Writer's Envy

Writer’s Envy—And 3 Thoughts on What to Do About It

10 thoughts about how to deal with writer's envyLast year, one of your writing buddies landed your dream agent. This year, they published with a great publisher. Now, they just sent you a #happydance email, telling you they’ve been nommed for your genre’s biggest award. You’re happy for your friend. Really, you are. But try as you might, your gut just closed up with a sick but all-too-familiar feeling: writer’s envy.

The writing community is a great place, full of sensitive, supportive people all trying to prioritize the honesty of their art and the worthiness of chasing their dreams. But the writing community also has its dark sides, and none is perhaps more pervasive or insidious than a writer’s envy. I daresay only the most centered among us have evaded it entirely.

But why? Other than the fact we’re all humans and envy is perhaps one of the easiest of all human failings, why do writers seem particularly susceptible to the poison of envy?

And just to mix things up, here’s another question: Is envy really a poison?

What’s the best way to view and deal with writer’s envy?

Let’s take a look.

Writer’s Envy: Why Are We So Competitive?

Art is a cooperative.

Stories, perhaps more than any other art form, are shared experiences. In striving to hit that perfect note of verisimilitude with our writing, we are trying to share in the larger human experience, just as we are also trying to share our own personal experiences. We are tapping into a collective subconscious that resonates to the same symbolic triggers and archetypal constructs.

Most of us want, on some level, for our stories to positively impact others. We are trying to share something good with the world. Something true. Something of worth.

We are also taking what others have shared with us—both in life itself and in their art—and refashioning it, so we might reshare it yet again. Art is the ultimate recycling system: nothing is ever wasted; everything is reused.

I believe it is an absolute truth that when one artist succeeds, the rewards belong to all of us. When a good story (or song or picture) is given to the world, and then given a platform from which it can be shared with the greatest number of people, that is one of the most perfect things in life.

In short, on a purely artistic level, there is no competition. There is only cooperation. Your art makes my art better. My art makes your art better. And we all benefit.

Buuuuuuutt…..

Pure artistry, like any form of absolutism, doesn’t actually operate down here in the grungy real world.

Down here, it’s Rottweiler-eats-Chihuahua.

Down here, it’s all my-ego-is-a-ravenous-insecure-whining-powerful-beast-who-wants-everyone-else-in-a-bleeding-pile-under-my-jackboots.

4 Reasons for Writer’s Envy

So why? Why are artists—who are supposed to be all wise and ethereal and above the common longings for worldly acclaim—so susceptible to dark and seemingly useless feelings of envy?

1. We’re Not Wise, Ethereal, or Above It All

We’re just blokes and blokesses who, perhaps even more than others, are struggling really, really hard to make sense of our own hyper-abundant human frailties.

2. We’re Vulnerable

There are technical aspects of excellence involved in every art form. Just like a master carpenter, we take pride in our ability to craft solid structures and beautiful prose. And just like that carpenter, we’re going to be bummed when our skills don’t measure up to where we want them to be.

But, even more than our skills, we’re putting ourselves on display. When that is found wanting, in any measure, it hurts ridiculously. Someone criticizing our work might feel their comments are on par with saying, “I don’t like your shirt,” when what we feel they’re really telling us is, “I don’t like your face.”

3. We Have a Hard Time Succeeding

Book publishing isn’t obviously competitive in the sense that my achieving my dreams will rule out your achieving your dreams, and vice versa. Even still, it certainly seems like there are limited opportunities for success. It’s hard to make it as a writer. Very few of us make any money off writing, fewer still make a living off it, and very few indeed become famous millionaires. When someone reaches one of those coveted milestones, it’s easy to knee-jerk into feeling our own chances just got slimmer.

4. We Tend to View Other People’s Successes as a Yardstick of Our Own Failure

When another writer succeeds—especially someone you know personally—it’s hard not to feel as if their good fortune isn’t a giant spotlight revealing everything you, by contrast, have not achieved. They’re agented, published, bestselling, and award-winning. You… are not. Pretty stark.

Reframing Writer’s Envy: It Doesn’t Have to Be a Bad Thing

Is it possible for something objectively bad to be subjectively good?

With a little reframing, it just might be.

Envy is bad. I daresay none of us enjoys it. It sits in our guts like bad sushi. It’s sickening—literally. It makes us unhappy for others and unhappy for ourselves. And then, often, we feel bad for feeling jealous in the first place. It seems pretty irredeemable.

