Jealousy Kills Writers

Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time there were two writer-bloggers I loved, Josie and Parker. Josie had a vulnerable, writer-next-door vibe; she was open about her rejections, the stumbling blocks to creativity, the difficulty of having to wake up early to cram in an hour of writing before the day job. Parker was an indie firebrand. Her edgy, outspoken allegiance to self-publishing was a rallying call. I loved them both because they were showing me how other women cope with the psychological brutality of writing in a void, struggling for readers, and striving for their dreams.

Josie and Parker aren’t their real names, and this isn’t a Disney-happy fairy tale. No, this is a Brothers Grimm cautionary tale because once upon a time, I stopped loving these writers because they got what they wanted. Their writing careers took off and left me feeling betrayed. Betrayal slouched towards jealousy, and I fell into self-pity disguised as certainty that I would never be where they are. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to them and feeling like a failure. After all, Josie and I used to be so alike, both loved coffee, wore odd writing sweaters, wrote before work. How dare she get a publishing deal, quit the 9-5, leave me behind? Parker also got a publishing deal, but hers came with a full reversal on her stance on indie publishing. My indie icon abandoned  me! Me, me, me! All I cared about was how these women’s choices reflected on how I saw myself. I knew I should be happy for them, to celebrate their well-earned place on the bookshelves of the world. I couldn’t, though, because I was full of spite and resentment. I stopped following them on Twitter, I got angry when Amazon recommended their new books, I used their successes as excuses for my failure. Does that make sense? Of course not! Jealousy isn’t reason’s bedfellow.

What did I do?

I withdrew from the community. I let my  jealousy become my permission to give up on ever ‘making it’ as a writer. That big screen TV that I just wrote about giving away? It was how I spent my time, drinking and eating delivery food and feeling wronged by … what? The fact that writers whose stories I loved made it? That women who struggled harder than I have got farther in their writing careers? I was the biggest pity party in town.

The road back to a place of  joy in writing and freedom from the burden of jealousy hasn’t been easy. It took months, and the tough admission that I was reacting to Josie and Parker’s success out of total selfishness. I don’t know if anyone else has this writer-jealousy problem; it’s not the topic of polite conversation. But, if even one writer is suffering that way, I want to share what I’ve learned about how to stomp out the killing seeds of writer’s envy. Here’s the first step:

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER WRITERS!

Decide what you want, define success in concrete terms that matter to you. YOU, not Josie and Parker. Then make a plan of how you will get there. Know what you need to do this week, this month, and this year. Prioritize your list, then start working. I started with cleaning up and unifying my author-publisher platform; it doesn’t take much to get all of your social media outlets using the same type of images, taglines and bios. That was one tiny step on the larger journey, but it felt good because it is in alignment with my plan. When you know what and how, it’s easier to find appropriate role models. Then Josie and Parker become an inspiration rather than some bizarre writer’s yardstick that you either measure up to, or beat yourself over the head with for not being them. Practice gratitude and thank the authors who guide you by commenting on their blog and buying their books. Put in extra hours towards your goal by cutting TV out of your life. Look at other writers as a source of teachings, rather than a catalog of ways in which you have been “outdone.” Take your lead from your role models, but do things in your own way, and in accordance with your plan. Stop giving yourself permission to fail because you aren’t Josie and you’re not Parker. You will never be either of them. You are something equally beautiful, though: YOU!

-aniko

 

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12 thoughts on “Jealousy Kills Writers

  1. Writer envy can kill a career; you’re right, Aniko. I am always pleasantly surprised at how supportive other writers are, as long as we all keep our eyes open to seeing that. Another great post!

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    • The act of writing can feel very isolating, and then publishing into (relative) silence can feel like a punishment. That’s when I find I’m ripe to look around and say, “She’s done XYZ and her XYZ wasn’t better than mine, so why is she popular/contracted/agented/happy and I’m not!?” Those are dangerous thoughts. My path isn’t hers, and hers isn’t mine. I have chosen to keep writing, and to have faith that the people who are meant to find my work will. If it’s only one person who never tells me, so be it. I can’t control that. But I can control how I deal with it. And you are right: writers are a very supportive community. They can’t support me if I disappear, though, which is what I did. I’m glad to be back, and appreciate you took the time to comment!

      -aniko

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  2. I think a little comparison with others can be a good thing so long as you are using someone else’s success as something to strive for (and obviously not being smug if you’re doing better than someone else).

