Timeless and therefore still highly relevant, especially with the publishing industry being in such turmoil, and all authors forced to find their own path through the maze…. –t.
While alcohol and drug addictions seem to be the favourite means of self-destruction for writers, there’s one other classic curse that haunts writers…
Yesterday I changed over workout routines in the gym and for the first time in well over a year got back to doing stiff-legged dead-lifts. They work the hamstring muscles (the muscles on the back of your thighs) particularly well, and out of habit, I threw onto the barbell the same amount of weight I’d been using the last time I did dead lifts. Yeah…probably not a smart move, which I figured out for myself halfway through the first set. I slipped a few plates off and finished the workout.
This morning when I went to flex my legs to lift myself up off the bed, I discovered just how smart I had been. I had to push myself up off the mattress with my arms. And I was supposed to do wind sprints on the treadmill this morning.
I approached that treadmill with all the joy of a Christian in the Roman arena. The two minute warm up wasn’t too bad, but the four minutes after that were agony. I survived them, and figured if I could get through the first four minutes, I could last another twenty-four. So I gritted my teeth and settled into the workout.
Then I made the mistake of looking over at the console of the guy next to me.
He was running a whole mile an hour faster than me.
That was the end of the workout right there. Oh, it took another 45 seconds for me to actually hit the stop button but it was, in reality, over from the moment I looked at his console.
The 45 seconds were the length of time it took for my mind to self-destruct on me, convince me that my legs hurt far too much to run any more; that I really needed a drink, anyway; that I was too tired, damn it; that I was a slow coach; fat, lazy, and never going to amount to anything; and he was running way, way, faster than me, and who do you think you are, anyway?
It didn’t matter that he was a foot taller than me and built like a pencil. He might run marathons every month and have been conditioning himself for twenty years. It didn’t matter that apart from the last six weeks, I haven’t been inside a gym for well over a year, I am overweight and recovering from serious health problems. None of that even registered, although I’m a perfectly intelligent, sane adult and can normally reason with the best of them. When you’re in the grip of the green-eyed monster, reasoning ability is the first casualty.
I remember this sick surge of insanity when I first began writing, too. Professional jealousy can strike at the weirdest moments and without warning. You may think you’re the most grounded person on the planet, completely invulnerable to it, but work long enough and hard enough in the trenches and one day you’ll look up to find the most insipid, flighty little mouse of a writer with no talent that you helped for weeks to get her proposal together has hit the best seller list and is now covered in glory. You’ll have a night of despair, I guarantee it. (Oh, there’s this post over here, about dealing with the blues…it might help.)
It’s an ugly thing, professional jealousy, and it isn’t much fun being in its grip, or watching it. Also, the fall-out can be deadly. Alas, I speak from experience. I’ve done some really stupid things when caught by the monster. One of the milder ones was to forward an email from a more successful author on to another author friend of mine and rip the successful author to shreds, with full Australian-style salty language, and hit send. Only to realize, too late, that I hadn’t forwarded the email at all. I’d hit “reply” and sent the email straight back to the discussion list of 600+ professional authors…including said successful author.
She was very nice about it.
More advanced fall-out can damage your career, so it pays to learn to deal with jealousy before it gets out of hand.
There’s four ways to deal with news about what your fellow authors are achieving:
1. Ignore all news about other authors’ success – put the blinkers on and go stone deaf
If professional jealousy is a real problem for you, this might be the safer route at first, at least until you’ve got some successes under your belt and you’re feeling more confident and in control, and can look other authors in the eye with some feeling of equality.
But you probably don’t want to stay in this off-the-grid mode forever, because there are strategic advantages to staying in touch with what other authors are doing and achieving.
2. Be genuinely happy for them
This one doesn’t have to take the virtue of a saint. You may have to fake it at first, but after a while, you really can be pleased for your friends and even for those authors you only know from conventions, or are associates in your publishers’ stables.
As the publishing industry continues to fracture and divide, what constitutes “success” gets re-invented every day, so being happy for another author’s success becomes easier every day – their success may not be what you envisage as your success, anyway.
You don’t have to send congratulations messages and hearts and flowers (but the gesture wouldn’t hurt if the achievement is a big one), however, the mental act of being happy for them will take enormous pressure off your own psyche.
3. Learn from what they’re doing
If you can’t be happy for them, watch what they’re doing, instead. Detach yourself from the celebration and clinically deconstruct the methodology that got the author there in the first place. Notice what they’re doing right, adapt it and add it to your own career.
Also notice what doesn’t work so well and discard it. Your career can only benefit from this practice, and the clinical distancing will help inoculate you against the jealousy.
4. Combine being happy for them and observing their career choices for the best of both worlds
First appeared on Anchored Authors in April/May, 2009
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