Thursday, August 4, 2011

August Theme: HOW TO DEAL WITH ENVY by Irene Latham

This post is for the humans among us, we writers who struggle sometimes with unattractive, shameful feelings we only confess to our spouses or dearest (usually non-writer) friends. If you can relate to any of the following scenarios, then yes, I’m talking to you:

The newest member of your writing group queries one single agent… and less than 24 hours later gets an offer for representation. And it’s not just any agent: your dream agent. You want to be excited and happy for her but inside you are blubbering, why her and not me?

The Cover Gods do not smile blessings upon your latest novel. Meanwhile, an author-friend’s book cover gets glitter. And Barnes & Noble is so excited about it they make author-friend’s book part of their Book Club. You don’t even like glitter, but author-friend’s lucky break makes you feel very small inside. Couldn't the publisher have thrown in just a teensy bit of glitter?

Best Author Friend hits the NYT list with her latest paranormal YA. You are thrilled for her but secretly gorge on cookies & cream ice cream because none of your books have ever hit the NYT list. And since you don’t write paranormal YA, chances are they never will. You curse trends while furtively trying to find a way to add a paranormal element to your wip.

Writing compatriot is a Social Media God. He says “hi” to fellow websurfers, and they clamor onto his twitter and FB and email newsletter lists. He doesn’t say anything you haven’t already said a gazillion times. But no matter how many contests you host, he’s a darling and you aren’t. You read THE WHITE DARKNESS by Geraldine McCaughrean and suddenly the vast nothingness of Antarctica looks cozy.


Here’s the awful truth, friends: the writing industry is not fair. You can write gorgeous/snappy/hysterical/thrilling/your adjective here prose and NYT and Newbery does not come calling. You can work at it for YEARS and still someone will come along who makes a sale or some other major success in weeks, days, hours. And that makes fertile ground for ENVY.

So, yeah. The first step is to just admit it: I’m envious of Best Author Friend. Say it out loud. Tell the spouse all about it. Wallow for a little while. THEN PICK YOURSELF UP. And to borrow from Disney’s The Lion King, REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE.

In practical terms this might include any (or all) of the following strategies:

Limit your googling and other online “research” methods. Often, the more you know, the worse you feel. So just don’t go there. Don’t read about it. Don’t check Best Author Friend’s Amazon ranking or blog or Twitter. Temporarily block their Facebook status updates. IGNORANCE IS BLISS.

Throw yourself into your wip or other creative endeavor. The left side of the brain loves envy because it shuts down the right side of your brain. Don’t let this happen. Take out Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD (or whatever works for you). Use writing prompts. Challenge yourself to write a poem a day (or a certain word count or whatever) for the next month. Give your creative self a chance to rub two sticks together and make flame. And before you know it, you’ll be so enthusiastic about your own work, Best Author Friend’s success won’t feel so much like chiggers invading your underwear.

Give to other writers who are not quite as far along the path as you are (and just might be feeling big bad envy about YOU). In my experience, the quickest way out of any depression or other negative place is service to others. So volunteer yourself as a guest speaker at a local writing group. Offer to give feedback on someone’s manuscript. Use your blog to reach out and offer specific help to writers, like resource lists or tips and tricks learned the hard way.

And finally something that works wonders for me personally: adopt the mantra “Encourage and Inspire.” As in, my only job with other writers is to Encourage and Inspire. If negativity begins to muddy my boots, I’m the one who needs to re-focus. Because I want to write books -- books that matter to me, books that ARE me. And there just isn’t enough time in this life to wallow in envy. Especially when they industry is NOT going to change. It will always be unfair.

So, join me, won’t you? Let’s move through envy toward that rich, vibrant place where we can continue to grow as writers and as fellow humans sharing the journey.

13 comments:

  1. This is great! I especially love your tip about giving to other writers who aren't as far along the path. That has definitely worked for me. I blogged about author envy recently myself, too. ;)

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  2. Fabulous post! I love the mantra, "Encourage and Inspire." And see, you did, because now I feel encouraged and inspired!

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  3. Heather, if you check back here, would you include a link to your post about author envy? Would love to add a roundup of related posts to this one. Thanks!

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  4. Envy... hummmm maybe for a minute... I'll need to think about this one. Words to life by, just get to work and dazzle someone in your special way and don't worry about others getting more hype
    Like I always say, "There is a reson for everything and most of the time something better is coming."

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  5. Ignorance is bliss!!! Also, we all have our crosses to bear. One person's success might not really be all that on the outside if they are struggling with yucky cover art or a difficult editor.

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  6. Exactly, Pat -- "dazzle someone in your special way." And yes, Stephanie: what we see on the outside is just a piece of the whole. We make so many assumptions!

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  7. I *love* this post! I think the advice re: social media is particularly helpful. I think it's too easy to see social media as 'mini press releases about how awesome everything in my life is!' (or what my hubs calls "Christmas Card Syndrome"). And when you're a writer, this is compounded I think by two things - the "small" nature of 'the biz' (particularly in genres) and the competative/professional/creative ego angle ---it's like high school on crack. Hmm. Maybe crack would have helped high school...come to think of it..... ;) Great post! Love, love, LOVE the advice. I need a mantra. Don't think I can use yours. Might go against my nature - ;) Maybe...."Mind Your Own Damn Business" could be mine.

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  8. Great post, Irene! Thanks for a brutally honest yet uplifting take on a (taboo-ish) subject. (Ashley - too funny.)

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  9. Excellent post, Irene. Such good advice on this topic we don't like to talk about. I still haven't figured out how to check Amazon's author ratings, but maybe I'll just stay away a while longer.

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  10. True and insightful post. Thanks for the suggestions, too. It's just what I needed to read today!

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  11. Terrific post, Irene. I learned a long time ago that there is always someone who is a better speaker, writer, artist, photographer (fill in the blank) than me, but my contribution to the world isn't perfection - it's my own distinctive voice.

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  12. Fantastic post, Irene. A topic that we writers can all identify with! I'm glad to see you mentioned BIRD BY BIRD - everyone should read Anne Lamott's chapter on Jealousy. She says: "Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you've been able to muster. But if you continue to write,you are probably going to have to deal with it..." So true! Thanks for your insights on this tough subject. Love the "Encourage & inspire' mantra!

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  13. LOVE the line about negativity muddying the boots. Everybody gets their day to celebrate...When I was chasing my first deal, I'd read announcements of books having found a publisher and think, "She's got her deal today, but tomorrow is mine..."

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