But envy itself is neither bad nor good. It just is. It’s a symptom—like a headache—telling us of a deeper issue.

It’s what we do with that feeling that creates either a bad experience or a good one.

Envy is telling you, first and foremost, that you want something. It might be something obvious, like: I want my book published or I want to win that award too. But even these statements are pointing to something deeper, whether it’s an unresolved insecurity or simply a dream you’ve yet to fulfill.

A writer’s envy is a flashing neon sign, reminding you about unfinished business. So often in life, we sit and we wish for a sign in answer to the old prayer: Just show me what to do! Envy is about as obvious a sign as you can ask for.

So do something about it.

But do something good.

Fierce on the Page Sage CohenSage Cohen, in Fierce on the Page, said:

When envy comes up in your writing life, I propose that you don’t subdue it in the name of propriety and good citizenry. I hope you do the opposite: investigate it until you get top that place in you that saysI want, I need, I DESIRE.

Envy only becomes bad when it prompts thoughts about others. Secret wishes for another’s downfall or even just, passive-aggressively, that they might not be quite so successful until you’ve caught them up, are negative in the extreme. Worse, they’re counter-productive. Fuming—even suppressed fuming—about frustrations with another’s success just gets in the way of your ability to act productively on your own behalf.

Instead, when envy strikes, focus on yourself:

1. Identify Your True Emotional Triggers

Why are you jealous? Because it’s your dream to land that specific agent? Because right now you’re doubting your ability to even write a good sentence, much less the dreamed-of book? Because you think the other writer’s success was undeserved for a specific, quantifiable reason (i.e., “I could write a better book than that!”)?

It’s easy to gripe about other people—whether accurately or not. What’s not so easy is facing down our own motives. Looking our insecurities in the eye can be terrifying. Admitting our work isn’t yet good enough to help us fulfill our dreams is, at best, frustrating. And feeling like you’re doing everything you know how to do—and still not getting what you want—is heartbreaking.

But the only way to address a problem is to first honestly acknowledge what’s really going on.

2. Step Away From the Ego

So many of our jealousies are just plain silly. As already mentioned, art is far more cooperative than competitive. Resentment of another writer’s success is often (always?) counter-intuitive. (If you write an amazing story and I read it, I am going to be that much more likely to write a better story myself thanks to the gifts your story has given me. And then, of course, there’s the fact that if a reader reads and loves your amazing story, they’re going to be that much more pumped to read another amazing story—and maybe they’ll read mine!)

But the ego isn’t always sensible. Certainly, it isn’t easy to overcome. Just realizing and admitting a) the undeniable reality of the ego’s demands and b) it’s often childlike short-sightedness is a huge step toward redirecting its power.

Looking at the bigger picture (of life, art’s role in life, and our role in art) is a helpful re-centering trick. Humility is inevitable when we are honest about how infinitesimal each of us is within that larger picture (and yet, how each of us, supplies an inevitable butterfly effect). It then becomes easier to recognize and embrace the contributions of our fellows, rather than feeling threatened by them.

3. Act on What You’ve Learned About Yourself

Once you’ve dug down deep inside yourself to discover what’s at the root of your writer’s envy, you will have gained information you can act on. You’ve faced down your insecurities. Maybe what you’ve found is something as surface level as My characters aren’t as good as my writing buddy’s characters! or something as deep as I will never feel worthwhile unless I can write an acclaimed book!

More than that, you’ve discovered uncluttered truths about what it is you want: to be published, to be a bestseller, to win an award, to impact readers of a certain group, to write for the pure joy of it.

Your envy has given you an indication of your progress. It tells you you’re not yet where you want to be. It’s a road sign, saying “120 miles to Graceland.” You’re not there yet. But you are on the right road. Congratulate yourself—and keep driving.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you ever struggle with writer’s envy? What do you do about it? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. This post is awesome, Katie! As always, just what I needed. 🙂 It’s also hard to hear positive feedback about other people’s novels — I want them to be saying that stuff about *my * book! But in reality, it’s all just silly ego.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The ego’s important too. It just doesn’t like to stay in a convenient proportion all the time. 😉

  2. robert easterbrook says

    Thanks for writing this, KM.

  3. This really speaks to me! Many folks in my writers organization are multi published authors and it’s hard not to be jealous, but I’ve learned to trust and embrace their success as something positive for the organization. Sometimes though those around me dont feel the same and it brings me down. I try to take the higher road and be happy. But it’s not always an easy thing. Maybe it shouldn’t be though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nah, I don’t think happiness is ever easy. (Who was it who said happiness was one of life’s greatest acts of courage?) But it sounds to me like you’re not just focused on uplifting yourself but those around you too.

