There is a mental trap writers seem to be prone to, if conversations I have on Twitter are any indication. (And I realize they may not be.) That is, that other writers are doing better than you somehow, and that this matters.
I’ve felt it! If you write, I suspect you have, too.
If you’re going to function as a writer, you have to divest yourself of caring how well others are doing except for being able to say to them “Congrats! You rule!” when they have good writing news and “Don’t forget, you’ve done awesome work!” when they have bad writing news. The writing world can always use more empathy, but I doubt it needs any jealousy.
Envy, sure – I think it’s only human to hear of someone else’s good fortune and earned success and feel: I wish I had that too. As long as you don’t let it become jealousy, which is the ugly “their success takes something away from me” emotion, which is just bollocks.
I don’t know why this takes grip of writers – or, I’ll be honest, me, as a writer, I can’t speak for anyone else – except that maybe since success is an ever-moving set of goalposts, and that it takes so long in writing and publishing to get anywhere, it can feel quite reasonable that someone else out there got to all the Success out there first and is going to use it up before you get to it.
Yes, it’s ridiculous! That’s why it’s so heartening to hear other writers name this and put a spike in it, as Emmie Mears did recently on Chuck Wendig’s blog. Go on over and read her whole post, touching on many different aspects of writing success.
Many things she tweeted resonated with me, particularly:
Very often, there is a long, hard slog between that first acceptance & the next one (or at all). A long, hard slog of writing/learning.(27)
— Rose Lemberg (@RoseLemberg) February 17, 2015
and sending out and being rejected while watching other people sell and sell. That’s where many people self-reject. (28) — Rose Lemberg (@RoseLemberg) February 17, 2015
and, frankly, yes, this long, hard slog is discouraging and demoralizing and what’s the point, I have certainly thought many times. (29)
— Rose Lemberg (@RoseLemberg) February 17, 2015
This is why I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that hey, the stuff I’m writing isn’t very good; it’ll never get published; it’s not as good as other people’s stuff; other people are just going to continue getting published and my stuff will be meh for all time.
I think anyone creative has feelings like that, and I feel this way despite writing more in the last three or so years than I have in ages, and meeting all kinds of writing goals, and getting to work with amazing, fantastic editors, and actually getting paid for writing fiction.
Rose makes the very good point that persistence is a huge factor in improving one’s writing, and that the writers who keep at it are the ones who succeed. We hear this a lot, but as the rejections pile up (as they must, statistically speaking, when you are starting out) it can be hard to remember this.
One of the things that can kill a writer’s growth is self-rejection (I mean, if you just give up and stop submitting, you’re not going to improve any as a writer). It keeps you from sending something out that might get rejected, or might get a rejection with feedback, or might get accepted and receive editing.
But the rejections don’t mean anything beyond “this story isn’t right for this editor at this magazine.” A form rejection can’t tell you why that is, but take a look at the progression Rose describes, of writers who kept submitting, whose work kept getting better over the years, who sent in work that was rejected and then was published elsewhere, and who sent in work (eventually) was a perfect fit for the publication she edits (Stone Telling).
often improvement is slow. Often you not only need to improve, but hit that exact right note with the exact right editor. (34) — Rose Lemberg (@RoseLemberg) February 18, 2015
Chuck Wendig also has some pointed things to say on self-rejection, in his characteristically fiery manner (his exact words: “Fuck Your Pre-Rejection, Penmonkey“). Basically, self-rejecting is quitting,and if you are going to grow as a writer, you have to develop a thick enough skin to take the rejection and keep submitting. Writing isn’t a race against anyone but yourself. I’d like to leave you with what Rose has to say about feeling “behind” other writers:
1) we cannot all be behind. 2) there is something damaging and painful about the idea of ahead and behind. I talked about this before. (43) — Rose Lemberg (@RoseLemberg) February 18, 2015
I personally find comparisons to other writers, as well as envy, unhelpful, but I am not a jealous person, it is not an emotion I have. (47) — Rose Lemberg (@RoseLemberg) February 18, 2015
I try to avoid being jealous as well, and most of the time I don’t feel that way. And when it gets down to it, if you want to be a successful writer, there’s only one thing to do: write. And don’t give up.