At some point in our writing journey, we’re likely to get discouraged. Things won’t go our way, they’ll be harder than we planned (or even imagined), and life will, generally, seem unfair. But we don’t have to stay discouraged.
Overcoming discouragement can be a lot of work, mentally and emotionally. We might have to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves or pick at some not-nearly-as-healed-over-as-we-thought wounds.
Like most writers, Red L. Jameson has overcome a lot of discouragement in her writing journey, but she’s also learned how to take what worked for her and use it to help others in their efforts. Continuing my great line up of guest posters filling in for me during NaNoWriMo, she’s here with us today to share how to turn envy—that negative emotion that usually causes discouragement—into something that will give us strength and help us on our journey.
Please welcome Red L. Jameson! *smile*
Envy: A Writer’s Best Friend
Hi! I’m Red L. Jameson, writer of spicy hot and cerebral romances, and under a pen name I take on other genres. I’ve been writing almost all my life. Even before I could spell, I was writing stories and “reading” them to my brother who was strapped down in his highchair and had no choice but to listen. My poor brother.
Since I started writing fiction more seriously (back in the medieval era—yes, I was there and saw the Battle of Hastings for myself) and reading how-to craft books, I’ve wanted to write something similar. Only, with amazing craft writers out there like James Scott Bell, Christopher Vogler, and Michael Hauge (I’m such a huge fangirl over Hauge!), there’s not much more I can add to the craft narrative.
So I had to ask myself what am I an expert of regarding writing itself? And the answer, embarrassingly, became glaringly obvious. I’m an expert in being discouraged. Oh, and bouncing back from it. Eventually.
I’m writing a slew of articles about being discouraged and how to get your groove back and wanted to tackle the one subject most avoided, least discussed but most ubiquitously felt. Hang on to your hats because we’re going to chat about envy and how it’s actually good for you.
Let’s Talk about Envy…
I know. I know. The word itself is ugly. Further, did you know that when feeling envy, “…it actually activates a part of the brain involved in processing physical pain. No wonder people go to such lengths to ignore envy.”(i)
And many social scientists have found that feeling envy produces shame, which is a double whammy—no, triple—if there ever was one because not only are you feeling envy—not fun—and you’re feeling physical pain because that’s how your brain functions, but you’re also shaming yourself about feeling envy in the first place. Globally, envy is an emotion that’s avoided. At all costs.
But believe it or not, here’s some of the costs of not feeling or avoiding envy:
- Your sense of self-worth might plummet,
- your friendships with other writers might break down,
- your goals become less clear,
- you may have less and less enthusiasm for writing, and
- you may even give up your dreams of writing.
That’s some serious costs. And if you’re anything like me, you need to write. It’s your air.
You might die without it—of course, not literally, but we’re writers and are so good at metaphors and melodrama! So, let’s take a closer look at this envy thing and figure out why it’s so important.
Identifying Envy in a Sympathetic Way
First, I’ll define it in more objective terms. Dr. Windy Dryden, a counsellor who researches and writes about envy, describes feeling envious when “…someone else has that which you prize but which you do not possess.”(ii)
Like I said above, we usually try to avoid envy, maybe even tell ourselves the lie that we don’t really want what someone else has because that’s rather uncivilized. But try to remove yourself from the equation.
Think about a child who watches another child get a prized toy. Of course, we all know the first child wants what the second child has and we sympathize for that first child. Which is what you’ll need to do for yourself. But first, you’ll have to admit to feeling envious.
Envy Starts with Comparisons
Maybe you’re still severely allergic to the word envy itself. In that case, whenever I write envy you can mentally replace it with “comparing yourself to others and you end up not feeling good about yourself.”
And let’s face it, if you’re a writer you’ve been told to compare yourself to other writers. It was one of the first things a fiction-writing teacher told me to do:
“Check out other writers who write in your genre and/or sub-genre, discover if your writing is similar, look at their covers, look at their blurbs, read their books and analyze them so thoroughly your fingers get pruney. Find out how they’re doing on the lists and try to emulate them but be yourself and unique.”
It’s advice that can provoke envy (along with frustration) because you’re stalking another writer and seeing how amazing they’re doing, and when, after years in the business, you’re not doing remotely as well…well, it’s hard not to feel a little envy.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So, yeah, this comparing yourself to other writers, feeling envy sucks.
Yet Envy Can Be Helpful
And when will I ever get to the point of how it’s supposed to be good for you? Here it is: there are two different kinds of envy—malicious or benign or, my preference, healthy and unhealthy.