  4. Sally M. Chetwynd says

    To a degree, I did suffer from writer’s jealousy early on. A now-acclaimed novelist with whom I was in school published her first book shortly out of high school. It was a thinly disguised roast of her town and the people in it. It was well received outside of town, but residents who recognized themselves and her skewering of them did not appreciate it. I got to thinking I should write a rebuttal novel called, “Now Wait A Minute!”

    I did read her book, but I did not buy it. I borrowed it from the library. I figured – rightly so – that if I were to write a rebuttal, I should know the book. It was a very well-written book, finely crafted technically, as perfect as a book gets. Her ability to manipulate the written word was not in question. But the story had no heart, no soul.

    I never did get around to writing “Now Wait A Minute.” But I did not support her by buying or reading her books. My mother clipped her essays in national publications and sent them to me, which kept me up-to-date with this author, in a second-hand way. One day, one of these essays spoke to my heart, and I saw that she had matured emotionally, and was addressing major life situations with understanding, compassion, and wisdom. I subsequently read a later novel and found the story compelling. Since then, I have supported her to some degree, buying a book of hers here and there, sometimes as a gift (which I usually read first).

    I learned some stuff about myself as I learned about this author. Although I have written (badly, at first) since long before I was in school with this person, she was most likely one catalyst that set me on the road to serious writing. My early indignation helped to generate in my one of my basic tenets as a writer, that only YOU can write YOUR story. Well-directed indignation can be useful.

    As I saw her emotional development in her work, I came to see that she was not the haughty snob I thought her in school, but an extremely insecure and painfully shy girl who didn’t fit in with the ‘in’ groups at school. (Neither did I, but we occupied different ‘not-in’ groups – actually I’m not sure she occupied any group.) Although I think she has vanquished the insecurity, in photographs and video I still see that shyness in her body language, perhaps a signature pose she has made her own. It has become an appealing feature for me. And her work now has heart and soul.

    So, rather than condemn her and her work (and who am I to judge, really?), I have come to admire and appreciate it. One of these days, we may meet again and become friends.

    • Wonderful story, Sally. It’s a tale of the growth of two women. Good for you, and thanks for sharing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love this story. I love the compassion it shows *you* having. We’re so quick to judge others, especially in today’s social-media environment. There’s a huge difference between being able to identify that you disagree with someone and maybe even think their actions wrong–versus turning that honest reaction into something emotionally spiteful and toxic (to ourselves above all others).

    • What a great and honest story, as in written straight from your heart. Now I am rather curious about which without you were taking about in this post.

  5. K.M., thank you for this insightful article. I have experienced writer jealousy from time to time. When I dissect it, I find that rarely has the successful writer been luckier than me, they’ve been working at it much longer and harder than I have been. That motivates me to work longer and harder. But, sometimes it takes a while to get to that realization – lol.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good point. When I was first starting out in self-publishing, I definitely experienced moments of jealousy. Even at that point, I was able to recognize that most of it was fear-based (e.g, “What if I can’t do it too?”). Looking back, though, I see that it was apples and oranges. I was just starting out,so of *course* I hadn’t yet achieved what others were achieving, much less what I wanted to achieve.

  6. Excellent advice, Katie.

    I think a lot of our jealousy comes from what I believe motivates writers most: our passion for what stories *could* be, that always seems to be beyond us. We compare ourselves to great stories and big names, and we’re used to admiring and envying them. But when someone down in our own trenches gets hailed as one of them, it throws our whole world system out of whack.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      True. I think writers are so aware of the enormous gap between the story in our heads and the story on the page (however good it may be) that when we view only the exteriority of someone else’s success, we tend to believe they have somehow measured up to our impossible ideals. The truth, however, is that most of them experience the same self-doubt and frustration we do.

  7. Well, this article is timely for me. I recently learned of a seven-figure advance an acquaintance/kind-of friend of mine got for a memoir and I sent her a congratulatory email. I sincerely am happy for her, but I did feel a little depressed for a short time. It was like something nagging in the back of my mind that I’M not published yet. The feeling is gone–I decided to use the semi-unconscious jealousy as motivation to keep working on my MS. And I feel even better after reading your article, so thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Wowzers. Didn’t know they still did that. :p

      And good for you for reaching out and congratulating her. 🙂

    • Jody,

      That is good stuff that you were happy for your friend who got the big advance. I have a friend I grew up with who fell into a multi-book deal after being in the Marines and proficient at being a sniper. I say “fall in” because he was never really a writer but people wanted to hear his story so he hired a co-writer but he was and is the main name on the book.

