The other day I was at the swimming pool with my 9 year old stepdaughter (we call her Go-Go) and her nemesis (I’ll call her Annie). They don’t get along at all, and on top of that, they compete like crazy. When it was time for the kids to use the diving boards, Go-Go watched with clenched fists as Annie reeled off one lovely backwards dive after another. Go-Go has never even attempted such a dive. Later, I asked her what she thought of Annie’s diving, and she, being an honest child, reluctantly admitted that it was great.
I was braced for ungracious, jealous behavior from my darling little girl, but she surprised me. We talked about how much Annie had been practicing those dives, and the possibility of Go-Go taking lessons from the same coach. I told her that when she watches Annie perform a nearly perfect dive, she’s seeing more than just a dive. She’s seeing hours of practice and struggle. She’s seeing the patience of Annie’s teacher, and Annie’s own determination to try again, and again, and again. Once she understood what had gone into that moment of perfection, it was impossible to begrudge Annie’s achievement.
At that point, I realized that those little girls provide a perfect metaphor for writing and some of the battles authors face. How does it feel to watch someone else sell tons of copies of their book, when yours is languishing? What about when you read something so wonderful, you might as well shut down your computer because you feel you could never write that well? What about when someone reaches the bestseller list with their first book, making you wonder if they’ve really earned that success?
How can we authors deal with the very natural feelings of envy that might arise? Not everyone experiences them, and for those who don’t – now I’m really jealous! But for those who do, you know what I mean. I’ve been there and it’s not fun. It doesn’t mean I don’t root for other authors with all my heart, that I don’t celebrate with them and cheer for them. I do. But it can make my own self-confidence crumble away.
I’ve worked hard to find ways to deal with it. Here are a few thoughts I’ve come up with.
- We’re all more connected that we realize. What if that best-selling author was my sister or my best friend? I’d be overjoyed for them. Well, a couple twists of fate, and that person could have been my best friend … or someday, might be! It’s not a stretch to imagine it, and root accordingly.
- I remind myself that I don’t know everything an author has gone through to get where they are. If I did, I’d probably be unreservedly happy for them. Just as with Annie’s diving, bestselling authors have most likely worked very hard to succeed. If it’s their first book, which they dashed off in a couple of weeks? Well, then their life experience enabled them to create it. Hats off to that.
- I ask myself what I can learn from that author. Clearly they’re doing something right. What is it, and can I do it too, in my own way? In other words, can I get some lessons from that writer’s diving coach?
- Everyone’s path is unique. Even when it seems that mine is taking some detours through abandoned junkyards and back alleys, the ultimate destination is always open-ended. Anything can happen.
- I ask myself, how is this feeling serving me? If it makes me work harder, then it’s doing some good. If it’s taking up valuable mental space and eating away at my confidence, let it go. Shift my focus to the only thing that really matters:
- Get back to work. You can never go wrong putting your energy into your own writing. If Go-Go gets discouraged about her diving, she won’t practice. If she practices, she’s less likely to get discouraged because she’ll be immersed in the work. Same with writing.
Have you experienced feelings of envy in your writing – or non-writing – life? How do you deal with them?