Like many other “negative” emotions, anger for instance, there can be a form of envy that’s good for you. Healthy, even.
Once I heard about healthy envy, I immediately knew it was true because I’ve felt this. When I released my debut romance novel, there was another author who had released her debut, within the same sub-genre, three days before I did.
I noticed her on Amazon as I watched both of our books skyrocket to bestsellers. One day she’d be on the top of the list, the next day I would. I’ve never met this other author, but I felt attached to her and liked seeing her book next to mine. I felt a little envious when she would have the bestseller status, but I was glad for her.
After a few months, I noticed she was getting more reviews than I was. So I researched how to get more honest reviews. I did a lot of work to see if I could keep up with her.
When she switched to Kindle Unlimited for her book, I researched KU more seriously. That other author helped me in so many ways.
And maybe I wanted a few of the things she had, but I was always happy for her. Plus, she helped me with my career. I’d love to meet her one day and tell her what she did for me, but I’m scared I’d sound a little like a stalker.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Envy
Healthy envy is easy to admit to because it’s helpful and often the feelings of shame are subdued by the motivation that that kind of envy produces. I’m sure you’ve felt healthy envy for other writers too.
It’s when we feel unhealthy envy that we get stuck, blocked, and down right depressed if we’re not careful. But, you can change unhealthy envy into healthy envy. At least Dr. Windy Dryden says so, and I would have to agree because it’s worked for me.
A Closer Look at Unhealthy Envy
(Gulp) I’m about to confess my unhealthy envy, and even after transforming it to a healthier version of itself, my hands are shaking, my cheeks are too hot, and my heart is in the pit of my stomach because I feel so much shame. Ugh. But hopefully it will help you.
As I mentioned above, a teacher told me to notice another writer who wrote in the same genre. Well, before I became a romance writer, I wrote a genre-bending, paranormal-historical book (that became a series) that was difficult to define. But I thought I did find one author who wrote similarly. She was a bestseller. Big time.
I hadn’t read her work until then, so I did. Although she wrote genre-bending books, I realized I didn’t like what I was reading. There was a plot device that was hard for me and my morals to swallow.
Further, having a master’s degree in history, I found a little of her take on the time period she was writing, the social aspects especially, to be not exactly accurate. So, I gave up comparing myself to her. I thought. But soon I realized I was lying to myself.
Other people loved her books and talked about them. A lot. At first, this didn’t bug me. There was talk of her books being optioned out. And for whatever reason, this bugged me. Gosh, can you imagine a movie or TV series producing your book? It would be awesome, huh?
But instead of letting myself feel my envy, like I did above, I began a slow-boil, festering envy that lasted way too long. I didn’t want to admit to my feelings because, that’s right, it was full-blown, not-good-feeling envy.
Every time someone brought up one of her books or when she had a new release, I would grit my teeth and become secretly angry, bitter, and miserable. Gah, it was terrible.
7 Steps to Overcoming Unhealthy Envy
Then I found Dr. Dryden’s book* and took the journey to overcome my unhealthy envy. Here are the steps, paraphrased:
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Unhealthy Envy
Oh my gosh, this was hard. Maybe I’m too much of a little-goody-two-shoes, or I lie to myself about being a little-goody-two-shoes, but it was very difficult to admit that my feelings about this other author had become unhealthy. That I was harboring resentment for another human being shook me to my core.
But there was proof my unhealthy envy had gotten out of hand.
Step 2: Choose a Specific Example of Your Unhealthy Envy
I had given up my genre-bending series. True, it wasn’t a money-maker, but it’s not like me to give up. My sister calls me a Pitbull because once I bite down, I don’t stop.
But I kept comparing myself to that other author. Her very first book became an instant bestseller.
Meanwhile, I had written seven books before my genre-bending series that got me published. She wasn’t just any bestseller but on NYT lists. I would have loved to have the title, New York Times bestseller. She was doing awesomely well, while my series was plummeting.
So I gave it up, found a different pen name, and started all over. But there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t given up. I wish I hadn’t compared myself to her so much.
Step 3: Determine a Constructive Alternative
So…what if I hadn’t given up? What if I had worked harder at finding a bigger audience?
Like I had with the other romance author who debuted three days before me, I could have researched more into the business side of writing. I could have put more effort into promotion.
Instead, because I didn’t instantly do well, I was so disheartened I gave into to self-pity, which gave into me wondering about my worth as a writer.
Step 4: Accept Yourself for Feeling Your Unhealthy Envy
This, too, was difficult. For me, this took a lot of time. Often, I worked on this daily.
