"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Overcome Your Envy of Other Writers!

"Wish others well."

Guest Post By: Noelle Sterne

"Wish other writers well?" you're thinking. "Are you crazy? There's only one writer I want to wish well: knuckle-biting, discipline-fighting, draft-grinding me!"
I agree and empathize. But I'm prompted to share this "cure" because I've had too many seasons of terrible jealousies. The most wrenching occurred when I was in college, craving to get through and get on with my writing career. I watched a classmate, still in her twenties, achieve my dream. She published a novel, dazzled the literary world, and had constant rave reviews.

Every bookstore displayed towering mountains of her bestseller.
The greater her praise, the deeper my self-deprecation.
Chronically depressed, I stopped reading reviews and crossed the street when a bookstore loomed.

Finally I realized something crucial, which led to the antidote I'm suggesting. This hard-to-swallow remedy is not proposed from magnanimity or naiveté. Rather, it's plain old self-interest: As I proved for way too long, jealousy of other writers just doesn't work.

Why? They don't plunge into depression at the news of their own advance/article/ assignment/ agent/bestseller/contract/book tour/miniseries/Oprah selection, etc., etc. They don't lose all interest and hope, condemn everything they've ever written as drivel, or swear there will never be enough to go around. They don't snap at everyone in sight, eat way too much, and write way too little.

Who does? You guessed it.

I’m tired of all that unproductive pain. It's finally pushed me to another, more fruitful perspective.
I realized that our envied colleagues, despite their intimidating accomplishments, remain only people. They too get cavities, have to shave, run out of coffee, and accumulate roomfuls of rejections.

And something else: No matter how stellar their past credits, like every one of us, they must daily face the next test of success—the blinding blankness of the empty page or screen.
The only difference between us and our supposed rivals is that they probably know something we've forgotten: an overnight success never is. In fact, our colleagues exemplify the truth of all those easily scoffed-at clichés:


· Persistence and patience pay off.
· There's always room for someone good.
· Each of us is uniquely and irreplaceably creative.
· As you may have read before, be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

My conviction in these truisms was first challenged with my college classmate. When her third well-received novel came out, I wrote her a letter. I told her of my long, agonizing jealousy of her and how it had stopped me from writing. I said I nevertheless admired her work and wished her well with her in-progress fourth novel. She never replied, but that letter freed me tremendously. I still avoided bookstores but gradually wrote more and began to publish.

Recently, an equally ominous ordeal emerged. In a single week, I learned of the successes of several writing friends. One received a prestigious award for her children's book, another signed a contract for her first historical novel, and the third published his latest short story in a top national literary magazine.

At first this news pierced me like multiple wounds and almost sent me straight to bed with a fifty-pound bag of chocolate chip cookies. But then, although admittedly less than joyous, I resisted crawling under the quilt and instead strode over to my computer. Remembering my letter to my college nemesis, and defying the green-eyed gods of rejected writers, I brazenly fired off notes of congratulation to all three.

I wasn't fibbing. For one thing, as with my college classmate, I can't help praising a good piece of writing, whoever's written it. For another, I recalled the words of a very wise preacher: "If you curse the successful, you'll never be one of them. Bless them instead."

My congratulatory notes were certainly forms of "blessings," and self-interest again impelled me to reinforce them. Sitting at my desk, I addressed each of my accomplishing friends aloud (and a little self-consciously): "______, I wish you all the success, fame, and wealth you want, and more!"

The results were astonishing. My jealousy evaporated, depression disappeared, and spirit returned. I leapt into a manuscript I'd been avoiding for weeks and did splendid battle for several too-short hours, finishing an entire third draft.

More rewards came. The children's author sent a beautifully inscribed copy of her book. The historical novel writer called, thanked me profusely, and offered a personal referral to her agent. And a letter came from the short story writer. My words, he said, had pulled him out of a slump so severe he was sure he'd never write anything again. With my note propped in front of him, he'd just started another story.

Seeing their responses, I almost cried. My well-wishing had evoked these immediate blessings! All envy, like a wayward winged insect, flew right out the window.
My survival-driven stumbling into well-wishing was confirmed and extended by agent Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates (quoted by editor and writing teacher Deborah Brodie, “More Is More”). Talking about the children’s book market, Olswanger said:


It's easy to get caught up in scarcity mentality and think that if someone else gets published, your slot has been filled. But someone else's successful children's book can open up the market for other children's books, including yours. . . . There's always a new editor coming on board, always a new publishing imprint starting up, always a new format developing. . . . It may seem like a paradox, but you can help yourself get published by helping someone else get published.This advice, of course, applies to any writing market, even yours. So, when you feel particularly jealous of other writers, remember Olswanger’s enlightened words and my transformative experiences. Compliment the writers you’re gnashing your teeth about, even if you have to force it a bit. In the process, you may be surprised to find that you'll free yourself of habitual, self-defeating feelings and beliefs.

And more—remember, each time you wish other writers well, you're making room for your own greater success and wishing yourself nothing less than the best.

BIO: Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including  Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Funds for Writers, Rate Your Story, Tiny Buddha, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, she is completing a handbook for doctoral candidates wrestling with their dissertations on their largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). A story will appear in 365 Tiny Love Challenges by Tiny Buddha (HarperOne, 2015). In Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at

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Your turn. Have you ever had a bout of "writer's envy?" Do you compare your successes and failures to other writers? Do tell.

