So, before I start, let me clarify that this blog post is for prepublished writers. If you’re published or even if you have an agent, STOP READING NOW! This post is not for you. This is for those still flailing around in the murky, treacherous depths of the query swamp, for those doggedly pushing forth against all obstacles to land that contract, for those passionately seeking that perfect match of an agent. All others, go peruse Facebook.
Okay. Are they gone? Is it just us prepub folks? Good. (Published/agented writers, if you’re still reading, remember…you were warned.) So, my fine warriors (that’s what you are, you know, and don’t forget it), I’d like to speak about how to handle the success of others. You know…the critique partner who landed a publishing contract. Or the writer in the online group who is lamenting how he’s going to choose which of the five offers of representation he’ll go with. Those victories can be a stumbling block for those still struggling for that big break. I once wrote a blog post on celebrating the success of your fellow writers (see “Share Your Good News” from August 2015). Let me emphasize that every word of that post still holds true. So no crying “hypocrite” here. Writers should share good news without fear of making others feel badly. You should embrace the accomplishments of your writing peers. And the true writer must write because she’d die if she couldn’t pour words onto the parchment and share those stories blistering within. For the love of writing, not for glory. Blah. Blah. Blah. But please indulge me as I take a different (admittedly kind of wallowing) perspective, because witnessing others’ achievements can stir up insecurity in our own abilities. It’s a natural human response and we’re all human. (Except maybe for politicians and the occasional personal injury attorney.)
Anyway, back to the issue: How best to handle the success of your fellow writers. If that golden ring has been dangled inches from grasp (I got a partial request!) and then is torn away with one email rejection (“It just didn’t grab me.”), that’s tough stuff. And if it's followed up by another’s good news? That can cause volatile emotions to gurgle up. Personally, I teeter on a thin wire over a cavernous ravine with one side of me proclaiming congratulations with utmost sincerity and the other side sprinting in self-pity to the cusp of the highest cliff, falling to my knees and screaming, “Why not me?” (Think Brando’s “Stellllaaa!” in A Streetcar Named Desire. I’d yell like that. Except angstier.) Yup. It’s called jealousy. No, wait. It’s called self-doubt. No…I’ve got it. It’s called failure. All those ideas flood our brains at the same time we feel happiness at the accomplishments of our peers. And that can unglue the confidence of the most talented of writers. So here are my three tips to find that balance between joy for others and, quite candidly, self-loathing:
1. Vodka. No, scratch that.
1. SEIZE THE HOPE. That’s right. Agents are always looking. Books continue to get published. Opportunities abound. When others who’ve been in that frigid query sea with us obtain an agent or get a contract, it gives us hope that there’s a chance for us. (If I was more tech savvy, I’d have added a sound effect here playing “There’s a Time for Us” from West Side Story. Instead, I’ll hum it. You’re a writer. Use your imagination.)
2. JUMP ON THE MOTIVATION TRAIN. Rather than doubting your literary abilities, let those successes drive you to keep writing. Keep revising. And keep submitting. No one ever got a book deal indulging their self-pity in bed. Bed sores, maybe. But no book. Remember, if they can do it, so can you!
3. BE PATIENT. Hard work pays off. The majority of writers toil away for a long time, through draft after draft, critique after critique, manuscript after manuscript, before they finally hear that magnificent “Yes!” It takes time, and we all have dues to pay. Except perhaps a few Hollywood stars who decide they want to write a sweet little children’s book and then get a seven-figure contract and a hardcover on the shelves within a year. (Sorry, famous Hollywood writers. I adore you on the big screen. And your book may be good. But I want to tear out your vital organs and throw them in a Vitamix every time I walk by your NYT bestseller. No hard feelings. It’s not you. It's me.)
4. Wine. (I know I said three tips, but I’m feeling generous.) Number four is because it’s okay to feel frustration and need a boost.
5. Chocolate. (Five tips? Yup. I’m a giver.) I added chocolate because it’s also okay to need a hug, and let’s face it: chocolate is a hug in food form. I hear when writers get published, some go all fancy (hey, sales drop off, agents quit) and shift from Hershey’s to Ghirardelli or even Godiva. Is that true, published/agented writers? Probably not. But see? Caught ya! knew you’d read this even after I politely suggested Facebook. You’re a stubborn, nosy lot.
So there you have it. Your conflicting feelings are justified. You inner turmoil is validated. You can feel joy for others’ successes and still want to curl up in a ball. But don’t do the latter. Have your drink and some sweets. Then grab onto the hope. Stay motivated. Be patient. Let any frustration you feel propel you forward.
By the way, everyone in my writing group loves and supports each other unfailingly. But when I get to the point of having good news to share (I don’t use the word success because if you’ve set your mind on being a writer and you actually write something, you’ve succeeded. Don’t forget that.) As I was saying…when good news comes along, despite all my writing group’s “so proud of you” and “your success is our success,” oohing and aahing, they may really want to kick me in the shins and head for the liquor store. And I’ll buy them chocolate. Because I get it. We’re all in this together, prepublished friends. Forge ahead! You are warriors!
To the published/agented writers who continued to read this despite my pleas for privacy, you need to work on your listening skills. And I love you. Keep on writing and inspiring your prepubbed friends to do the same. (Hey, I figure if you read this after I told you not to, you’ve been there and deserve a carrot for your compassion. I'll buy your book. There you go. Now scoot.)