We’ve all done it. We’ve all opened up Twitter and seen the news that someone has signed on with an agent, or sold a manuscript for six figures, or is going on a magical tour of the world to promote their book which is being turned into a movie. We’ve all sat there, knowing that we ought to be congratulating them and celebrating the success of one of our own, but all we feel is great waves of writerly envy and spite.
It’s…not a nice feeling. And it can throw your whole day off.
I know the feeling of drowning in writerly envy all too well. For years, I couldn’t accept that I really loved Cassandra Clare’s sprawling, complex world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders because I was so freaking jealous of her skills and success. I wanted to just hate her and her work. (Cassie, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I was a stubborn fool. And also a teenager. But still, I’m sorry.)
It can be really, really, really hard to be happy for other people, especially if you’re struggling. You find yourself spiralling, scrolling through social media and wishing that you could just trade places with someone who seems to be having a good time.
And you find yourself thinking stuff like:
- “I’ll never be as good a writer as this person.” Repeat after me: You’re seeing the end result. You’re seeing the end result. YOU’RE SEEING THE END RESULT. NONE of the words that see on the pages of that amazing book escaped the censure of the author, the editor, the critique partners, and the sensitivity readers.
- “Ugh, they got agented? Really? Their ideas sound so terrible.” There are a whole lot of people in the world, and we don’t all like the same things. Maybe their ideas sound terrible to you, but all that really means is that you’re part of a different audience—and likely writing for a different audience, too. So look on the bright side—that’s one fewer book in your niche, and one more chance that there’s an agent out there going, “Why can’t I find this book??”
- “I can’t believe everyone loves this author’s books, they’re so stupid and bad!!” Sometimes, people are wrong. And they also have different tastes. And hey, maybe they just want to read trash. Trash is wonderfully relaxing.
- “Great, they hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. That’s just soooo great for them…” The thing about the #1 spot is that nobody stays there for very long. Yeah, they’re in there now, and that’s great, but give it a week or two and someone else will have it. Just because someone else has the top spot doesn’t mean that your chance of getting it is gone forever.
- “Six figures? Really?” We all want to be rich authors. We really, really do. And for most of us, that’s never going to happen. The key with dealing with financial envy, I think, is to set smaller goals and to focus on the non-monetary benefits. Money matters, of course, but you don’t need to be selling six-figure manuscripts to make a decent living or to enjoy being a writer.
Writerly envy just plain sucks. It drains your self-confidence and fills your head with petty, ugly little thoughts. It makes you feel bad about your skills as a writer, your future as an author, and yourself as a person.
In the end, there’s no real cure for writerly envy (or any other sort of envy) except to become more confident and self-assured as a person. But that takes way too long, so consider these quick fixes. They can help you survive until you gain Beyoncé levels of confidence.
- Recognise that what you’re seeing is the finished product. Again…that perfect book has been through the wringer at least half a dozen times. It was once as bad as the first draft that you’re slogging through. You just don’t get to see that part.
- Walk away from it. Whatever it is that’s got you down, walk away. Shut the book, close Twitter, throw out the bestseller lists. Physically distance yourself.
- Find what’s good about your work. This can be hard to do when you’d rather be drowning yourself in self-pity and ice cream, but it’s a good exercise. You might even want to write down all the things you’re good at re: writing so that you can pull it out when you’re feeling sad.
- Put all the nice things that people have said about your writing into a document or folder. Did your CPs say something nice? Did someone on Twitter call your story idea cool? Did you get a really good grade on an essay? IT ALL GOES IN. Keep the good things that other people have said about your work front and centre.
- Remember that you are not your writing. There’s a lot more to you than your ability to put words on a page. So you had a bad writing day. So you’re still unagented. So what? You can still make a mean lasagne, and that’s not nothing.
- Bonus tip: Read something terrible. Sometimes, taking the high road is just too much work. Instead of schlepping up it, re-read a terrible book. Not terrible as in “good melodramatic fun”; terrible as in “this is objectively bad writing and even worse storytelling.” Read it, rip it apart, and remember that no matter how bad your manuscript is at the moment, it’s still better than this junk.
How do you deal with writerly envy? Do you have any authors that you’re really envious of? What’s the hardest thing for you to work through when you’re trying to stop feeling envious of other writers?