Happy Monday. Today I’m going to talk about dealing with writer envy, an issue I’ve struggled with time and time again.
The other day I received the August 2017 edition of The Writer. In it is an article by Ryan G. Van Cleave titled “Little Green Monsters: The 411 on Writer Envy”. Van Cleave gives a brief overview of his own experiences with envy, provides advice from four professional writers, and finishes with his own advice on “defeating the little green monster.” I suggest grabbing a copy and reading the entire article.
So, what is writer envy? It’s when we, as writers, see others succeed and feel bad because those other writers seem to be accomplishing more than we are.
If you were to tell me that, throughout your entire writing career, you’ve never felt writer envy, I’d likely huff at you. Even the most selfless, altruistic human is susceptible to greed and jealousy. And let’s face it, all markets–including the writing market–encourage competition which, in turn, cultivates a needless “dog-eat-dog world” mentality.
I know I’ve had this issue. It doesn’t make me mad at the other person and I don’t blame them for it. Rather, I start to wonder why I’m not successful like they are and if I’m not good enough to be a writer. I’ve gotten somewhat better about not having this reaction lately. However, I still have moments when I see that a writing friend has won a contest or been published and I feel a twinge and question my ability to succeed.
How do you stop this self-destructive attitude? Well, there’s no way to entirely eliminate it. Nevertheless, you can curb it, either by turning it into something productive or adjusting your thinking to have more positive reactions.
Van Cleave has his own advice for handling writer envy, which I think every writer should read. Here, though, I’m going to discuss my own ways of dealing with it:
- Raise the bar for yourself. Instead of whining and moaning “why didn’t it happen to me”, make and meet your own goals. Do you have an edited manuscript in your drawer gathering dust? Start querying agents! Learned of a contest you want to enter? Get on it! Jealousy, to a certain point, can be a good motivator; you just have to make yourself use that motivation. You can’t expect an agent to randomly e-mail you saying “You didn’t query me but I’d love to represent your book.” (If you do, that’s a huge red flag for a scam.) The only way things are going to change is if you push yourself harder and do the work.
- Channel the envy energy into something productive. Whether it’s writing-related or an expenditure of energy in another area of your life, I’m sure you can find some good use for the pent-up aggression and agitation. Write a new story. Edit your manuscript. Query a magazine or blog. Heck, you could even clean your house and it would still be a better use of this energy than stewing on someone “doing better” than you.
- Remind yourself of your accomplishments. Van Cleave hints at this coping mechanism by suggesting that, if you feel the need to compare yourself to someone, you should compare your work now to your old work. I’m not going to lie, depending on the mood you’re in that may not be the best idea. I’ve depressed and embarrassed myself enough to know that you have to choose the right time to revisit old writing. You should, however, remind yourself of how much you have achieved. Won a contest a few years back? Had an article or short story published in a magazine? Finished a book-length manuscript during the last NaNoWriMo? All of those are great feats to achieve. You need to remind yourself of that and remember that you’re not in competition with anyone but yourself.
- Think of another writer’s success as a sign that you can succeed. If you’re suffering from writer envy, you’re probably already thinking “I’m just as good and/or as experienced as they are, why haven’t I caught a break”. Flip that mindset. Instead of complaining that you haven’t gotten a break when you’re like this other writer, think about the fact that another writer like you has succeeded. Since they’ve succeeded, that means someone like you has the potential to make it in the writing market. In other words, this other writer’s success means that you can succeed, too, if you put in the effort.
Remember that everyone grows at their own pace. Just because you seem to be “falling behind” doesn’t mean that you actually are. You remember in high school when you complained because you weren’t tall enough, weren’t strong enough, weren’t maturing quickly enough, whatever, and then your parents (or other trusted adult) told you not to worry about it because everyone grows at a different rate? The same is true for everything else in life, including writing. Progress is not the same from person to person. Everyone has to work and live at their own pace. As I said in #2, stop comparing yourself to everyone else. All that matters is that you’ve grown in comparison to your old self. Any other comparison will only depress you and/or drive you crazy.
I know this is all easier said than done. We’re taught from an early age that we have to be competitive or we won’t survive. It’ll take a lot of unlearning and conscious reconstruction of your thoughts to help you overcome the hurdle of writer envy. Don’t give up. You’ll feel a lot better about yourself when you get past it and you’ll be able to enjoy your fellow writers’ success, perhaps even helping them along the way.
Any thoughts on writer envy or how to get over it? Suggestions for future topics? Drop a line in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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