      From day one, I offered him nothing but congratulations and support and years later I have found out that he loves my short stories that I have on my blogs and is going to show them to his agent at St, Martin’s Press. He told me flat out that collections of stories are hard to pitch and has suggested I write a novel using those stories as guideposts and this is something I am doing now. I had been wanting to take all my overarching stories and fuse them into a novel for a long time so I am finally taking the plunge.

      While my friend has made a lot of money writing and has had some television and fame, I can tell he really loves my writing and wants to help get it published. I ran into Katie’s articles and books via Writer’s Digest and I am currently reading them to help plot my novel.

      All I can say is keep writing and turn any envy/jealousy into motivation to get yourself to the next level.

  8. Spot on, Katie. And thank you for this post, I needed it!

    I think for myself, it’s far more the fear of being left behind and unaccomplished while everyone else is about to cross over that finish line. Or already has. Most days when my ego gets to kicking at my backside it’s the red-eyed monster of Failure that nags at me than the green-eyed one.

    By far, I make conscious efforts to not dwell on this along with that jealousy thing.
    When I do find these thoughts underpinning my efforts, I try harder and focus more on the craft itself. And on improving my own skills vs dwelling on those naggy kicks in the backside even if it takes focused intent to do this at times.

    Meh, some days it works. Some it don’t. I’m human…sometimes.

    Thank you again for another insightful post. For sure, I’d not be as far as I’ve gotten without them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a really good distinction. I believe the majority of the jealousy writers experience is, in fact, driven by our fear of failure or our general insecurities. But it’s easier to huff about someone else rather than take a look at the stuff that’s *really* scaring us.

  9. Definitely struggling right now! My good friend who has only ever written one novel just landed an agent. I truly am so excited for her and really wanted this for her, but I want one for me too! This post was super helpful! Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s good to be honest about how we feel. No reason you can’t be happy for her and a little sad for yourself at the same time. 🙂 Keep on keeping on!

  10. Dear K M,
    I like your article about jealousy and the previous ones too! I have a small criticism of your use of the word subconscious.I notice many writers use this word frequently but surely we should use the word “unconscious “ as referred by the great pysychologists,such as Jung and Freud,to distinguish the level and depth of the Unconcious mind.Subconcious seems shallow and limited comparatively -after all this is ultimately from whence all creativity is born.
    Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thank you! That’s helpful to me (on a number of levels). I stopped using “unconscious” a long time ago, because I associated it with being knocked out. :p But I just googled it and discovered an interesting distinctive between “unconscious” and “subconscious” that I wasn’t aware of. Thanks!

  11. Such a great article and wonderful advice. Thank you!

    Earlier this year, I achieved my dream of publishing a category romance with Harlequin, a publisher synonymous with the genre. You’d think I would be constantly over the moon, but I belong to a group made up of debut authors of all genres. Those writing single title have gotten all sorts of reviews and accolades while series romance is mostly ignored. Of course the downside of all those reviews means they get noticed and can receive some harsh criticism while pretty much everyone who buys a category romance does so because they love it.

    I won’t say I don’t experience that initial pang of envy when someone in the group posts a milestone that I may never achieve, but I remind myself I’m doing what I love. And I realize I’ve achieved the dream that others are still pursuing like being a Harlequin author. Remembering this helps me celebrate these other authors’ successes.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m glad you shared this. It’s a great example of how every success only shows us another success yet to be gained. It’s a never-ending road of unfulfillment–if we let it be so.

      But congrats on your book! 😀

  12. Great article! It definitely rang with me.

    Twitter is a super terrible source for me in terms of writer jealousy. Everywhere you look, someone is trumpeting their success with a publisher or agent and it gets me feeling awful pretty quickly. I understand that this is my own jealousy of these writers’ success and yes, I need perspective at that moment, to step back and say, “Hey, they’ve been working on it and it doesn’t just happen overnight.” But the terrible ego! I suppose I’ve realized all this and therefore do not go on Twitter very often, but it seems like one of those ‘necessary evils’ of modern publishing and writing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Maybe this is too simplistic a solution, but you might try using Twitter without delving into your tweet stream. You might find it less overwhelming just to chat with the people who chat with you. If you’re not getting enough interaction with your tweets to create interesting conversations, try asking general questions of others–like my Writing of the Day (#WQOTD).