But once I owned up to not only my feelings but what I had done, I imagined a lot of different ways to seek more readers and promote my books. And that, in turn, helped me with the romance books I was writing at the time, so I did become, at first, an Amazon bestseller, then an international bestseller.
Step 5: Identify What, Exactly, You’re Unhealthily Envious Of
This was another toughie because I had general feelings of bitterness towards this author, so it was hard to break down. Sure, the NYT bestseller thing would have been great, but so much of that is out of my hands. I mean, yes, I’ll work on that, but that’s not a big deal for me.
When I broke it down even further, I realized I wasn’t even envious of her books being optioned out. This would be awesome, yes. But still, that wasn’t really what bothered me.
I had to dig deep and think because I realized that at the same time I’d heard she was being optioned out, someone had said something about how she had so much freedom to write whatever she wanted. And, man, that struck a chord. In order to make money and provide for my family, I felt pressured to write something that wouldn’t be such a gamble as a genre-bending series that wasn’t selling well.
Granted, I love writing romance and I’m a fierce defender of the genre, but I did feel pressured to write it for monetary reasons. At first. Now, I can’t imagine I’d write anything else. But that story’s for another article.
Anyway, I realized I had become crazy envious of that other writer’s freedom.
Step 6: Challenge the Beliefs Behind Your Unhealthy Envy:
Are They Illogical and/or Self-defeating?
I had this crazy notion that it was monumentally unfair that that other writer had so much freedom with her writing while I did not. When I realized that much of my envy stemmed from the weird belief that things were unfair, I almost laughed at myself.
I mean, I’m an adult. I know life’s not fair. I know that some people have advantages, of which I have quite a few, and many people have disadvantages. And suddenly, I knew I would probably always be a little envious of that other writer, but I wouldn’t hurt any longer.
Step 7: Reconsider What You Are Envious Of
By the time I understood my beliefs about why I was envious and what I was truly envious of, I no longer felt the bitterness that burned in my chest when I thought of that other author. I wished her well.
I still wish I had her success, but mainly I want the freedom to write whatever I dang-well please. So I started to think of ways to do exactly that. I found new goals that gave me a lot of excitement and a new fire in my belly when I wrote.
That’s how envy became such a useful tool for me. I realized what kind of writer I wanted to be, which is rather eclectic, to say the least. It might be difficult to write in multiple genres while building a readership that can help me pay my bills, but it’s what I want to do.
What do you think envy can do for you?
(i) Christie Aschwanden, “Jealous Of Friends? How To Put Your Envy To Good Use,” Huffington Post, March 6, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/jealous-friends-envy-jealousy_n_2791331.html
(ii) Dr. Windy Dryden, Overcoming Envy (London, Sheldon Press: 2002), 15 & 54 – 70.
* Note from Jami: Unfortunately, Dr. Dryden’s book isn’t currently in print, so we’re doubly luck to get Red’s summary here. *grin*
When I was in the dark…when I didn’t see an end in sight…when I wanted to give up, something or someone was always there for me. Now it’s my turn to be there for other writers.
Red’s Writing Hood is a boutique, specializing in coaching but provides many other services as well. And if I don’t provide something a writer needs, I probably know someone who does and will gladly pass on any of my contacts to other writers. And if money’s a problem, still talk to me. We’ll work it out because I have a firm belief that all our stories need to be told.
Check out Red’s Writing Hood to Unleash Your Dreams.
Thanks, Red! What a great discussion!
A couple of years ago, I remember getting into a disagreement with another author about envy. When I’d stated that I didn’t feel envy toward any author, she insisted I must be lying.
She was convinced that authors secretly hated one another behind their backs and were just pretending to be nice. Now, I’m not denying that could be the case for certain people or situations, but I strongly disagree that envy is a requirement.
Instead, I think I’ve naturally turned that unhealthy envy—angry and bitter—into the healthy kind of envy Red talks about here. The kind that motivates us and shows us how we could try something different.
But just because I’ve stumbled into this healthy route for myself doesn’t mean I’d have the slightest clue how to explain it to someone else. *grin* So I’m grateful to Red for sharing her story, insights, and tips!
Do you compare yourself to other writers? Has that comparison ever made you feel bad, ashamed, angry, or jealous? How has unhealthy envy affected you? How could healthy envy help you reach your goals? Do you have any questions for Red?
Last Week! Available Only until 11/15!
Grab Access to Jami’s Popular Workshop:
Stuck in NaNo? Learn how to do just enough story development to write faster with “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.”