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Today’s Ask Us Pub Questions is from Zainab. Zainab says: My question has to do with writerly envy. How to keep being happy for your buddies who hit milestones on their path to publication when you’re still far behind.
While we collectively agree this is a tough question that involves some gut-spilling(!!!), we’ve chosen to answer honestly for writers on the path to publication. 🙂
I took up running in 2020 while the world was being pressed by The Panini. While I’m far more conditioned now than when I first started, resentment is still a huge struggle for me. I’m quick to envy people who pass me, who go ten miles a day effortlessly, whose athleisure is nicer than mine, fill-in-the-blank.
I’ve started repeating a saying to myself whenever the ugly, green jealousy monster rears its head: It’s not a race, it’s a run. I’m not in competition with any of these people. They’re out there trying to achieve the same things I am. It’s been a real perspective saver for me.
It bubbles over into my writing journey as well. It’s pretty much that scene in tick, tick… BOOM! where Jonathan Larson is screaming about how Stephen Sondheim was 27 when his first play hit Broadway, yet he’s still workshopping his musical at 30. Ultimately, the same thing that applies when I see other runners passing me is true of my publishing dreams: it’s not a race, it’s a run.
We’re all trying to make it, and sure, some journeys will be easier than others—magic happens sometimes. That doesn’t make what you bring to the table any less valid. Your friend who just signed their publishing deal may not have been on the track as long as you, but they are huffing and puffing towards the same finish line. There’s joy in being able to high-five one another along the way.
—Sarah, all things YA!
I wrote a blog post about jealousy and the writing community on my blog, but that was mostly a rant, hehe. In answer to this awesome question (thanks for sharing this with us, Zainab), however, I’ll just bring in a few points from the end of the post. I believe jealousy and envy might be a bit different in this context but I feel these are actionable ways to combat active jealousy/envy.
“It’s almost impossible not to feel a tiny twinge when someone close to you attains a height that you’ve been struggling to reach for months or years. But feeling and bearing a twinge gracefully is FAR better than allowing that jealousy to overcome you. Because:
One: The fact that someone got an agent faster than you doesn’t mean that you never will. In fact, your life, your journey, is going to proceed just as it ought to regardless.
Two: The fact that they have a book deal first doesn’t mean you won’t become a super successful author in your own time. (You totally can!)
Three: Chances are that if you discovered the trials these writers had to endure to achieve their current successes, your jealousy would fly out the window. Swiftly replaced by empathy or admiration. Why? Because we only see the good side of things on social media and rarely ever the sweat and tears that most times propels progress.
Four: Jealousy can make us super unproductive. Usually it comes with depression and self-doubt and sadness. And to reach that publishing goal, productivity is key.
Five: Jealousy can make people do horrible things. Things that can seriously hurt someone else or blow up in your face. Things that you don’t want on your conscience or record.”
I think I don’t experience writerly envy much because right now, my eyes are fixed intently on the prize, and on little else. But there was a happening after I wrote this post that had me referring to this list to get over the twinge of the green monster—and it worked.
—Lucia, The Fantasy and Regency Writer!
This is a good question! To be honest, it took me some time to realize that the journey to publication is not one, but many; and that each person has their own particular way of achieving the goal of getting published.
I began writing on 2018 and my debut book is getting published on October 2022 (yay!). Through these years, I’ve seen writer friends create amazing stories, get agents or mentorships, and strike book deals. To be honest, sometimes I couldn’t help to feel anxious about it. It’s not that I wasn’t happy about their success, but it made me worry it would never happen to me and that somehow I’d be left behind. It was then when I wondered if there was something lacking with my writing, with my ideas, and ultimately with me. It sometimes stressed me to watch other writers living their dreams while I tried hard but couldn’t. However, that feeling was more about me and how desperately I wanted to join their success, and not that I didn’t want them to get it.
Now I know each of us has a story to tell, whether it’s a picture book or a novel, and it’s funny how everything gets together when the time is right. For example, my book Santiago’s Dinosaurios was queried as a different story for months, without getting any “YES!”. Eventually, after many rejections I decided to step back and revise (quite a bit, actually). After that, on a Twitter event an editor was interested on it and believed in it (and in me!). The same happened with my agent. For a long time I queried agents without being successful until I finally wrote the story that made it happen for me. It was a matter of time, of creating the right story.
And well, of course getting an agent or a book isn’t the end of the journey, so dealing with other writers going in front of us on the publication path will always happen; just as we will be going ahead many others. I think if we understand that everyone has their own journey and time, then we don’t need to feel envy or anxiety, and we can instead rejoice in the good things that come to others. In this way, we can move forward with faith that our own time will come too (even if it doesn’t look that way for a long time). The key is to keep believing and working hard towards the goal until we eventually get it. At that moment everything will come together for US and we’ll realize that the sun truly shines for everyone.
To finish, I want to share this unknown quote that came to my mind when I read your question, Zainab.
“Blowing out someone else’s candle won’t make yours shine brighter.”
So, there’s really no point on being jealous. Each of us have our own candle, and we’ll all have our moment to shine if we’re wise enough to see it.
– Mariana, the PB writer!
Zainab, this is such a good question. I absolutely loved how Mariana answered this question and to be completely transparent I cannot say I didn’t feel like that sometimes, especially when I started this path. I think it is easy to fall into the trap of comparison. One of the things I had to do to get out of that headspace was ask to myself Why did I feel that way?
Once I had my answer I had to readjust my way of thinking. Every author is different because we all have our own voice and our own stories to tell.
Your stories are different from every other story and the timing and path for every author is different. Yes, we will find stories similar to others, but at the end of the day, they are different.
Just like you are.
So, those milestones you have, even if they are similar to your buddies’, they are different because they are yours. And just like Sarah said it’s not a race, it’s a run.
-Alexandra, YA & NA Romance Writer!
My short answer is: It’s perfectly OKAY to be envious, and that being envious of your friend’s success while still being super happy for them is totally possible!
Writerly envy is something that I go through as well. I’m sure almost every author does at some point. I was part of PitchWars in 2020, and we all know how high stakes the PW showcase can appear to be. My entry did okay – I had a good number of requests – but there were plenty of others that did way better (think 40+ requests?). Post-showcase, many fellow PW classmates got agent offers right off the bat, agents fighting over their MSes, and some even got book deals within 1-2 months. In the meantime, I faced dozens of rejections on queries and fulls over the course of a year. I was really happy for all my friends who were doing so well in their publishing journey, but it was still disappointing and discouraging for myself. I could have given up, but instead I decided to write a whole new book and query that instead – and hey! That was the book that got me my agent!
To add on to Sarah’s running analogy – you have to keep running. Everyone is running their own journey, and the only thing that will stop you from getting to the finish line is if you stop running. Be envious, be happy – then keep running.
–Amber, YA/NA SFF!
How do you deal with writerly envy?
(Also, got a question you’d like us to collectively answer? Leave a comment on our Ask Us Pub Questions page!)