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.