Today’s post by Sasha Wasley really resonated with me, as I’m sure it will with other writers. I’ve certainly felt the sting of jealousy and found it hard not to compare myself to other writers, wishing for their writing talent or success.
In today’s post, Sasha articulates the roiling emotions of almost every writer as they watch on while others achieve success about which we can only dream. This post will make you feel like you’re normal again!
‘But all I could see were the ones who appeared to be hitting the bigtime. And all I could do was long for the bigtime myself.’
Sasha Wasley was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. Her newest book is Dear Banjo, a captivating friends-to-lovers tale of first love and second chances. Dear Banjo is Book 1 in Daughters of the Outback series and book 2, True Blue, will be released in May 2018.
Sasha lives and writes in the Perth Hills with her partner and two daughters, surrounded by dogs, cats and chickens. She also writes mystery, paranormal and young adult novels as S.D. Wasley.
You can find Sasha on her website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can buy copies of Dear Banjo here. If you’re interested in Sasha’s paranormal and YA novels, you can view her sister site and other books here.
We need to talk about writer jealousy
When I read Tess Woods’ post about imposter syndrome a few weeks back, I was inspired to write about another slightly taboo topic for writers: professional jealousy. I’m going to give you a warts-and-all account of my own struggle with writer envy.
Let me start by telling you an old, quite famous story about professional jealousy in the literary world. This story was told to me recently by Kate Forsyth at the Romance Writers of Australia conference (I may have a few minor details wrong but the essence is accurate).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an artist and poet from the 1800s. He was a sensitive fellow, deeply stung by criticisms of his work, who lived an impulsive lifestyle of women, art and drugs. He came upon his muse, Elizabeth Siddal, and painted countless artworks with her as his model. He eventually married Elizabeth, but had an affair with the wife of his friend and fellow poet, William Morris. In fact, he spent a ‘summer of love’ with Jane Morris, with the knowledge of her husband, but when Elizabeth found out, she was rather upset. She didn’t live an awful lot longer and Dante felt so guilty when she died that he buried all his poetry with her.
His friend William Morris, in the meantime, suddenly became very successful as a poet. Dante was deeply jealous when William’s poetry drew accolades. After all, Dante had been writing poetry for longer—and he had founded the very artistic movement in which William had climbed to fame. His envy festered and boiled until he did something that still shocks us.
He had his wife’s coffin exhumed so he could get his poetry back and attempt to make a success of it.
Let’s just think about that. He was so envious of his friend’s success that he dug up his wife’s body to recover some works he could publish, believing that he also ought to be recognised as a great poet.
It didn’t answer. He published the poetry and it was met with savage criticism. He published another volume a couple of years later and it was so harshly criticised that he had a mental breakdown over it. He busted up with William and Jane Morris and sank into a morbid state, addicted to chloral hydrate and increasingly mentally unstable. He died several years later, having spent his last days as a recluse.
A cautionary tale? Well, perhaps not. These days, we’re unlikely to impulsively bury our entire works with a departed spouse and then dig them up because we get jealous of a peer’s success. However, we’re just as likely to feel that jealousy.
‘Okay, there’s room for us all to write and publish—but not room for everyone to be bestsellers.’
I’ve met writers who say they don’t get jealous. They say things like, Oh, there’s room for us all in the industry! I’m impressed, filled with admiration, and a little bit dubious. Okay, there’s room for us all to write and publish—but not room for everyone to be bestsellers. And part of working towards success as a writer is picturing yourself in a position of high sales, critical acclaim, making lists, winning awards, amassing a readership, and being invited to events and signings. When you see other people living the dream, it’s only natural to feel a twinge of something like resentment.
Why her and not me?
My book is as good as (or better) than his.
I spent loads of time and money creating buzz around my launch—why didn’t people share and fawn over my release in the same way?
Or it might be self-doubt.
Wow, her book is getting the most amazing responses. She must be an incredible writer.
Look at his book, being picked up for book clubs and highbrow reviews.
Holy crap, what an amazing book! I will never write that well.
This year, I released my first traditionally published paperback, Dear Banjo. I was so thrilled to get the publishing deal, and I did the usual author thing of riding the wave of excitement up to publication date, and then crashing into a kind of anti-climactic depression after release—not because it wasn’t selling well, but because it wasn’t selling like Monica McInerney’s latest, or Liane Moriarty’s latest. It didn’t make a list. And it would be such a long time before my next release! Everywhere I looked, there were authors having amazing releases, hitting lists, going to reprint, getting drooled over by readers, winning awards. It made me gnash my teeth with envy. I scowled at their Facebook posts and obsessed over my sales figures, emailing my publisher for weekly updates. I had tears over my jealousy. I had whole bad days and even weeks over it.
‘Everywhere I looked, there were authors having amazing releases, hitting lists, going to reprint, getting drooled over by readers, winning awards.’
Logically, I knew this was crazy. All I’d ever wanted was to be an author. Now I was an author, and my book was selling quite strongly in major outlets around the country, but I still wasn’t happy. There were plenty of other authors more like myself – releasing a book, doing quite well, and writing the next. But all I could see were the ones who appeared to be hitting the bigtime.
And all I could do was long for the bigtime myself.
The temptation was to stop ‘liking’ the posts of my peers where they announced their success; to stop sharing friends’ new releases (they don’t even need me to share, they’re so damn successful). I wanted to not listen to their radio interviews, not buy their books, not attend their launches. I wanted to stamp my feet like an outraged toddler and shout, ‘NOT FAIR!’
But I didn’t. I liked, I shared, I bought, I listened, I congratulated, and I attended—because I understood that I was feeling insecure and jealous, and quite frankly, being unreasonable. Everything I saw had become about me. Others’ success was about my lack thereof. I was not able to achieve those awards and lists they had hit. My book wasn’t good enough for people to raise to the heavens as a paragon of brilliance. My sales were not good enough for me to immediately become a full time author.
Fortunately, I found the capacity to rein in my insecurities and acknowledge that others’ successes and happiness are not at my expense. Okay, I won’t always make a list or win an award, but there is room for my success, as well as theirs—and there are many pathways to success. Some find a shortcut, others go the long way. I could stop sharing, liking, attending, etcetera, but all that will do is feed my own insecurity. The more I shared and liked and attended and bought, etcetera, etcetera, the more distracted I was from my insecurity. I rose above my jealousy and in doing so, it lost its power. I thoroughly recommend this strategy.
Look, we all in the writing community feel jealous from time to time (sometimes several times a day!). It’s quite normal and human. It’s what we do with it that’s important.
‘Whenever you get jealous or frustrated, remember that you’re a day closer to your dream than you were yesterday.’
Whenever you get jealous or frustrated, remember that you’re a day closer to your dream than you were yesterday, and keep trying. If you think your writing isn’t as good as theirs, enrol in a workshop. If you think your sales are lower than theirs, brainstorm marketing tactics with your publisher. If you think you’ll never get published like them, look at all the authors who don’t get their first deals until they’re past retirement age. Don’t give in to your jealousy because you will become more miserable, and even a bit strange (like Dante digging up his poems).
Rise above. You’ll be happier for it.
The good news is that after all this time, ‘The Sisters’ Song’ will be in book stores in less than two months. It’s hard to believe it’s so close!
If you’d like to be one of the first readers, here’s a list of places you can pre-order it.
Also, here’s my latest newsletter with more news. Sign up if you’d like to be kept up to date.