and More.
I’ve always thought that associating good writing with success is absurd. It’s as ridiculous as associating success with good taste in the United States. No one ever got rich in the U.S. by over estimating the taste of the american public. From hula hoops to breast implants we are a populist nation that thrives on copying what works. I still remember the days when there was just one fast oil change company, then there were dozens of them, and now the fad has declined and we’re back to a few.
Go do what you do. Either people will like it (or love it) or they won’t. If they love it great. If they don’t — then figure out what you can do to change it.
I remember 30 years ago we were at the Milwaukee Lakefront Festival of the Arts and a local artist was complaining that their little ceramic cows weren’t selling as well this year as they had the previous 5 years, and I wanted to shout out, “well, if you made something different from time to time instead of remaking the same black and white ceramic cow maybe you’d still have a market” But I kept my mouth shut. Any of the arts thrive or fail on the taste of their market. There’s no telling what will be popular — if popularity is what you seek. And if you’re expecting to get rich in any of the arts you’d best look at history to see when it was that artists like Monet, and Van Gogh, and Picasso really became famous and their work made money….
LikeLiked by 1 person
I wish to comment on your statement, “Go do what you do. Either people will like it (or love it) or they won’t. If they love it great. If they don’t — then figure out what you can do to change it.”
For me, as an unpublished writer, the one thing that I don’t know is why I seem to get very few comments on my website or blog. One thing could be the infrequent posting, but I have had people tell me how good they think my writing is.
One of my Facebook friends ran a Holiday thing last christmas, and asked if I wanted to host one of the hours and offer one of my works for free as a promotion. When I told her I had nothing published to offer, she said she was surprised because my writing “was so good.”
So, my question is, how does one figure out what isn’t working and fix it, if no one gives feedback? Like that ceramic cow maker, instead of thinking your response, wasn’t there some way you could have told them that amicably, so they would know what to do to fix it?
Folks like myself are wanting someone to say, “Hey, that’s pretty good, but try this or that and it could be better.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
Your comment prompts two separate lines of thought.
1.) A person’s creative output arises out of their personality. Hence — to criticize one’s art/writing/“cows” is only too often taken as a personal affront. And you know what people do when they are insulted: they stop listening and get defensive. So, I guess my first answer to your question is I have not found suggesting how to change someone else’s art to be a productive way of helping — because too often the “they” in the equation doesn’t want help. They might want more sales, but they often don’t think they “NEED” help because the problem is with the public that just don’t appreciate their work.
2.) “There is no accounting for matters of taste” – I heard that years ago and it’s really true. Sometimes I think that art is like beauty. Everyone is not equally “attractive” by popular standards. There may be people in one’s life who they you are beautiful but they may not be the majority of your friends; or maybe they are — you have no control over that.
I don’t think artists generally think about marketing themselves OR whether what they want to sell/produce is something that anyone else values.
For example, I have always had a love affair with fountain pens — but the fact of the matter is that while I spent an obscene amount of money on a couple of my favorites there are not all that many people in the world who share the same set of values. Most people wouldn’t give tuppence for a fountain pen. I had to accept that what I liked, metaphorically, was not ‘coin of the realm’.
The question, in my mind, is: can a person who marches to the beat of a different drummer be happy playing the common tune? I think that’s like asking a gay person how they like being in the closet. Or how they would feel about staying in the closet their entire life. We produce our art from what flows out of us — the question is, is what flows out of us commercially marketable? Sometimes I think the answer is yes, but a lot of the time the answer is not-so-much.
Inventors and engineers face the same dilemma — just because you invent a great hula hoop doesn’t mean the world is going to make you famous. Then again — you may make and manufacture a great hula hoop — but say you make it out of chemicals that unknown-to-you cause cancer and find yourself being sued by millions of hula hoop purchasers one might think their dream has been dashed — but maybe the science just didn’t exist to tell you that your choice of materials was flawed. — it has nothing to do with whether your hula hoop was good or bad. You were at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong product. It might be an exquisite product — but you haven’t captured the imagination of the public.