      • I like that phrase, ‘delving into your tweet stream.’

        I’ll try your chat suggestion. I’m not too active on there, so I don’t have many people who I chat to (whom I chat to? I’m in editing mode ;)).

  13. This is a good post.

    The happy dance email sounds insecure at best, provocative at worst. I’m happy for other people’s success. But only as long as happy dance emails don’t flood my inbox. I mean, come on.

    I learned my humility lessons before I started to write. I was taught humility means to see things as they are. A writer should not see themselves as better than they are, but they shouldn’t see themselves as worse than they are either. False humility is not humility. It’s pride in disguise.

    These days, I start from the premise that other people know more than me about certain things, and are better at stuff than I am. It takes some people a lifetime to see that. It may take more than a lifetime! Some people never get there, which astonishes me and is material for another post.

    If we’re humble, we have realistic expectations. To see other people are better at stuff than we are is not a crushing blow. It’s what we already knew. That makes for a much smoother day.

    One last point. Success and sales are not synonyms for quality, in any endeavor. If writing is too close to home for us to consider rationally, popular music is a good proxy. The most successful musical artists are not necessarily the best. They may be, but often they aren’t.

    A book’s success may come from good writing. A book’s success may come from factors other than good writing. Both possibilities are true. That’s a humble statement, or seeing things as they are. Another’s success may mean their writing is better than mine. But it may not. The difference, which I need to determine, informs my reaction to their success and my path forward.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This:

      “If we’re humble, we have realistic expectations. To see other people are better at stuff than we are is not a crushing blow. It’s what we already knew. That makes for a much smoother day.”

      And also this:

      “Success and sales are not synonyms for quality, in any endeavor.”

  14. I’m probably repeating something you have blogged about, but when you have those feelings of jealousy, write down what you’re feeling. Really get to the core of how you feel. The way your stomach hurts when you think of your friend’s success. How you threw your notepad across the room. How the dog recognized your mood and ran from the room.
    Then when you write the story that needs the feelings of a character experiencing jealousy, grab those notes and help us to re-live our own feelings of jealousy when we read your story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, this is great. I tend to do this out loud more than on the page. Even just talking things through helps put them in perspective and get down to the root of what’s really bothering you.

  15. Thanks so much, Katie. Your article should be assigned reading for writing students in every writing program. This is such a comprehensive and refreshingly heartfelt discussion of this important issue. I think the main reason for writers’ jealousy arises from trying to measure success in an artistic endeavor by applying business standards. In other words, we’re taking an artistic creation (our novel) and trying to judge its worth against material measures of success: getting it published, positive reviews, sales, etc. That’s a huge disconnect and it can only lead to frustration and misguided values. I remember hearing that Amy Lee (of the rock band Evanescence) said of her music, “It’s art; who cares if it sells.” That’s the attitude I have adopted and I’ve found it has completely eliminated the feelings of writer’s jealousy I used to experience. Yes, I would LOVE to see my novels sitting on bookstore shelves, but that’s not my reason for writing them. I now look at material success as a “plus,” an added benefit. I find that this attitude empowers the art aspect and minimizes the material success component. Another thing that works for me is the “Be careful what you wish for” principle. Most of the books on writing craft, written by very successful authors, that I’ve read are so depressingly vitriolic, filled with anger and bitterness, and I always ask myself if that is the kind of “success” I want. My answer is always “No!” I’ll keep writing because I enjoy the experience of creating stories and characters. If my writing ever achieves “success” then I’ll be thrilled to my core, but if it never “succeeds” then I’ll still have a ball creating and imagining. I write to pull myself out of the real world, not to dig a deeper hole into it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “It’s art; who cares if it sells.”

      Yeah! I love that. Granted, it’s a tricky mindset to balance with the material needs of making a living off your art, if that’s where you going with it. But it’s an idea I keep coming back to as well.

  16. I find that often times when I see the story ideas of amateur writers, it makes me look negatively upon my story. And the reason might surprise most people. It isn’t usually jealousy of their amazing ideas. Often I think their ideas are silly and uninteresting or just sort-of meh, and I fear my work could either turn out the same or it might be just a dumb story idea to begin with. Of course that all changes when I get wrapped up in my ideas. Call it Writer’s Paranoia

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Objectivity is always one of the most difficult things for an artist. We’re just so close to our work–and we know it–that we recognize we have trouble judging it correctly. I will say that time and experience help with this. I feel much more confident in judging my work now than I did ten or fifteen years ago.

