Battling Author Envy

Comparisons!  Don't do it! © Eastwest Imaging | Dreamstime.com

Comparisons! Don’t do it!
© Eastwest Imaging | Dreamstime.com

(today’s post is cross-posted from the Seduced by History blog)

Friends, today I’d like to talk to you about something not related to history, but rather related to the experience we all have of writing romantic stories about history. It’s not about research or about debates of historical accuracy or how much we should strive for it. It’s not about marketing or strategies for getting our books out there. It’s not about working through revisions or about dealing with critiques or reviews. Yet at the same time, it’s about all of those things.

I’m talking about Author Envy.

Yep. Author Envy is that state we all go through repeatedly as part of this crazy writing thing we do where we look around at our fellow writers, our chapter-mates, and our critique partners and feel like we’re a complete and utter waste of time when compared to them. Someone always seems to be winning a competition, being signed to a contract, finishing a book, publishing the next book, getting rave reviews and landing at the top of the bestseller list, and where are we? Stuck in Nowheresville feeling like a schmuck.

I have a really hard time with this. It’s right up there with the misery I feel when the young women I student taught in college 20 years ago get married while here I am, nearly 40 with no bling on my finger and no men on the radar. Well, okay, not quite as bad as that, but close.

I have a hard time with two things, both of which defy logic. I feel happy-sad when one of my writer friends lands really high on a bestseller list. Yay for you guys! And crap, what’s wrong with me? How come I’m not up there selling best? I must suck!

This is illogical. It’s not like any of your successes directly take away from my success because there is not a limited balance of success to go around. In fact, the more you succeed, the more I succeed because the genre is succeeding.

My other Author Envy pitfall is even less logical. I feel envy when people I know win contests. … Contests I didn’t enter. … Contests I’m not even eligible for. *shakes head at self*

Those are my personal bugaboos. I’m sure you have yours too. Whether it’s envy when someone signs with an agent or publisher, envy when you beta read their ms and love it, or envy when someone finishes book after book while you’re stuck, we all feel it. Don’t worry, as icky as it feels, you’re not alone! We’re all feeling icky together.

So what can we do to stop feeling wretched every time one of our friends succeeds? How can we turn this stupid Author Envy around and feel happy for our friends while bolstering ourselves at the same time?

It’s not easy. In a way we’re trying to go against human nature. On a visceral level we need to be competitive. Our DNA are stuck with the notion that only the strongest survive and that there’s not enough food to go around. Jealousy has its roots in fear: fear that we’re not good enough, fear that we’ll be squashed, fear that we’ll have something we love taken away.

Here we have an entire room full of envying authors... and best supporters.

Here we have an entire room full of envying authors… and best supporters.

My theory is that short of a lobotomy, the only person who can take this writing thing that you love so much away from you is you. We can sabotage ourselves by giving up too soon because we don’t feel worthy or by setting unrealistic expectations and timelines for our successes.

For me, the best way to combat Author Envy is to have a clearly stated goal for my writing career and an adjustable timeline in which to accomplish that goal. The clearness of the goal and the flexibility of the timeline are key here. My goal is to be able to quit my day job and support myself with my writing alone. In other words, I want to be a full-time writer. My timeline right now is within 2-3 years. It was formerly 5-10 years, but then I started selling okay. Then it was 3-5 years, but I did some math and calculated how many books I could write and publish within that time, and with changes in sales I adjusted it to 2-3 years. That may change again if circumstances change. The point is to keep the timeline flexible while the goal remains the same.

Is it necessary to always be on the top 100 lists to achieve this goal? No. Is it necessary to win contests to achieve this goal? No. Is it necessary to continue to write and publish to achieve this goal? Yes. I have to ask and re-ask myself these questions all the time to keep from wallowing. Sometimes I believe in myself and sometimes I really, really don’t. But I stick to my goal. I write. I rewrite. I move forward.

The only way to fight Author Envy is to acknowledge that it’s there, to put it in its place, and to remind yourself of what your personal goal and path are. I’m so grateful that I belong to an exciting, supportive, accomplished RWA chapter, because not only do you guys give me plenty of things to be envious of, you keep me looking forward and working for my goals. Having a supportive group like HHRW is the biggest blessing my writing career has had for so many reasons. Sometimes I look at you guys and BURN with jealousy, yes I do. But mostly I just thank my lucky stars to be with people who get it and help each other reach for their dreams.

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15 thoughts on “Battling Author Envy

  1. Great post, and I understand this so well! I haven’t even published anything, and I still envy other people’s success, even though I haven’t tried yet. It’s crazy, but I’m learning to control it (even if I still can’t get over being too critical of other people’s work when mine is just as bad… that would be my biggest flaw relating to other writers right now. I’m working on it!)

    I think it helps to remember that all we tend to see is the successes that we envy. We don’t see the years of heartbreak, the contests NOT won, the books that flopped, the hours of writing that went nowhere, but those successful authors have had their struggles, too. I heard a great piece of advice that said that when you compare yourself to others (other authors, other single ladies, facebook friends, whatever), that what you’re doing is comparing yourself at your worst to those other people at their best. You’re comparing what you know of your inner self, with all of its failings and weaknesses and fears, to the shiny, pretty image that other people choose to present to the world. It’s not a fair or accurate comparison, and the grass probably isn’t as green over there as those people would like us to think.

