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The Power of Envy

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Sep. 21st, 2012 | 01:55 am

I open up Facebook—I’m not killing time, oh no, I’m maintaining connections—and there’s two status updates, one right after the other:

Friend Horror Writer: Second book tour starts Oct 1 in NYC!

Friend Urban Fantasy: Can finally tell my great news!!!! MS sold in a four-book deal with Noted Publisher!!!! First one out next year!!!

That sick, heavy feeling in my stomach? That’s vicarious joy. That’s me being proud of my friends’ accomplishments. Of course I’m happy for my fellow writers, my colleagues, IT WOULD BE MEAN TO BE JEALOUS FUCK THEM FUCK THEM ALL.

Selfish-Business-Me says, hey, any one of us getting a book deal means they’ll blurb for the other ones when the time comes, introduce us to their agent if the project is right, we can do readings together when their fourth book comes out the same time as my first, right? This can do a lot for me!

But I’m still sick about it. What do they have that I don’t?

A finished novel.

In fact, several finished novels.

Friend Horror Writer wrote a lot of short stories and poems, then finished a book he thought was ready for submission. The Ready Book made two agent rounds and was roundly rejected, then sat in a drawer for five years. He came back to it for another rewrite, and an agent gave it to her assistant—the assistant, mind you—who told him, “Why don’t you take another pass at this and then maybe I’ll pass it back to the agent?” The assistant ended up taking Friend Horror Writer through two more rounds of revision, including rewriting the whole book from third person to first. Then it went to the agent and he revised again. The payoff? Friend Horror Writer got representation from an agent who broke out Stephen King, the book was accepted by a publisher right away, revisions requested by his publisher were the work of an afternoon, and they signed him for two more books. Poof! Overnight success.

Friend Urban Fantasy has at least two novels in a drawer, I’ve seen one of them in a couple of drafts before it got rejected enough to set it aside and move on. While working on his current book, he joined a circle of young adults writing Young Adult and did group blogging and online video, started his own blog, went to grad school for Creative Writing, worked as an unpaid flunky for a couple of famous fantasy writers who treated him like crap, and kept writing. Now his series—he’s written the first two and planned out the second two—has been acquired in “a nice deal”, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Poof!



Buddhism says “All anger comes from ‘should’ thoughts, and the biggest one is that should be mine.”

Friend Authors worked hard. They both wrote for years, as a full-time job on top of their full-time jobs. I read multiple drafts of their work, and I wasn’t the only one scribbling notes on their manuscripts. They rewrote heavily. They changed settings and killed main characters and sucked it up when the feedback was harsh and deliberately got critique from people they knew wouldn’t just say “It’s so good!” but would give them stuff—big stuff—to work on.

I don’t have any right to be envious of that. I haven’t done that much work yet. I don’t have a finished manuscript, I haven’t begun the heart-rending multiple failures of the submission process, I’m not even writing every day. Even E.L James had to churn out 300,000 words to get to Fifty Shades of Grey, success deserved or not. 

They earned it.

People come up after circus workshops and shows all the time and ask me, “How did you learn to do this? How did you get so strong?” They want to hear the secret—was I born into a circus family? Am I double-jointed? Most of them look a little disappointed, or puzzled, when I tell them I started from nothing in my late 20’s, and they could do it, too, if they worked hard enough.

You really want it? Put the time in and make it happen.

And that’s the power of envy—it’s fuel. Every time we look at someone else’s accomplishment and get that sick, hollow, feeling of that should be mine, that’s the universe saying, You’re right. They aren’t any more special than you are, but they worked harder. So work harder. Make a plan. Get better feedback so you become a better writer. You’ll know it’s better feedback, because under the initial flash of pain and defensiveness, you’ll feel caught—“Shit, I thought I could get away with that”, and know in your heart that if you address the issue, your work will be better. 

So I’m writing more. More days, and more words at a time. I’ve set specific goals for specific projects. I’m recruiting fellow writers to be accountable with me, to each other, for getting work done.

Excuse me, sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice.


___________________________________________
Whose success is making you sick, and what are you doing about it?


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Comments {23}

dragon

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from: dragonwrites
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 06:15 am (UTC)
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grrr...i've finished NINE novels. and there is a very specific person i know from undergrad who's just about to publish the 3rd book in her 3-book deal, who frequently blogs about *o writing is so hard* and it just makes me want to bang my head against a wall. i'm ALWAYS writing. i can't stop writing.

selling...not so much.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 06:39 pm (UTC)
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I feel like I've been writing forever, but not been serious about selling it, ever.

Yeah, I find it frustrating to read someone successful's comments about their work being SO HARD, and I think it's another whole skill to be able to blog about the process of success without sounding smug/whiny/asshole-ish/ungrateful.

What are you working on in the selling process? Why do you think this is the big hurdle?

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dragon

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from: dragonwrites
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)
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I have rejection issues...

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:37 am (UTC)
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OK, dumb idea you may already have thought of - team up with a buddy who submits your work and you submit theirs? Then you never have to see a reject slip :)

You're too good not to have people read you!!

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dragon

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from: dragonwrites
date: Sep. 23rd, 2012 01:05 am (UTC)
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It's not a dumb idea. It's just an idea that will set me up for accountability fail to someone else rather than failing myself :(

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Kizzy

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from: xo_kizzy_xo
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 07:38 am (UTC)
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As my cresative writing prof/advisor once said, "It's easy to say you're a writer. But being an ACTUAL writer is a whole other ballgame, and most people will drop it upon discovering that."