  17. Excellent article, K.M.! Heck, sometimes I’d just be happy if my friends and family (most of them, not all!) were a bit more excited/interested rather than a “meh” response. I don’t feel there’s much support at all there, so my jealousy comes in when I see someone who just published getting tons of glowing reviews (I know, they might be fake too and not all friends and family) within a week or less. Maybe that all is a whole different article!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Faint praise is frustrating, without question. The trick (and it is a trick) is to find the right readers, the ones who are as passionate about what you’re doing as you are.

  18. Great post – we don’t like to admit we’re feeling that little nip of jealousy when one of our friends makes good. Like you say, we want them to be successful — we just want to have the same thing happen to us! :-). I love your ideas for working through it and turning any negative feelings to positive action. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ultimately, I think what we’re really feeling is sorry for ourselves–but it’s easier to take it out by resenting or belittling the other person.

  19. Usvaldo de Leon says

    Point the first: Imma keep it real witchu Chief: if a friend of mine lands a top agent, publisher and prize I’m stabbing them. If I read correctly, you would consider that a negative reaction to jealousy?

    Point the second: The Beatles were a three man perpetual motion jealousy machine. John was jealous of Paul, Paul was jealous of John and George was jealous of both of them. It forced them to work harder and resulted in the best catalog in modern music.

    Although all reached heights as solo artists, none of them touched what they created as a backbiting collective.

    Point the third: your point about how we use an emotion like jealousy is spot on. The tragedy of success is that it happens to you. Success does not transform you into a better person. You just become a mess with money and power.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Remind me to confiscate your steak knives. 😉

      And I agree about success. It’s a blessing, but also a challenge that can quickly turn into a surprising curse if not handled with wisdom. You don’t get nothin’ for nothin’ in this world.

  20. I read this article from multiple points of view: writer to writer and sister to sister and spiritual level to spiritual level… oh my, too many scenes too little time! Jealousy is a driving source in our competitive society.

    I appreciate your suggestions- especially the first one: identify why you have this issue. For me, it is a belief in “lack” that stirs my jealousy, ie, I believe there is not enough oxygen to sustain two flames. Another’s success flickers rather than fans my options. Yet, inhaling the abundance of crisp mountain air flowing inside and out of my Rocky Mountain home, I recognize there is enough to go around even at high altitude. I need to relit my candle, is all.

  21. I loved this post for so many reasons. It applies to almost any field of endeavor. I see this dynamic at work in dance, in theatre, in film, in architecture. Heck, it happens to car designers. The response thread is almost as wonderful as the initial article — many thanks to all the wisdom found there as well.

    It is true that jealousy can be a marvelous motivator and it is true that it can be devastating.

    What is also fundamentally true is that if you love what you are doing, nothing else matters. If you get paid to do what you love you have hit some kind of super-rare trifecta of art, life and love… but you are still going to have to wash the dishes and change the metaphoric kitty litter of life. There will always be a thorn in your side.

    I have noticed that when I step back and recognize that I am really, really lucky to have something I love to do, and that I am doing it, it makes me so much more generous of spirit when it comes to celebrating someone else’s accolades and accomplishments.

    Still, it is deeply comforting to have these glimpses into the dark underbelly of a writer’s life: it is not all light and joy and that’s normal too. What is the old saying “a trouble shared is a trouble halved?” Well, thank you for not only sharing this trouble but showing us a way to take the remaining half and spin it into a butt-kicking motivator.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have a feeling that if we were all writers whose lives are “all light and joy,” we wouldn’t have much to write about. 😉

      • True enough! Although I had a writing teacher who wanted to debunk the tortured artist myth and he said, “you don’t have to be an alcoholic to be a writer, you have to be an empath.” I loved that — we can struggle, we can rejoice but, more importantly, we can write what we don’t know, as well as what we do. Good thing too, or how would you write a compelling villain? I was trying to get at the aspect where the “fear of missing out” induced by all the glorious moments of other people’s lives is counterbalanced by folks like you who also share the struggle, the nitty– and the gritty.

  22. An honest post to a common problem.
    I get jealous, so envious, of my full-time writer friends.
    I wish I could write full time without the 8 to 5 job.
    I wish I had an agent.
    Only thing I can do: keep writing. Keep submitting.
    My time will come.

  23. Fiona D'Silva says

    You are amazing KM! Your posts are always inspiring with such depth, detail and insight. Thank you so much.

