Control Your Jealousy (For Your Own Good)

I’ve seen a few writers link to this article about professional jealousy. It’s just as applicable to aspiring musicians, artists, ballet dancers, astronauts, athletes and actors. Many of them (us) have lots of friends who are also “the competition,” at least from a certain point of view.

Go read the post, then come back… I’ll wait!

Reflexive envy or jealousy occurs commonly when someone we know, chasing similar goals, finds success that at least momentarily exceeds our own. This sense of “Why not me?” is something everyone must feel at some point.

More than a year ago, I decided to try to stop wallowing in feelings of unfairness or futility related to the struggle against rejection. I’d seen many writers suggest something along the lines of “Forget trying to get published — focus on writing better.” This may seem like the sort of platitude to which the writer replies, “Well, yeah, but…” then returns to obsessing over factors outside their control. But it’s important.

Energy and time spent this way are wasted. Not only are energy and time finite resources, they’re the very stuff out of which our work is built.

To overcome this reflex, to defeat the mindset that someone else’s success means you are now less likely to succeed, is a crucial step toward achieving the resolve, perspective and inward-directedness we need in order to improve.

Imagine if all the energy spent worrying about rejections, fellow writers, unpredictable editors, failing markets, or any other factors outside your control, could be freed-up, reallocated toward fixing plots, strengthening characters, improving voice, refining and improving your writing in every aspect. Not only is this possible, it’s what we all must do.

Next, consider accepting the notion that if we write good enough stories, we will no longer need to worry much about finding places that want to publish them.

For my part, I realized that I was not the best judge of my work’s suitability for publication. That’s something editors get to decide. They don’t have to tell me what they’re looking for, how I fell short, or what to do differently next time. But if I write a story that grabs them and won’t let go, that’s enough. That’s all I have to do.

The “Why not me?” attitude shields the writer from facing the need to improve. Tell yourself the deck is stacked, that it’s all cronyism, and you can’t get published because of race or sex or age or whatever. This absolves you of facing the responsibility to WRITE BETTER STORIES.

I finally let all that go, or at least endeavored to do so, sought that clarity of mind as an ideal, and kept reminding myself whenever backsliding occurred. This allowed me to focus on what really mattered. I improved my writing. I’m still trying to make better stories, all the time, even now that I’ve started finding outlets for my fiction. I work to make myself stronger, rather than worrying about “competition.”

Let go of jealousy. Stop focusing on someone else who got something you wanted. Instead, work harder. You’re not good enough yet to give up trying, put your hands on your hips, and whine about “Why not me?” Really, are you good enough? I know I’m not. We all need to write better stories.

That’s hard enough without worrying about things outside our control.

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