Happy Monday, ya’ll!
Today’s blog post comes to you from Jewel E. Leonard—an incredibly talented and lovely author. She’s the author behind The Witches Rede series, currently released are books one and two: Alight and Possession. As soon as you’re done reading this post, I urge you to go pick up copies of her work!
Let’s dive right into her post, shall we?
One of the earliest life lessons I can recall came on the topic of competition. I don’t recall the particulars; just that I had gotten the highest score on a test in my class. I was properly proud of my accomplishment, only to be introduced to the phrase “big fish in a little pond.”
For someone as inherently competitive as I (please just take this as fact—I don’t want to regale anybody with the unpleasant details), this concept was a tough pill to swallow.
I struggled for years to accept that in life, there will always be people who aren’t as good as you are at your chosen profession … and there will always be people who are far better.
The former isn’t a particularly difficult concept to wrap one’s head around. I’ll make this easy on myself and just address this as one writer to other writers. What do you do when you encounter someone who isn’t as strong a writer as you are? This one’s a no-brainer. If that person wants your help, and you can extend yourself, you offer to help. Beware the pitfalls associated with this position.
- Pitfall: your time may be limited and saying “no” (especially to a friend) is hard.
- Pitfall: some people are out there who will be eager to use everything you have to offer.
- Pitfall: those people often make it their expertise to locate and recognize the people they can take advantage of.
- Pitfall: you can’t get your wasted time back. Time’s a total bitch that way.
If you’ve been at this business for a while and your sphere of influence is relatively small, chances are most people you encounter are either at your level, and many will be somewhere below it. I personally have been blessed to have several close friends whose books sit all snuggly beside mine on my shelves and even though we all write very different things, these books all play so nicely together. (In other words, I see my friends as equals in writing.)
We share in each other’s successes and cheer each other on and help each other to varying degrees as we can.
But then, through diligence in networking, your sphere of influence grows. You, big fishy, graduated from little pond to ocean and you didn’t drown in the transition! Congratulations!
With the expansion of your world, you meet lots of other people. Some on your level. Some who are hard at work to get to your level (and of course, they will get there, with persistence and time). And then you meet the shark in fishie’s skin … Also known as the writer whose work you read and it was so unbelievably good that it made you kinda feel like this:
Into your life swam the great white shark equivalent of writers. Not, of course, that this person (or her writing) is going to devour you—because that would be silly. It’s more of a comparison between the size of a clown fish to that of a great white. Your talent/skill/experience/knowledge/finished product to hers.
You have welcomed this person into your life. The one you thought would make a pretty cool friend (score one for your intuition). This is someone you have a lot in common with, as it turned out. The one who sees eye to eye on a great many things, someone you enjoy chatting with and when a notification comes in that you’ve heard from her, you cheer.
Revelations that you’ve befriended the writing equivalent of a shark can come with a wide variety of complications, especially if you have a competitive streak as wide as the Missouri River is long.
You might have guessed, of course, that I am not speaking from first-hand experience.
Especially not when it comes to that competitive streak.
And now I present my handy-dandy guidebook entitled “So You Befriended a Shark.”
You are likely experiencing a variety of emotions when you think about your friend’s wildly superior writing, among them: feelings of awe, inadequacy, jealousy, and inspiration. I think my old friend Homer can sum up a couple of these feelings beautifully using a couple gifs from one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons:
Don’t break your crappy barbeque pit to spite your face. That is, don’t take your feelings of inadequacy out on your writing. Here’s an opportunity for you to do what few people can: be inspired by the gifts of a close friend. Most writers consider one of the greats their inspiration. I think it’s better to be inspired to improve by someone you know. Someone to whom you can actually say “hey, thanks to you, I improved my craft.” There is something really special about being able to credit someone you adore with how you’ve improved. I think, frankly, that is far better than saying some author you’ve never personally spoken with (and likely never will) had any influence over your writing.
