5 Constructive Ways to Beat Writerly Envy

1. Reread Anne Lamott’s amazing chapter on jealousy in Bird by Bird. She says, among other things, that “if you continue to write, you’re probably going to have to deal with [envy], because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.” And then she goes on to say in her inimitable way, that there’s no good way to avoid being jealous, that about the best thing you can do is to not let it fuel your self-loathing. She writes about jealousy so eloquently that you can start reading the chapter feeling broken and ugly and finish it feeling that your jealousy is, in her words, “strangely beautiful.”

2. Remember that someone, somewhere is jealous of you. They might be jealous of you because you’re actually putting words on the page, and they are still saying they want to “write a book someday.” Or they might be jealous of you because you’ve had some really good rejection letters. Or because, even though you can’t get a book published, you have this way of describing the way people move that’s incredibly captivating. Spend some time mentoring someone, and you become aware that jealousy is part of the circle of life. You are somewhere in the middle—some people are jealous of you, and you are jealous of some people.

3. Remember that the person you are jealous of has bigger problems than you do. As someone brilliantly put it at RWA National—I wish I remember who it was—getting published is not like going to heaven. When you’re published, you have deadlines. You get screwed over. You fail to make goals. You receive crappy reviews. Your childcare failures are catastrophic, instead of merely annoying. This is not to say that there’s nothing wonderful about being successful, only that not everything is wonderful.

4. Be honest about your jealousy. Tell one of your fans that you are jealous. Tell the person you’re jealous of that you are jealous. Talk about your jealousy as if it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You will discover that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

5. Write. There’s debate out there about whether sprints and #1K1HRs are good or bad for producing publishable material. But as far as I’m concerned, writing in bulk serves a purpose that goes beyond the question of quality. If you are writing, you’re not obsessing. You’re not coveting. You’re not envying. You’re writing. “Write more, think less”—that’s my motto. Or if you prefer, “Writers write.” And yes, that means that at the end of the day, if you’ve written, you’re a writer, no matter what else someone else has done with their time.