I get BookBub emails offering me free ebooks and I’m interested in the variety of offerings that are available for some of the listings. You can buy hardcover for $20-$30, or paperback for $7, or ebook for $0.99 – $2.00 (for example) — and I think that speaks to me about how much people value things. There are books that I would read for free that I would never spend $30.00 on …. duh… they might be for beach moments — time to veg out and chill — or they might be serious works that are written by talented writers giving insight into the human condition. Did the person producing the pulp fiction grow up thinking, “I want to work hard every day, cranking out lots of words because what I have to say isn’t going to make the NYTime best seller list? I doubt it. We all think we’re going to write the GREAT opus, not pulp fiction. But sometimes what we have to say doesn’t command attention and maybe we should look at a different medium (I have made more money selling photographs than I ever made selling words) or a different career altogether.
But the fact of the matter is simple: no one faces the task of self-inspection easily. We all struggle to know our worth — personally, and in the marketplace. Sometimes we find we value ourselves too little, or too highly, or about right. But I don’t think there’s any easy way to get to the point that we are serious about figuring out whether what we have to offer is salable. It might be good. It might be excellent. Or it might be crap. And the fact that we are told how good it is doesn’t necessarily make it good — or our critics accurate.
Which is why I say, do what you have to do. I write because I need to write; I’m compelled. My blog has some readers; not a lot, but some. I don’t write for them. I write for myself.
But then I’m not trying to monetize my blog. I don’t care about monetizing my blog. I don’t write for money, I write because I must.
Not sure if that helped, but it’s the only answer I have.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I do see your points, and do agree that one’s work will be hit-or-miss.
However, if a writer asks for the opinions, as I try to, they leave it open for the positive and negative. Willing to take the blunt force comments, the critical eye of the general public.
I admit that I have a bit of insecurity, and not just with my writing. Thus, I crave someone telling me what they did or didn’t like in what they read. If I don’t know why someone cannot finish or like it, I won’t know how to make it better.
I have submitted a few works to online mags, and have gotten rejections. Most are just flat out “Not the right fit for us” form letters. One time, I actually got a real response, specific to my submission. It was still a rejection, but I knew that one actually read it, and didn’t feel “never heard of him, toss it out.” I know rejection is part of the game, and accept that. But, on my site and blogs, I try to request feedback on my stories so I can better understand what will be desired.
I’m not sure I’m putting my thoughts on it down here correctly. I just want to understand whether people want to read what I write, and if not, how it can be better.
I guess one could say I try to write to entertain others. There are times I can just let words flow out, and others when “I got nothing.”
Thank you for laying all this out. I do appreciate your thoughts on the subject.
“Not the right fit for us” if precisely what I was talking about. You say that it signals no one read your manuscript but sometimes a person only need read the first sentence to know whether a piece is something you want to read. And I don’t think you can discount the concept of “fit” If you have a platoon of soldiers and everyone’s marching in step except one guy — he certainly stands out as not fitting. Which is not a statement on your particular writing — but on that view of publishing.
Some people have a way of capturing the Zeitgeist and bringing it to life; others have no idea there even is a spirit of the times. The ability to be commercial isn’t a function of education, it certainly isn’t a function of good taste.
I sometimes think of kids on a school playground — at least the old school playgrounds of 50+ years ago — the ones I remember. The kids were always broken up into likeminded groups. Some kids were popular. Other kids weren’t. Some of the unpopular ones always wanted to be part of the popular groups — but rarely did anyone move from group to group. And then there was me who didn’t fit into any group, and didn’t much care. (Which explains why I sold more photos than manuscripts). Sometimes our take on the world resonates with others — sometimes it does not. Can we help that, or improve that — John, I don’t honestly know — and I seriously doubt it. I think personality is inevitable — we see the world through our own eyes and sometimes we are just out of step with the rest of the world.
Then again wanting to know from others whether a piece is good or bad sort of negates the craft of writing. Part of our job as writers is to present a salable manuscript. Sometimes we do; other times we don’t. When we aren’t sure it might be time to get out the checkbook and pay someone to read/edit what we’ve come up with. Free opinions are worth what we pay for them.
