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The Haves and the Have-Nots:  Surviving Writer Envy

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Being in a creative field has never been an easy pursuit. Low wages, the subjective nature of the arts, and the struggle to be seen pretty much ensures we’re all a little bit nuts for doing it. As if all those factors aren’t bad enough, non-writers often belittle the incredible time, effort, and care that goes into a well-crafted book without realizing it by saying things like, “I’ve started a journal on my dog’s habits and I have another really great idea. I’m sure it would be a bestseller.” In addition to these lovely aspects, we suffer from ubiquitous social media and all that comes with it—the humble brag, vague-booking, and flat out self-indulgence. (We won’t address some of the other hideous things like trolls and bullying.) We get to see, day in and day out, what EVERYONE ELSE has. How everyone else is better off than we are. How pathetic we are in our attempts to be respected and celebrated authors.

It’s tough watching others succeed when we aren’t where we’d like to be. We begin to compare ourselves to that person whose Good News with a capital “g” keeps popping up in our newsfeed. We want that A-level agent, that big publisher, too! We ask ourselves things like: Isn’t my writing stronger, my premise more interesting than hers? Why the hell is this author a bestseller with her lackluster skills? Why did she get all the marketing power when it’s not even a good book?

Believe it or not, being published makes this envy worse. You yearn for a bigger contract or more attention in the media, more reviews, more fans, movie deals, adoration, silk sheets and mansions, black and white postcards with a photo of you smoking a cigarette in some Parisian café. No? Okay, maybe that’s overkill, but you get my drift. More, more, more. Why isn’t it ME? What’s wrong with ME?

I keep hearing a lot about this type of envy (and feel it at times, let’s be honest). So how can we combat it?

WALK YOUR OWN PATH:

Comparing yourself to others dates back to elementary school when Suzie Baker got sparkly legwarmers like the lead in “Flash Dance” or Jonnie Walker strolled down the hall in the latest Nike sneaks. The comparisons morph into different yearnings and dreams as we age, but it’s essentially the same thing. We want to belong so badly, we want to be loved, we want to be valued. But the answer is really very simple.

The best way to be valued and admired, to be a “have”, is to embrace your own journey.

Be your unique, weird, crazy, creative, inspired, wonderful self. Don’t wish for something not meant for you, or try to be someone you aren’t. It will only cast shadows on the true opportunities that swim around you, as well as eclipse all the good you’ve already accomplished. Instead, focus on what you’re learning about yourself, about your craft. How can you funnel all this goodness into your stories?

Besides, you have no idea what’s really going on behind Uber-Cool Writer’s public persona. Perhaps they wrote seven novels and survived years of rejection before being published. Perhaps their publisher has dropped them at one point or another because they no longer want to invest in them, so they must reinvent themselves. Perhaps this writer had an agent for a while that couldn’t sell their manuscripts, or worse, pitched them when they weren’t ready, thereby giving this writer a reputation for subpar books among the pubs (this happens more than you think).

Writers post the good news and the happy thoughts and the inspirational points because it’s part of their job. It’s part of being professional in a public space. Of course everything looks hunkie dorie.

But I can say from experience, I haven’t met a single author who hasn’t struggled with self-doubt about their talents, feared their sales numbers or the timbre of their reviews, worried about publisher protocols, and obsessed over the shifting market and their place within it. Just because an author hits the NYT Best Seller list a time or two doesn’t ensure them a career. And it certainly doesn’t eliminate the emotions I mentioned above. They aren’t better. They’re on a different path.

So focus on yourself, your journey. Someone else’s successes do not diminish your own.

BE PROUD OF WHAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED:

We rarely take enough time to honor our triumphs. (I spend much of my time reaching for that next goal, hardly slowing down enough to celebrate, so I speak to myself as much as you.) If you finish a chapter, reward yourself. If you finish a book, celebrate—whether it’s published or not! If someone leaves a nice review, or you get a shout out from a friend, reader, or the media, dance like the end of the world is near. Share the good news. Spread the good cheer! You’ve earned it and it’s bringing you closer to the Next Great Story.  Besides, positive energy attracts more positive energy.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL:

The only thing you can control is your story and your craft. Rather than wasting energy on lamenting what you don’t have, pour it into bringing your skills to the next level. Read voraciously in your genre and outside of it with a studious eye. Pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t. Utilize craft books. Try different types of stories and skill sets. And finish that next book!

The only way out of the funky feelings is through, I like to say. One word after another.  You won’t ever get “there” unless you finish the next manuscript.

REASSESS YOUR GOALS:                                  

Be flexible about your vision. Too many authors are rigid in their expectations, whether it be the genre in which they write, the POV they choose, or the era and region of their stories. But I say, if something isn’t working, try something new. If your goals feel unattainable, adjust them so you can be successful. Success, even on a small scale, breeds more of that positive energy I was talking about. This seems elementary, but I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve spoken to who say things like, “no, this is my thing and I’m sticking to it”, rather than venturing out into the unknown. Sometimes we don’t realize that “my thing” isn’t really what we thought at all.

BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE:

Be grateful for the connections and the friends you’ve made, the opportunities that have come your way. Be grateful for the courage you have to pursue your passion. So few in life do. Be grateful for the gift of storytelling, of creating art. The beauty of art is a big part of what makes life worth living.

We’re all on the “have-nots” list at some point so be sensitive to others, supportive of their successes. If you can’t be, then mind your own business. Keep your eye on the prize and develop that next manuscript. Envy isn’t called the green-eyed monster for nothing. It’s ugly.

 

How do you boost your morale when you’re suffering from a case of the green-eyed monster?

About Heather Webb [1]

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction. To date, Heather’s books have sold in over a dozen countries worldwide. As a freelance editor, Heather has helped many writers sign with agents and go on to sell at market. When not writing, she feeds her cookbook addiction, geeks out on history and pop culture, and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

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