Writer envy is a new emotion for me. Honestly, before starting my MFA, I never experience strong feelings of envy towards another writer. But recently, I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with strong envious feelings whenever I thought about the successes of some of my classmates.
What is writer’s envy? Well, I don’t think there is a set definition. I like to think of it as that feeling you get in your soul or heart, whenever you log onto Facebook/Twitter/Email/Tumblr/Any Social Media Site and see a post about a friend who received some award or is being published in some illustrious magazine. You sit in front of the computer, shaking ever so slightly as you think about your own unpublished short story, poem, or manuscript. A few seconds of disbelief pass and then the questions begin:
- What’s so special about their work? Surely, I’m a better writer than they are.
- Why aren’t people praising my work? Why can’t they see how hard I’m working?
- Am I really good enough or am I just fooling myself?
And I think it is natural to feel this way. At some point every writer in the world experiences some case of jealousy. Personally, I hope to achieve the same level of success that popular YA novelists like John Green, J.K. Rowling, Sabaa Tahir and many, many, many other writers have achieved.
But what about when the success is closer to home? How should you feel when your best friend, former coworker or distant neighbor is relishing in the success that you are certain you deserve? Well, I’m not sure. I’m still trying to work it out myself. Being in an MFA program, I am surrounded by stellar writers and sometimes after reading someone’s story, I sit in awe, which is almost always followed by feelings of self-doubt. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to write as well as my classmates, if people like my stories as much as my classmates, if I will be able to find success after earning my MFA. It’s hard to continue writing when I hear that someone is getting published in a swanky new literary magazine, while another person just placed in a prestigious writing competition and yet another person won a scholarship in recognition for their story. Meanwhile, my own stories are being rejected with impersonal messages about how it just doesn’t fit with the magazine’s core audience or theme.
But, here is some good news. Or rather some decent advice. It’s something I try to remind myself on a daily basis. Writer envy sucks big time, but if I let it take over and linger in my heart for too long, then I’ll stunt my own growth. Sure it sucks to get rejected (believe me, I’ve been rejected a lot in my life and I’m not just talking about my writing career). But I can’t let those doubts that come after a rejection keep me down. And an easy way to pick myself back up is to think about how I’ve improved recently.
Let me give an example. Every year, the English Department at my school holds a Student Writing Award Ceremony. Undergraduates and graduates can enter in their work in the hopes of being recognized as the best! This year, I won honorable mention for one of the awards. (I’m not sure which award, since I couldn’t attend the ceremony. But that’s besides the point) My friend text me during the ceremony to tell me the good news. And for a while, I was happy, until I heard who won the award.
I won’t name names, because the person who won is a nice and a skilled writer. But I couldn’t help myself. I started to compare our work and I felt that I wasn’t as good of a writer as they were. I took away from my success by focusing on the award that I didn’t get. I was good, but not quite good enough and somehow in my mind, that meant I was a failure. These thoughts weighed me down for most of the day.
Until I stopped and really thought about it.
I won honorable mention! Sure it’s not first place, but hell, I didn’t even expect to place (which is partially why I didn’t want to go to the ceremony in the first place). Somehow, out of all the other stories, the guest judge thought my story was worthy enough of honorable mention and I was okay with that. Because it meant that if I worked hard next year, I had a chance at winning an award. And even if I don’t win next year, I can still say that the quality of my writing improved!
I guess that’s my message: Don’t lessen your achievements because you’re blinded by someone’s success. No matter where you are in your career, no matter what goals you set for yourself, you will eventually feel some type of envy towards someone that seems to being doing better than you. But don’t let that stop you from creating and writing and doing the things you love to do! It seems cliched, but if you work hard, success will eventually come to you. Plus, as far as I know, no one has ever felt bad about improving their skills. You’re going to fall and hit some bumps on your journey, but in the end when you win that award or finally get that story published, you will be able to look over your failures and beam at the crowds because you will have truly earned your rewards.
Keep creating, because eventually, success will come knocking on your door!