Saturday, March 19, 2011

Combating Writer's Envy

I was inspired today by this post that I found through Elizabeth Craig on Twitter, a fantastic one called "When Going Green's Not So Cool: A Writer's Antidotes for Envy". My favorite antidotes were: enjoying the things you love, and exercising. I highly recommend those for all writers, especially since a lot of us (including me) need to exercise more.

I personally find that I'm not immune to jealousy, but that my jealousy is rather limited in scope. My jealousy will make me feel upset at myself, but not angry with others (I feel lucky about this). Even when I notice a bestseller whose work I don't particularly like, I figure that person has found something that a lot of people like - I just may not have grasped what that thing is.

The other thing I continue to believe is that writing is not a competition. It's not about whether my writing is better than someone else's. It's not about two writers with similar styles trying to fit into the same too-small market niche. It's simply about whether I find an editor who finds that my work speaks to him/her, and whether readers then are willing to pay for what I do. Honestly - why should I worry about whether I'm similar to my favorite authors? When I read, I don't say, "Ursula LeGuin is my sf author, and there isn't room for anyone else." The more someone's work is like hers, the more likely I will enjoy it too. Reading appetite is not finite. Reading quality work does not satiate; it only makes you hungrier for more brilliance.

The last thing I hope writers will remember is that statistics only operate effectively on large numbers. The fact that 99% of submissions get rejected at a particular magazine should not deter you; whether your story succeeds is about your story, and that editor, and it has nothing to do with anyone else.

Keep up hope, and keep submitting. So long as there are readers hungry for stories, there is room for more authors.


  1. Very good points, especially in that having similar books out there is not necessarily a bad thing as it creates a thirst for ones like yours. Readers read more than 1 book a year. Most writers don't put out more than that.

  2. I enjoyed reading this, Juliette. What you say is very true, especially that "reading appetite is not finite."

  3. Thanks, Leslie! Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  4. Yes, yes, and yes! My jealousy tends to be self-directed, too--never resenting others for their success, but a kind of stupid self-pity over not having made it there myself. And as you say, I think that's directly tied into whether we view the community as cooperative or competitive--if I believed that your success took anything away from my own, then sure, I would probably resent you. But like you, I don't believe that's the way it works at all.

    I work for a magazine that only publishes two original stories per issue, and I have *never* seen a case where stories were being weighed against one another for one of those coveted slot. He never holds a dozen and says "Well, this is the best I got this month, it's a little bit better than that other one, I guess I'll buy it." That's just not how it works. If the editor loves the story, he buys it. If he finds four stories in a month that he loves, he buys all four. When he has enough inventory he closes submissions until he doesn't. If he isn't finding enough stories that he loves, he gets out into the community and beats the bushes until submissions increase. It's exactly as you say: it's about each story and the editor who reads it, not about the authors in competition with one another.

    Dang. I think I need to make this my own blog post. :D

  5. For me, writer's envy happens when I see all these awesome writers on Twitter and the internet. I see that they are cool people with way more sales/published pieces than me. It's not so much envy as it is feelings of inadequacy and self doubt. But of course the other side of the coin is that it also pushes me to want to be as successful as they are.

  6. I find my jealousy lies on the other end of the spectrum. The "Oh my god how did they think of that?" kind of envy. Bad writing gets published. That's just a fact of life. The truly discouraging works are ones you know you'll never live up to.

    But we keep plugging away despite our obvious deficiencies, because if we don't at least try, that transcendent work we know we're capable of producing will never come.

  7. Christie, thanks so much for your comment and your view from the other side of the desk! I'm sure quite a few of my readers have been on - and been rejected from - that desk, so I really appreciate your insights. I'm thrilled you liked the post.

  8. R.S. Hunter, yes, seeing others succeed can be both motivating and demotivating. Thanks for your comment.

    T.N. Tobias,
    That's an interesting point you raise - the "how did they think of that" question. I have only rarely received direct inspiration from the ideas of others, and many of my ideas come from my lingustics/anthropology background. This is an advantage for me, as it does make my writing stand out. It doesn't land successfully everywhere, however - almost no one's does.