  24. Louisa Bauman says

    Well said! It’s always in the back of the mind-very few people make a living from writing. I DON’T want to be one of those who never does! I insist on educating myself and getting better until I win. There’s no use being jealous. Study, and figure out WHAT makes them so good, then become better. (But sometimes I don’t understand why a book is famous because it’s not even that good).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Art is definitely subjective. I think the question of “why ‘bad’ books get published” is one we all ask ourselves–although we might all define “bad book” slightly differently.

  25. I feel much better now, currently only blogging and through blogging meet others who blog so much better than I do.
    This gives me a start towards changing that.

  26. I read this yesterday and kept thinking about one particular insight: even negative emotions can be helpful because they reveal something that was already there. I think this is a useful insight for character development within a story, too.

    So often I am sorry for reacting badly to things — sorry that I snapped at someone, that I was impatient, that I bragged or showed off, that I deliberately played on someone else’se insecurity to feel better about myself, that I was envious of someone else’s amazing success. And I think, oh it would have been better if I hadn’t read that thing on Twitter that made me react that way, or if I hadn’t gone to lunch with those people.

    But you are right: the insecurity that caused the emotion and the bad behavior was there all along. It was good that I learned what I was really feeling. It is bad when I am prideful and vain, and especially when I hurt others, but it’s also a good thing when my pride and vanity come to the surface, because that’s the only way the poison will come out. It’s the difference between feeling like you’re a good person and actually being one. If I am honest with myself, I am often sorry not because I did wrong, but because I found out I wasn’t as good of a person as I thought I was, which is something I needed to know.

    And another point: so often I grade myself on a universal scale applied to everyone. So-and-so had already achieved this by the time she was my age. So-and-so already made partner at his firm. This writer’s emotional insights are so far beyond what I could ever achieve; this book’s plot is more tightly organized than I could ever manage. But life is not school, where there is a single curriculum for measuring everyone. There is no single timescale for what we’re supposed to achieve, no universal standard of success or quality. Someone else’s achievement is just that: not a standard I fall short of. The only standard I can fall short of — and I definitely do — is making the most of what I’ve been given. I know, intellectually, that this is totally separate from what anyone else does, but of course I don’t always feel it. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally. This is something I’ve realized consciously in recent years, but still have a hard time actually *feeling* and implementing. Negative emotions aren’t “bad.” We’re not “bad” people for experiencing them. They’re just pointing out honest truths about ourselves and our interactions with others. If we bury them, deny them, or (my personal favorite) talk ourselves out of them, we’re just running from the real problem. Much better to admit them, face them, and deal with what’s really causing them. Sometimes the cause isn’t even close to the trigger.

  27. Fantastic article! I used to get jealous of one writer in particular. She was making the rounds, marketing what I felt was a truly lousy book. I know now it was just guilt. I wasn’t devoting time to my calling. Now that I’m marketing, I have nothing but respect for the other author. I know how hard she must have been working!

  28. Wow! Thank you so much for this post! I am an absolutely jealous writer even though i try to deny it! It’s so severe that if someone else’s fanfiction (not even an original story!) gets more reviews than mine , I get the blues and start thinking my work majorly sucks! Now i know there’s a long journey ahead and i must work on myself. It’s not easy though 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No, it’s definitely not easy. But at least identifying the root causes gets you on the climb upwards. 🙂

      • Thank you! I think crafting something superb is just one aspect of writing and authorship! Self-discovery and that inner journey is also both crucial and helpful 🙂

  29. Thank you! This is so helpful, this happens to me all the time and I never even noticed. When I hear of success stories my stomach drops. I now suspect it is the perception that there are limited opportunities. Of course this is not true but somehow my brain arrived at that conclusion. So rather than suppress or deny the dread, I should channel it. Brilliant.

    I also think that the internet and social media is helping feed the jealousy, because the bar is now stratospheric. The benchmarks have become JK, Stampy Long Nose, Ronaldo etc. When in reality, I need to set my benchmark at… oh I don’t know, to finishing a single paragraph :!)

    So thank you for bringing light to this topic, maybe it will give rise to a new generation of optimistic authors!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, I don’t think any of us are likely to make it up there with J.K. Rowling. But we can all benefit from learning from her success!

  30. Good article but you’re examples are about envy, not jealousy.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You sent me down a dictionary rabbit hole. :p

      My dictionary has this for the first definition of “jealousy”: “Envious: feeling bitter and unhappy because of another’s advantages, possessions, or luck.”

