Being a writer is difficult. To improve your craft, you need to connect with other writers but paradoxically, connecting with other writers can sometimes throw enormous curveballs into your own writing life...
You read a bestseller and realise it’s really badly written. Yours is much better, but it’s been rejected by six publishers and counting.
Someone in your writing group reads their story, and it’s so wonderfully descriptive and emotive, that you’re too embarrassed to read your own effort.
A writing friend has just finished their second novel manuscript, while you’re struggling to finish a chapter of yours.
We’ve all been there, and it’s so easy to fall into the comparison trap. And falling into the comparison trap often unleashes the green-eyed monster, even in the most grounded and successful writers.
It’s a bit taboo, because writers tend to be a supportive bunch, who mostly want to help each other. The writing world is big enough for all of us, so it can be hard to admit you feel this way. I’ll be honest though - I’ve lost count of the times I’ve begrudged someone else their success, or coveted it for myself. And this jealousy can be paralysing; why bother, if I’ll never be as successful, talented or productive as everyone else?
However, I’ve also learned that jealousy can be useful. Rather than allow it to shrink your writing, use it as rocket fuel to power it forwards.
Here are seven practical ways I’ve found to alchemise this so-called negative emotion...
1 - Acknowledge that you’re jealous
Admit, even if only to yourself, how you feel. It’ll fester and eat away at you otherwise. Cut yourself some slack and accept that this is how you feel. Jealousy is a valid emotion, and it won’t last forever.
2 - Brainstorm why
Once you know why you’re jealous, it becomes easier to understand. The answer might not be what you expect. We often use other people’s successes to magnify our own failures, so your issue is likely to be with yourself, not the other person.
For example, you might feel envious of a writer who’s been invited to talk at a seminar, but actually you’re annoyed at yourself for not being better at self promotion. Alternatively, you might be envious of a writer who has completed their manuscript, because you keep finding every excuse possible to put off working on your own.
3 - Learn from it
Read the work of those you're jealous of, read interviews with them, read their blog, listen to their podcasts. Understand how they’ve achieved whatever it is that you want to be achieving, then consider how you can adapt this and incorporate it into your own writing life.
4 - Put it into practice
Use these feelings to develop your own writing habits. Jealous this writer has an agent? Start looking for an agent of your own. Envious that they have had a novel published? Work harder on your own writing project. Jealous they are selling more books than you? Learn more about marketing and promoting your work. Jealous that they are a guest on a podcast or blog that you love? Pitch yourself to said podcast or blog. Jealous of their skill for creating wonderful characters? Take a course in characterisation, or focus on your own strongest skill.
5 - Rise above it
It sounds counterintuitive, but often the best way to deal with jealousy is to support the person you’re jealous of. Send them a congratulatory email and like and share their Facebook posts. You’ve been the bigger person, and that's guaranteed to make you feel better.
6 - Connect with other writers
Connect with, and read work by, writers at the same level as you, those who are miles ahead, and those just starting out. You’ll learn from those further ahead, offer advice to those following behind you, and build a support network with those at a similar level. It also reminds you there’s a wealth of talent and writing styles out there. If you only read writers you admire, you’ll miss this. Read good stuff, mediocre stuff, traditional published, self-published, fiction, non-fiction, and remember it’s all subjective. This is true for all writing, even bestselling novels.
7 - Read the Clive James poem ‘My Enemy’s Book has been Remaindered’
Anne Lamott has a wonderful chapter on jealousy in her book ‘Bird by Bird’, and she credits this poem by Clive James, as helping her to overcome her jealousy. I agree, and I’d go one step further and suggest reading it out loud. Spit the words out, cover them in your vitriol, and don’t feel the least bit guilty. You’ll feel much better afterwards, I promise.
Andrea Wotherspoon is a short story writer based on the north coast of Scotland. Andrea has had numerous stories published in The People’s Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast, Writing Magazine and YOU Magazine and has been published in anthologies and online. You can follow Andrea on Instagram or check out more of her writing here.