Here are a few tips nobody asked for (admittedly inspired by a wonderful post I saw about “good artist tips”) that may help you weather friendship with a great white shark:
Try to remember that there will always be someone better than you at Your Thing and train yourself to not compare your work with theirs. (I like to refer to this as “eyes on your own paper.” Not suggestive of cheating but more like: pay attention to what you’re doing rather than worrying about anyone—or everyone—else’s work.) Instead, take the opportunity to learn from what they do better. Turn your envy into a personal challenge to improve your craft. It’s hard at first but I promise with time it gets easier to recognize this situation and how you, too, can benefit from it.
Improving your own writing will help you feel less intimidated by superior writers (even if you feel you’ll never be up to their snuff). There are numerous ways to get better at writing. You’ve seen these before, I’m sure, but here we go:
- (Read classics, read modern. Read instructional materials. Read good books. Read bad ones. There are lessons you can take away from everything you read, regardless of who wrote it and when it was written. Also, read in your genre and read beyond it.)
- Talk to the people you admire. Ask about their methods. Ask about the people THEY look up to (and then read those authors’ books).
- Gather the guts to ask for feedback. (And be respectful and understanding if they cannot help—now or ever! Realize there are some folks out there who don’t have a method, or don’t realize they have a method and when asked about it, won’t be able to tell you anything useful. “I don’t know how I’m doing it. I just do it!” If they say this? It’s almost certainly true. Nobody enjoys admitting that they’re just making things up as they go.)
As with everything else that’s worth doing in life, practice makes BETTER (not perfect, drop that idea right now. DROP IT!). It’s a threadbare sentiment for damn good reason: because it’s true. I’m not going to tell you to write every day. I know that’s the popular advice provided by certain renowned authors who live, breathe, eat, and sleep it (or claim they do). But I also know that one size doesn’t fit all, double especially in a subjective field like writing. So what I WILL tell you is that yes, it helps to write. You can’t improve your craft without, y’know, doing it. It helps to edit—second verse same as the first. There are many people out there who don’t have the stamina, time, attention span, lack of depression, you name it, to write x amount daily. Or to write anything daily. And to be told they NEED to do so is, I think, far more detrimental than virtually anything else they could be told. So I’ll advise what seems to me to be the obvious thing: write as much as you can. The more you write, the better you should get. But if you can’t do so daily, if you need to take weeks, months, or even years off, don’t fret. The good news is that paper and pen will always be there awaiting your return. Write whenever you can, however you can, as much as you can. And when you can’t, you look yourself in the mirror and say “it’s ok.” Beating yourself up over it accomplishes approximately nothing helpful. Instead? Endeavor to do the best you can.
If it’s that you’re getting bored or stuck, experimentation can be your friend.
- Switch genres.
- Try writing a different tense or POV.
- Always write novels? Try some flash fiction.
- Trade tools (always use your laptop? try writing in a notebook).
- Really just desperately want to write but you’re stuck beyond all reason? Revisit a favorite old show and write some fanfiction. Think of the craziest “crack-pairing” you can come up with and write the filthiest damn thing you can think of. Or take one of the grossest characters you know from a movie or TV show and write a redemption arc. Make it believable. Or make it ridiculous. The key is to do something different.
What happens if none of that helps? DON’T PANIC. Don’t do it! Try something non-writing related. One of my favorite suggestions is to let my other hobbies catch me when I tumble from my writing horse. And actually, IMHO, the more other hobbies you have, the better off you may be … because I find my “block” can extend beyond writing. I don’t feel like writing, I don’t feel like beading, or knitting. Thank goodness my interest in Tunisian crochet hasn’t waned!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Writer Twitter can super-duper-double-suck sometimes, but it can also be the best resource out there. Find a critique partner and offer to trade a few pages (keep it short). Read theirs and provide the best feedback you can, and with luck, they’ll do the same for you. Don’t get discouraged if your CP and you don’t “click.” It can take many failed relationships before you find that lasting, magic one. And some writers remain alone on their little rafts indefinitely, or go through CPs like they’re going out of style. Take a break, take a breath, take a drink, take a walk, take a nap, take a bow, and then get back out there.