John, I don’t know if you are really writing for fun or profit. (I say that because I’ve submitted pieces for publication but wasn’t hoping to make a living from doing so). There aren’t many artists in any media who make a livable income from their art. The U.S. is not a society that really honors the arts. A few make an obscene amount of money, but for all the “writers” out there not many of them can subsist on the income from their craft. (considering that there are some 350 million residents in the U.S.)
From your blog foto I can see that you aren’t you, you aren’t old. All I can say is keep at it. Do what you do. I don’t know if you’ll ever make a living out of it — and I don’t know if you’ll ever get better at it — that’s entirely up to you. But whatever you do, try to keep growing. There are people who have been at the same thing for 20 years, and have 20 years experience. There are others who never gain 20 years worth of experience — they have their first year’s experience and they keep repeating it over and over and over. Which person you are is up to you. Keep growing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I write to entertain. I’m not real concerned with making a lot of money, though some would be nice. I am more of a “people pleaser.” I want them to read my writing and be happy they did. To create some kind of response, be it an adrenaline rush, a fear to turn off the lights when done, or even a good belly laugh; all depending on which story they read.
That is what’s fun for me- the reactions of others. Some of my writing gets my adrenaline going while I’m putting it down, and I have written some things that had me laughing as I type. I don’t think I’ve ever read or written anything to make me afraid to turn off the lights, but I am a bit jaded from watching so many Horror movies.
I have had some tell me they had these reactions to various pieces, and that makes me sort of proud, if you will, that I could or did give them that. That is my aim with my writing. I don’t know if that’s an honorable goal, but it’s mine.
As for my photo; I have, for a long time, looked younger than I am, but feel much older. I am 51, the photo is only a year and a half ago. But I have physical damages that I feel most all the time, and I smoke, so time isn’t really on my side as much as it may have been had I not developed such hazardous habits, or worked so physically hard.
I do try to grow as a writer. Indeed, I have, as I can look back on things I wrote a year or two ago and wonder how I could have put such drivel in a computer file. Not really drivel, but wordy. Way too wordy. But that is to be expected, from what I’ve heard. So, I just alter it to what I’ve learned. Problem is, I usually do that before I finish the WIP, which is the main reason they stay a WIP.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.
Reblogged this on Christopher Peter and commented:
Good, helpful post. I have to admit to feeling jealous at times. Not so much of more successful and talented writers than myself, mind you. For example, I’m envious of Frances Hardinge for winning the Costa Prize for The Lie Tree last year – but having read the book, I also have to admit she’s a seriously good writer, the kind of author in fact that I need to read more of to help improve my own craft, and the book fully deserves the accolades and attendant sales it has earnt.
No, I’m more jealous of the ‘celebrity’ authors, those people famous for something completely different but who decided to write a book (often a children’s book) for the hell of it, and of course land a publishing contract right away simply because of who they are, not because – OK I’ll stop there because I could rant a lot longer but I won’t. Suffice to say – what can I learn from this type of ‘celebrity’ author?
The chances are they aren’t any more talented at writing than I am, and most often probably less so. (I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant, but we all know how much time and effort it takes to become a better writer, and most of these celebrities simply haven’t put in that hard graft – they don’t need to.) My conclusion is that I simply have to try to ignore them. They are a fact of the publishing world and probably always will be., and it doesn’t affect my own chances or goals in the slightest – unless I let it by allowing it to discourage me.
It also depends how I measure ‘success’. Is it sales and money, or is it the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from writing and doing the best you can?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Kate for this post. Putting things in perspective helps me greatly to deal with feelings of jealousy. I don’t wait to be consumed by jealousy. When those negative feelings come, I swing into action and I write some more.
Reblogged this on Octopus Re-Inked: Cate Russell-Cole and commented:
This is too good not to share. I hope it encourages you.
Reblogged this on Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons and commented:
Here are some excellent ideas for combating one of the bigger hazards of the writing life. Thank you, Kate!