23 comments:

  1. So honest of you Noelle to point this out - I have learned a beautiful truth during my writing career - to see other writers as colleagues and not as competitors. It changes everything! Your heart expands instead of constricts, you see that these writer friends are your colleagues who, once comfortable in their niche, are only too willing to be generous in return. I have noticed that when another writer is comfortable in their niche as a successful author they are generous in lending a hand up the ladder to help you find your own success. So it make sense to be generous (from a true heart, not a fake one) with our thoughts and words and to embrace the success of others because too, everything is in its right timing...our time for popularity or for whatever we are seeking, emerges all in its good time!

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    1. Maribel,

      I love your perspective here: "to see other writers as colleagues and not competitors." Write on! Thanks so much for sharing.

      Delete
  2. This is wonderful advice, Noelle! I appreciate your candid insight. In regard to this, I cannot help but think about the principle of sowing and reaping. What we offer others, we get in return, as you so aptly testified to. Appreciate your encouragement. If you have a moment, I'd like to know where you can get 50 pound bags of chocolate chip cookies. You know, just in case I ever need them for a party. ;)

    Jen, thanks so much for hosting!

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    1. Karen,

      I always appreciate your support and feedback. Have a great vacation, even though it's waaay too long for us! :-)

      Delete
  3. Your advice is spot on, Noelle. We are all human, and it is natural to wince when someone beats us to the finish line, but the more generous we are the more we are blessed. I've always believed the race should be with one's self.

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    1. Linda,

      You're running quite a race there, my friend. Slow down so we can
      catch up. :-) Thanks, dearest.

      Delete
  4. Thank you, Maribel, Karen, and Linda! Your own insights are invaluable. Hey, it's hard not to think the other guy or gal beat us out. But, as I say in the article--and a cherished professor said this to me first--there's always room for someone good. Let's keep this in mind and cultivate our own gardens of blossoming manuscripts. The sow-reap principle (karma, if you like, or Law of Attraction) is indeed powerful. As we give, so we receive, in all things. Bless you all.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Noelle.

      It's always a pleasure and an honor. :-)

      Delete
  5. Love this! Such great advice. It's so easy to allow our jealousy to take over, isn't it? Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Jennifer Brown BanksNovember 13, 2014 at 3:29 PM

      Tom,

      Lovely to hear from you. Thanks!

      Delete
  6. Okay, Noelle, I'm jealous of your fifty-pound bag of chocolate chip cookies, never mind the stories and books, etc.! Were they big chips or tiny ones?? I have a half-eaten bag of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Chips in front of me, right now. I don't bother to put them in cookie dough. But I use this tiny, tiny bowl when I'm eating them. Honest. Great article. We can all relate and the most important thing we can do is help our fellow writers hike the path we are on. I'm still working toward a goal, but I'm happy with where I am at this moment--as long as I can afford the chocolate chips! The price is going up. I have to hide my stash from any little kids in the house.

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    Replies
    1. Jennifer Brown BanksNovember 13, 2014 at 3:31 PM

      Karen,
      Your comment caused a giggle. Wishing you an abundant stash of chocolate this Xmas. :-)

      Delete
  7. Thanks for your post! :) Yes, I can get caught up in writer's envy. But for me, I think the key is to have faith in your own work. That way no matter how many rejections you get you'll keep going.

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    1. Jennifer Brown BanksNovember 13, 2014 at 3:33 PM

      Anne,

      How true! Thanks for your thoughts. :-)

      Delete
    2. This was an honest yet uplifting article on writing! We've all been there, and it can be very difficult to do the "happy dance: for others when your own journey seems harder and harder with each step! Here's a great quote that seems to sum it up in a nutshell: " Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope." – Josh Billings Great job, Noelle!

      Delete
  8. All your comments are so gratifying! The envy thing is a constant-frequent lesson, as Tom points out. But Anne is right: having faith in one's own work is a key. And just keep writing. I'm sure we all know that in the writing itself lies the salvation. Karen--I like the BIG chips and hug the bag close like a security cookie.

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  9. It also makes perfect 'Business Sense' to see other writers as collegues or (mutual supportive) writer friends, and help to promote each other. (and for example to regulate each others workloads)

    Talking about mutually supportive..., how about reading about how you can create your own promotional Business Gifts ? for example writers Coffee mugs with your website url on it, etc. etc. ?

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  10. You are right, HP--with mutual support, we cannot lose. Writers' personalized coffee mugs are a great gift idea!

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  11. I can imagine it was tough seeing someone else soar to such success when you were younger. I think it is wonderful that you wrote her a letter and found a way to put your jealousy aside (not always easy to do). I think when we can celebrate other authors we are helping to promote books and writing, which is a good thing. Thanks for sharing this post with us. Very helpful!
    ~Jess

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    1. Thank you, Jess. It was extremely difficult, and I let it get to me for too long. i like your observation. Whatever we do to help, celebrate, and read other writers strengthens books and writing. Of course, our actions also say that we are ready to be helped, celebrated, and read! Best, Noelle

      Delete
  12. You are right, HP. As we help each other, we are helped in many ways. Writer-customized coffee mugs are great gift ideas!

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  13. A special thank you to all my readers for making my guest feel welcome with your engaging comments and responses. I appreciate your time and feedback. :-)

    ReplyDelete

  14. Great post full of useful tips! My site is fairly good and I am also having a hard time getting my readers to leave comments. Analytics shows they are coming to the site but I have a feeling “nobody wants to be first”

    writer

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