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 is 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.
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.