    I’m finding that keeping that truth in mind helps a lot when I’m tempted to compare myself to others and to envy them. 🙂

    I love the idea of using a clearly stated goal to keep focused on what’s important. I’m hesitant to set monetary/sales goals before I even dip a toe in the water, but I’ll keep it in mind. Thank you!

    • “I heard a great piece of advice that said that when you compare yourself to others (other authors, other single ladies, facebook friends, whatever), that what you’re doing is comparing yourself at your worst to those other people at their best. You’re comparing what you know of your inner self, with all of its failings and weaknesses and fears, to the shiny, pretty image that other people choose to present to the world.”

      This should maybe be on my wall, above my desk, to remind me to STOP.

    • Thanks Kate! And it’s so, SO true that what we see of people “out there” is a carefully crafted veneer. I’m pretty sure that inside we’re all screaming ninnies just trying to keep from falling off the deep end! And it sounds like maybe your goal – an extremely noble one – could be to keep writing. It can be as simple as that! Go for it!

  2. So good! I know the feeling of author envy all too well. What about when you read about someone’s huge advance, and don’t even bother reminding yourself that you didn’t even send your book to an agent, let alone try to sell it to a publisher? Hah!

    • I know! Isn’t it funny (and not) how we can get so worked up over things we haven’t even done or tried? Also, I have a well-educated theory that those huge advances are kind of a mythical thing of the past in the new publishing world. Rest easy and keep writing!

  3. Hahaha. I loved this post. I’m glad someone admits to those icky feelings. On the very day that my book was posted as an Editors’ Choice Pick at The Historical Novel Society, when I should have been super happy, I noted that my brand new book by an unknown author (me) wasn’t immediately in the top spot. I instantly and irrationally hated the cover of the book (and on some level the author) in the #1 spot 🙂 I strive to be a better person, but sometimes . . . it just doesn’t happen. (I no longer hate the other person I don’t even know).

  4. I suffer from this a LOT. I often feel like I need to put blinders on and ignore the rest of the writing world while I’m working on my own manuscripts. No matter how often I tell myself not to let other authors’ success impact my belief in myself, there’s still that little voice in my head saying, “You suck, you suck, you suck.” It’s hard to ignore that voice and keep writing. So even though I’m happy for my colleagues when they receive an award or other positive recognition, there’s a small part of me — and I’m not proud of it — that wants to back over them with a rusty Ford Escort. Twice.

    • Oh my gosh, I know what you mean! And my “you suck, you suck, you suck” voice is not all that little sometimes. But you’re right, you do have to put blinders on and just keep writing. I also do my best to work hard at improving my craft so that I DON’T suck. Classes, books, critiques, you name it, I do it. 😉

  5. Not a novelist, but I think similar emotions exist in the journo or even the copywriting world. I have had colleagues or so-called friends try to pressure me out of certain work areas or take my resources and then refuse to share their own b/c I’m “competition.” If I end up trying to network with the wrong person, I just try not to make the same mistake twice, and stick with a supportive circle of nice folks and feel genuine joy when they succeed. If you work hard there is enough to go around, and if you support your successful colleague now, who knows? They may be in a position to pass some work to you later.

    • It must be so much worse in the journalistic world! One thing that we in the fiction world are always telling ourselves and each other is that unlike other products, people are not limited to buying just one book. Readers can buy as many books as they can afford, so the more we support each other the more we all sell. But with journalism, if there are only so many publications and so many spots per week, I guess the competition really would be fierce. I suppose that’s when confidence comes into play. You have always struck me as someone with a lot of confidence too!

      • Yes, journalism can be obscenely competitive and the market is shrinking every day, it feels like. And I don’t think anyone’s crying that novelists are obsolete or that they shouldn’t be paid. Yet people say journalism is useless in the digital age and try to pay journalists with promises of “exposure.” *shudder*

  6. Great post! If you count success as being on top of the best-seller charts or winning contests, there is actually a limited amount of it to go around, because only one person can hold that position at a time, LOL! If you measure success on other factors, we can all be successful, which I prefer. =)

    I’m pretty good at being happy for other people when they succeed, but I suffer horrible envy when it comes to time. I’m ashamed of myself for being so jealous of people who have the opportunity to stay at home, but time-envy still shows its ugly snout in my thoughts.

    I have some fortunate friends who say, “I know it’s taking a chance, but we’ll live off my husband’s paycheck for a few years while I establish myself as a writer.” If they on top of that go on to complain about not being able to fill their spare time, I want to throw a fit, LOL! I’m the main provider of my family, and for me to be able to stay at home, I would need to make enough money on my books to support everyone. Ouch!

    If that ever happens, I’ll know I did really well. Until then, I’ll keep beating my time-envy down with a baseball bat. LOL!!!

    • I wish, wish, wish I could live off of a husband’s paycheck! *LOL* No, I’m just a single girl with very little family, completely responsible for myself. I think I’m like you with the whole time envy thing too. I work a full-time day job and write before & after work and on the weekends while dreaming about the day I can do it full-time! It’s hard, but it’s a labor of love. And I don’t think jealousy is anything to be ashamed of at the end of the day. If we weren’t jealous it would mean we didn’t care enough and didn’t want it badly enough. That’s how I see it, at least.

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