Books are not created in a vacuum, so they claim—and I don’t mean the thing where all authors need X amount of eyes on their work before it gets to be any good. I mean that you are influenced by real life, by the people you encounter (at the store, at work, at bible study, flipping you off one lane over on the highway, sending you a funny gif and awaiting your “LOL!” reply), by what you watch on TV, listen to on Pandora, read on whatever your medium of choice. It’s OK to allow yourself to be influenced by these things. In fact, you should endeavor to be influenced by these things! The greats like Tennessee Williams did it, so why the hell can’t we? If there’s an author whose style you like, make notes about what it is you admire about his or her style and then (and here’s what’s key) make it your own. Use that as a springboard into your own author voice pool.
Did a bad review curl your straight hair and make you want to hang up the pen and notepad forever? Try to keep in mind that you’re not going to make 5-star books every time. That’s OK. Nobody does. (Seriously. Go look at the reviews for big-name authors and spend some time looking specifically at the scathing 1 stars—just maybe try to keep your schadenfreude at non-poisonous levels.)
The point of this exercise is to remind you that what proves popular isn’t going to be universally liked no matter what name is attached to it and no matter how much experience and clout that person has. Because, obnoxious as this is, what one person likes, another will not. In other words, you cannot please everybody all the time (frustrating, I know), and no one creates the perfect piece. NOBODY. NO.BOD.Y. Not me, not you, not the people we admire most. Here’s what matters: that you enjoy what you’re doing when you’re doing it, you’re putting your best into it, and that you find a way to improve a little bit with every sentence you put down.
And now, little fishies in big ponds and the great whites out there in the ocean, I leave you with this: for the love of whatever you hold sacred, be nice to yourself. You owe yourself that much. Nobody else can write that book you’re writing. Nobody else has your personal life experience or voice. For better or worse …
Your writing is all yours and yours alone.
And whether you think so or not, you’re doing well at doing you. It will all be OK in the end. Now take a moment to do 2 things:
First, thank that Great White Shark for his or her friendship.
Then go do something—great or small—to reward yourself for getting as far as you have. Sometimes we are so focused on looking forward and at others’ accomplishments that we forget to take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come.
Here are a couple extra resources for you:
If you find your Green-Eyed Monster is difficult to tame (to the point of threatening your friendships and possibly even the professional face of your writerly empire—don’t laugh, I’ve seen it!):
And if you struggle less because you’re jealous of a superior writer and more because you feel inadequate:
Thank you, Jewel, for such a thoughtful post! There are many Indie authors I endeavor to emulate—and Jewel is one of them! I first fell head-over-heels in love with her contemporary steamy romance, Tales by Rails, and with each installment of The Witches’ Rede series, I am more and more besotted by her words.
Be sure to check out all the places Jewel resides online:
Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | JewelELeonard.com
Before we depart, can I just take a moment to say how LOVELY the below photo is? It may look like stock photography, but no! Jewel and her extraordinarily talented husband designed this photo shoot for her lovely books!
If you haven’t yet, click the pic to get your copies of The Witches’ Rede today!
I am personally very excited to get my hands on the next installment as soon as it is available!
Jewel’s covers are gorgeous, aren’t they!?
6 thoughts on “Coping With Jealousy for Writers”
I guess I’m having trouble with the analogy? If you meet someone and you become friends, and you think they are a better writer than you–that doesn’t necessarily make them a shark, does it? Calling them a shark (to me) implies they are unfriendly, maybe even outright hostile. And that wouldn’t be the case if you’re friends, right?
There is no way to tell if you are a better writer than someone else. You could have five-star feedback from the best editors in the business, but your books may never sell like 50 Shades. I guess what it comes down to is, what does success mean to you? Being traditionally published? Having good review feedback from people who aren’t your friends? Receiving good feedback from people who *are* your friends? Making money? Winning writing awards? Success means something different to everyone. And while I have bailed on indie books because they were boring, or because there were too many grammar and punctuation issues, or whatever, I also could only choke down a few pages of several traditionally-published books as well. I even started a shelf on Goodreads–did not finish.
I offer my time to indies, and yeah, it sucks when I spend hours editing for them to only brush aside my suggestions. Sucks for me because I didn’t get paid. Sucks for me because of that time lost. But for every person who has done that, there are people who have taken every single one of my suggestions. So, while I could let that make me bitter, and I could stop editing, I would rather shrug and still offer help when and where I can.
