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:
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!?