    Otherwise, a line from Desiderata comes to mind, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and better; for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

    Having said all that, we all natural compare ourselves to others, especially others in our field, and I will admit I’ve had moments where I wasn’t necessarily envious of another’s success, but I was perhaps surprised by it (which of course is a whole other side of that “bitter” thing, when you feel like your own talent isn’t being recognized while lesser talent, in your opinion, is.)

    And I know you’re all footloose and fancy free and all, but if you want to know how to cut down on television, no need to give it away. Just have kids 🙂

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    • Paul, hi!

      Comparison is natural, and I think that it can push us to work a little harder when we see someone similar achieving goals that match our own. However, I also think that it can be dangerous. Comparison usually leads to dichotomies: she has, I haven’t; she will, I won’t. I found that I used comparisons as a way to tear myself down. It didn’t hurt the other writer, but it set me back. It is more helpful for me to focus on what I do have in common with the Parkers and Josies, rather than focusing how I don’t measure up. Instead of thinking, “She has that, I don’t, I started at the same time and I’m falling behind,” I try and rephrase it as “She has that, and she is living proof that what I want can happen.” I try to identify where we are the same, rather than where we are different. It puts a sense of hope and optimism into the act of comparison.

      Oh, and yes! It can be difficult to avoid the bitterness when the other person just doesn’t really seem to be all that much more talented at writing than I am. It is surprising, and its another instance where I know I have to make a conscious decision not to let myself wallow.

      RE: the TV – lol, “just have kids!”

      Thanks for stopping by!

      -aniko

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  3. Well put, Aniko. You’re one of the few who has the guts to not only air this dirty little secret, but to do it so succinctly. It happens to all of us at one time or another and it can be soul crushing. Envy and fear are two of the biggest reasons that aspiring writers give it all up. The key is to make peace with them and keep pushing. I know how hard it is to write and write and get nothing but crickets as a reward. I did it for 15 years. I was beginning think I’d lost my mind, while harboring resentment towards others I thought had far less talent or drive. It can make you mental.

    You’re a wonderful writer. Don’t disappear and don’t give up.

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    • Hunter, hello!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I really debated whether or not to share this. It’s not pretty to admit that I was hopelessly jealous of other writers. I thought that the best way to redeem my wasted time and bad experience was to share it with others. Maybe it will help a writer who thinks she is the first (or only) one to struggle with paralyzing envy. Self-doubt is an ugly thing, but it’s truly evil when it takes the joy out of writing. If I can help someone past that, my jealousy (lousy as it was!) becomes a boon.

      You are also a wonderful writer, Hunter, and I’m enjoying THE WAITING very much!
      (You should all go get a copy! http://www.amazon.com/The-Waiting-Hunter-Shea-ebook/dp/B00I41ZACK ).

      -aniko

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  4. Another excellent post, Aniko, and one that hit home! I once went through agonies of jealousy when I saw other writers doing better than I did. It’s not a very pleasant thing to admit – it flies in the face of everything I want to believe about myself – but it’s true. Comparing yourself to others is poison because, as you rightly point out, you are you – not somebody else – and someone else’s path could never be yours.

    Now, I try hard to steer clear of these insidious comparisons. I do what I do; others do what they do; nobody’s “right” or “better”, because we’re all different!

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    • Mari!!

      I think a lot of writers suffer ‘agonies of jealousy.’ I’m not sure we discuss it as often as it happens. I suspect Hunter is correct when he says that ‘envy and fear are two of the biggest reasons aspiring writers give up.’ It’s so easy to compare, especially when that comparison validates our self-doubt. That leads to a dangerous state of mind. I’m glad you made it past your jealousy, and I’m happy that you keep writing and doing what you do – because what you do is wonderful!

      -aniko

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    • Chin up, no more tears, just plain old onward and upward! I’m honestly a happier writer now than I’ve ever been. I think I had to go through this gloom to find what is right for me, and for my writing. I’m very glad to be where I am!

      Thank you for the encouragement!

      xoxoxo!

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  5. I’ve been where you are. I went through a dark period of jealousy where I could not even walk down the science fiction aisle at the library and I stayed out of bookstores completely. I think a lot of writers so through this, but few are courageous enough to put pen to our secret shame. Bravo, Aniko. Bravo.

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    • Margaret, hi!

      My dog is trying to help me write this comment. She is using her nose to shove my elbow. I think she wants me to tell you hello. 🙂

      I spent a week deciding if I wanted to write this post. It isn’t a subject we discuss openly, or even mention. It is nice to know I’m not some sort of envy-anomaly, but surprising to see how many other authors have also experienced writer’s jealousy. Hopefully other writers will see these comments and realize that you can get past that darkness and emerge to be an accomplished, well-adjusted author. Thank you for sharing!

      -aniko

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