I am confident in my own work, because yes, I did, and do, everything you suggest: I read a lot. Fiction and non-fiction. I take feedback seriously. I don’t get my panties in a twist. I write a lot. I WRITE A LOT. I attend workshops. I take online editing classes. I work at my writing, and I know with every book I release I get better, and that’s how it should be. I don’t compare myself to others, mainly because everyone I know writes in a different genre, so what’s the point of me comparing Wherever He Goes to Alabama Rain? There is none. I couldn’t write Aila’s book. I couldn’t write Alight. And I’m cool with that. Maybe Aila and you, Jewel, could write Wherever He goes because it’s just a simple contemporary romance. And I’m cool with that, too.
If you’re comfortable with what you’re writing, if you like what you’re writing, then you shouldn’t have an issue with competitiveness. It’s all fear of missing out, and there’s lots of fear in the indie community, and there’s just too much going on. You’re going to miss out. On something.
Do your best. Make friends because they’re cool people. If their writing career impresses you, all the better. Everyone can use a mentor. Friendship is a give and take relationship anyway. Not just with writing, but with support, resources, etc.
If someone lets jealousy control how they run their writing business and how they run their social media, and how they friend other people, maybe that turns them into the shark. Not the other way around.
I think both of you are great writers, and I’m proud to support both of you!
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I have definitely felt dwarfed by some of my writer-friend’s talents, which is what I think Jewel meant by the little fish/shark analogy. (Both of you would be on my shark-list, using this analogy! ♥)
You hit on a good point, Vania, defining what success means to the individual author is a really big deal. Not all of us are after the same thing: indie v. trad, publication v. awards, etc. etc.
Also keeping in mind that everyone’s strengths are different. One friend may be a superior technical writer, but the other might be a better storyteller. One friend might be fantastic with social media marketing, the other better at navigating advertisements.
But, let me assure you, I could not have written Wherever He Goes—and would never assume there’s anything easy about writing contemporary romance. I’ve attempted it, but it didn’t work out nicely. I am sure if I worked at it and practiced, I might be able to write a contemporary romance some day that people wouldn’t DNF shortly after picking it up…but that isn’t now. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I would say writing a successful contemporary romance would be harder than almost any other genre for the sheer fact it’s such a competitive market and heavily saturated. I’d say you’re lucky for being able to write contemporary romances which stand out…but it isn’t luck…it’s all that hard work you’ve put in.
And I most assuredly love supporting you as well! If i haven’t told you lately, you’re amazing! ♥
What an excellent post! I was a little confused by the shark analogy because from what I have heard, Sharks aren’t something you admire. Like, I’m watching Grey’s Anatomy right now and they call each other sharks because they like to steal surgeries. That’s not a good thing.
I wonder if you meant the other way as in SHARK = BAD ASS. I read the post like that.
Jealousy is a terrible thing and it can burn friendships faster than most light fluid. Jealousy is also a natural emotion that isn’t always easy to control, especially if you’ve put so much effort into something and it seems effortless to others.
But, that goes back to having faith in yourself and your work. If you (general you) do your very best, then that’s all that matters. Who cares if Bobby Sue is selling more books. All that says to me is to readjust my strategy and continue educating myself on how to be better (for myself).
I have read a LOT of your books; between Aila and Jewel and one thing I will honestly say is that I’ve watched you both grow as writers in your own individual crafts. That’s the important thing IMO.
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I drew parallels to Shark Tank, actually. Powerhouses, knowledgeable, successful.
(Also: Grey’s anatomy is sooo good!)
Jealousy can most definitely be destructive. If one can figure out how to use it as a motivational tool, it can be used to help instead of hinder.
Thank you for the kind words! 🙂 Hope you’re well and enjoying Hawaii!
Yes! You’re right. That goes for anything negative–learning to use it as a positive instead of letting it bring you down.
I’ve never seen Shark Tank but I understand your position. Ha!
Hawaii is good. Better than it was a month ago (minus the Hurricane heading our way). Thank you! ❤