      However, I think you’re right that “envious” is probably the more unambiguous of the two terms in reference to what I’m talking about.

      Thanks! I’ll change that.

      • I think they are similar (yes, I looked them both up as well!) but what I have found helpful is to treat envy as an emotion, and jealousy as an emotion attached to an interpretation or judgment. That is, to envy someone is to feel “I wish I had what they have” and that could be a whole host of things in the writing world! I think it’s pretty normal to feel that, as you have outlined in your post.
        However, jealousy is something more: “I wish I had what they have, and their having it prevents me from having it.” As you point out, storytelling and publishing aren’t a zero-sum enterprise, but they ARE difficult. Someone else achieving the success you wish you could doesn’t take it away from you, but if you see it that way then you’re jealous.
        The difference, for me, is you can envy someone’s success and still find a way to support them and cheer them on. I don’t think you can do that if you take envy a step further and get jealous of them. And I think jealousy also prevents a writer from doing any actual good work of their own.

  31. So true!

  32. Hi, I think your blog and website (and How To’s) are terrific, so I thank you. Writer envy is a toughie. I’ve been at this (fiction writing) for 9 years and a half dozen friends have zoomed past me, signing with major agents, scoring multi-book deals.

    I’ve watched some folks ink glamorous, jaw-dropping deals and then have rather tepid sales, and they eventually self-publish. Or there are folks who have niche audiences and self-publish, and freelance as editors (for less experienced aspiring authors). An agent and an advance and even spectacular reviews will not guarantee sales. Readership has changed. I worry that we’re not as literate as we used to be, so books have become less sophisticated and a lot shorter.

    It’s a really odd thing. I used to struggle with writer envy a lot more, and then I watched others struggle, too. They wrung their hands over sales, e.g., “Will I earn out my advance?” They worried about a sophomore slump, their second novel not measuring up to their first. They wrestled with depression or family problems. Just because they had a book contract did not stop real life, or lessen its occasional sting.

    I’ve really come to admire their dedication, their steadiness, that daily discipline it takes to be a successful writer. I feel for those who attain their dream of a contract, of landing an agent, and then discovering that even harder work lies ahead.

    And who resonates with an audience — that’s so hard to predict. Impossible to predict. Some element of success boils down to dumb luck and great timing. It’s true of other creative professions, musicians, for example — why does one pop song become a mega-hit, and another one doesn’t?

    All any of us can do, is to keep at it, (the hard work), root for each other.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “All any of us can do, is to keep at it, (the hard work), root for each other.”

      I agree with this so much. It’s a journey for all of us.

  33. The guilt is the worst of it all. You are happy for your friend and at the same time a small piece of you kind of hopes it explodes in their face.

    You shake those thoughts away, smile and pretend you never had those thoughts….until another friend succeeds.

    This is common. A viscous cycle that some of us simply have to accept. We are competitive.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In my experience, guilt is always a sign pointing to something deeper. If we can dig down and figure out why we’re really experiencing these negative emotions, we can usually find and deal with the fear that’s truly at work.

  34. I enjoyed this article and I agree that is is easy to point fingers at others who have achieved what we think we want and think that we should be in their place. It is harder, as you eloquently state here, to look yourself in the mirror and confront these feelings and then do something about them. Comparing oneself to others in any avenue (not just writing) IMO is wasted energy as there will always be someone who seems to have what we want.

    I strive to nip in the bud any potential feelings of envy or jealousy and instead congratulate that person for his or her success. At first, it was a labor to be happy for others and reject the natural envy we all feel but now it comes naturally and I am genuinely happy for them. It is similar to the happiness we feel when do something for others and often the good karma will come back.

  35. Just what i’ve been looking for, I struggle with this envy when a fanfic writer (not close friends) of the same genre is getting like 1000 hits and reviews. It’s So unfair, coz they are using the same characters as we all do, not so great storyplots, just throw in some sex scenes.
    I know how to write a bit of romance and lemon scenes too, but not explicit sex scenes. At times i still love to read stories, as i crave new original ideas but i don’t look at those with higher reviews than me. My own coping strategy

    your technique of overcoming it, is to reframe that, one day i will achieve success too and art is cooperative. I agree with the shared vision. Oddly my envy is more heightened and competitive of people, not necessarily friends. Luckily, my writer group friends don’t write fantasy, so i can be happy for them in a sense….

    Great article! But envy is always there….. how long does it take to reframe it for you?

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