(Not his exact words, but close enough).

He was absolutely correct. It's what separates the hobbyists from the professionals, the will to put one's whole heart and soul into it instead of just paying lip service, 50 Shades Of Grey might be pure dreck, but the author put in her time before it was published.

The secret is that fuel you described: If you want something badly enough, your competitive streak will ignite every time you hear of somebody's success. Beats wallowing in the mud of "Why him/her and not meeeeeeeeee????"

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
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YES. I think most arts, including writing, are the thing where someone with a modicum of talent looks over and goes, oh, I could do that! with no fundamental understanding of the process of getting there. Writing and acting, especially, because so much of the process is invisible--most people have at least seen a dance class montage with busted feet in a movie, or (except for potential guitarists) they understand how much musicians practice.

It's hard to turn that envy from wallowing to competitive, and I think the thing that's helping me the most right now is an active, regimented submission process--like, it's Friday, so it's submission day, whether I'm envious or not, and that keeps me moving forward.

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Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.

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from: n3m3sis42
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 10:56 am (UTC)
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I get that sick feeling when I hear about people finishing their projects at all. Because yeah, I haven't been at this long and it's one thing to keep playing with my characters and teasing out bits of story and it's another to actually fucking finish something. I have no idea how I'm supposed to do that. Especially since if I look at the first stories for Cliffton, I can tell I already have to gut and rewrite a couple of them. The whole thing has been around for freaking 5 months, and I already have to gut it? How do people finish things?

I'm trying anyway, though. I sort of figured out the overall direction I think the story is taking, although since I seem to be character-driven that'll probably change as I go anyway. Haha.

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(Deleted comment)

Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.

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from: n3m3sis42
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 11:57 am (UTC)
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I was thinking about that because theun4givables is doing that sort of thing for NaNo with her WIP. Only if Idol is going on again by then, ugh. I'm basically using writerverse as an excuse to Write Moar Cliffton so you could also try that. Although I'm not convinced it is getting me anywhere other than needing to rewrite old shit. Maybe that should be the NaNo part for me.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:39 am (UTC)
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Hijack away! Sounds like a good plan, you two :)

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:38 am (UTC)
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I know, right!! How can it actually be DONE? If it's any comfort, most of the people I know finishing stuff took about a year per book. So 5 months is coming up on halfway and it's OK not to be done :)

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Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.

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from: n3m3sis42
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 09:11 am (UTC)
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Halfway? Ahahahaha. :)

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(Deleted comment)

whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
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I agree. Discipline is my Waterloo, too.

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blink

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from: yachiru
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
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Oh I so know the way that feels. I had to defriend someone because she got into an MFA program and was doing so so well while all I got was a pile of "no, no, no, no, no, no". >_> She wasn't a close friend, just someone I'd admired so eventually I had to tell myself that it wasn't healthy and it was making me feel bad.

Then I wrote a bunch of zombie stories and I felt better.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
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Yeah, sometimes it's good to have the example and other times it just feels crappy!!

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Andrea Blythe

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from: blythe025
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 05:43 pm (UTC)
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Love this post.

"Work harder." Hell, yeah. It's easy to get jealous when you want it so bad, but jealousy in and of itself, if it's not then applied to pushing you to work harder.

I get disbelieving looks when I tell people they could draw, paint, be artists, write stories, poems, whatever, if they only worked, worked, worked. It's why I know I'll never be a musician or singer — I don't have the drive to put the work in to make it happen.

I do have faith that when you put the work in you will be rewarded for your efforts. You are a wonderful writer.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:41 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) I feel the same way about your work!!

You're right - the first step is making sure that one cares enough about the chosen art to put in a bajillion hours on getting good at it.

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

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from: halfshellvenus
date: Sep. 21st, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
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Wow. The painful details behind your friends' "Overnight success" really bring home how much work is involved in this process for most people.

Drawer novels, triple rewrites, etc. Yikes.

You've got to want it, that's for sure.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:41 am (UTC)
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Yes!

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dizzydog

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from: dizzydog
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 01:14 am (UTC)
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For most people, that sick knot in their stomach would be jealousy. For you? I think it is hunger. You smell what everyone else is eating, and that feeling kicks in to let you know you should be eating too. Now you just have to hunt down your prey. Kill it and eat it :) You took LJI down like a wounded buffalo, time to find your next meal is all.

Me? I'm snacking right now, while trying to find the meal that smells right to me. Lascaux Flash, a couple anthologies I'm working on stories for, that sort of thing. It feeds the hunger so I'm not whiney, but not enough I lose sight of the fact I should eat something soon.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 04:42 am (UTC)
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I love your analogy :)

Keep me posted on when you're diving in to longer work, eh? Love to hear what you're working on!

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dizzydog

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from: dizzydog
date: Sep. 22nd, 2012 01:12 pm (UTC)
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Will do! One of my tasks for today is taking the list of ideas I have and picking one for NaNo this year. We'll see which one floats to the top :D

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(no subject)

from: selcazare
date: Sep. 23rd, 2012 03:35 am (UTC)
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I have nothing to complain about unless I count my own ability to waste time like I make money on it. I suppose I envy anyone who can finish something. -smh- I am getting there though. I think you are too.

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