Fingers on the keyboard, the cursor is flashing on the computer screen, mocking me for the words I just deleted. Nothing is working. This plot is going nowhere.
With a sigh, I open Twitter for a distraction. A barrage of tweets fill my feed: pitches for contests I didn’t enter, raves for agents I haven’t queried and praise for books I haven’t yet read.
Then I get that flutter in the pit of my stomach. The one that tells me I shouldn’t be wasting my time writing. The one that says I’ll never make it.
A feeling that flutters between envy and, I'll be honest, jealousy.
What is Professional Jealousy and Envy?
Language is subtle and nuanced, so these words often get used interchangeably. What makes it more complicated is the emotions also overlap and waver within us. You may feel envious about a situation, and also have pangs of jealousy.
Envy is when someone gets a book deal, and maybe you feel inadequate with your writing skills, but you wish you had a book deal, too. Jealousy is the fear that there’s only so many book deals to go around so you want their deal.
Professional jealousy is a taboo topic. People don’t want to admit feeling it and certainly don’t want to discuss it, perhaps for fear of backlash. It’s considered an ugly emotion, not becoming to anyone in a professional setting.
I turned to my writing friends, many of whom are Kidliterati contributors, to discuss these complicated feelings. Since 2012, our group has encouraged each other through writer’s block, revision headaches and rejection letters. And we have cheered on finished manuscripts and book deals.
“I think if we look closely, everyone who has put in the effort to write a book wants to see it on a shelf,” says Paul. “And that shelf can feel very far away...and, sadly, further away when news comes floating through the air that someone else has found that thing you've been wishing for. It's this very odd balancing act of joy and hurt all wrapped up together.”
Where Does Profession Jealousy Come From?
The dirty secret is professional jealousy is quite common because it stems from a very common emotion: fear.
Jealousy and envy are self-doubt, insecurity, obsessive overthinking, even failure: they all come from fear. Fear of not being good enough, smart enough, talented enough, popular enough.... It’s impossible to think anyone can escape these feelings.
“I’m often overcome by fear. Afraid of what it means to say I’m a writer out loud. Afraid of the people around me believing I'm a writer only to later discover I'm a fraud. Afraid that this might be it. All of the work I've done may have led me to this place and time--and nothing more,” says Rhonda. “Most of all, I'm afraid that I have spent years working nights and weekends on books that may never live outside of my computer.”
Even though we try to convince ourselves otherwise, the feelings of jealousy and envy are not about “them,” it’s only about “us.” Those feelings speak to our own insecurities. It's the fear that we’re not good enough to get it ourselves. It's not even about what they have, but how we think we'll feel if we had it, too.
“The jealousy I struggle with most is that of writing fluency,” says Ki-Wing. “I picture other writers at their desks and words flowing easily for them. I picture the writers with a naturalness, not just in their output but in their process. For me, every step feels like a struggle. Every plot line needs to be constructed piece by piece. Every sentence calls out to be rewritten.”
In spite of the fear creatives feel, we’re still always seeking more. To do more. To be more. And perhaps that’s why jealousy haunts us--it holds us back from being more.
Tame your jealousy
Feeling jealous means you’re not happy with how things are in your life. You feel like you’re not good enough and resent others you think are better or are taking something from you.
Negativity tends to seep into all aspects of life and can start to hurt your writing and relationships. Ruminating in misery keeps you stuck in misery, which pushes others away. That’s a very hard place to be in, when you can't be happy for friends and colleagues and don't want them to be successful.
Becoming aware that your feelings have crossed the line from not just wanting success for yourself, but to wishing others didn’t have success is the first step towards peace and happiness. Their success doesn't take away from your future success or mean you failed. There’s enough to go around for everyone.
“I would kill to have a book coming out! If I had a book coming out, I promise I would be wonderful and gracious and never a tiny bit jealous. I'd be grateful every day!” says Brian. “Except you know what? I have an agent. And if I'm honest, way back before I had an agent, I used to tell myself the same things if I ever did get one: ‘If I had an agent, I would be wonderful and gracious and never a tiny bit jealous. I'd be grateful every day!’ And I'm not. I try to be, but I'm not.”
Redirect resentment you feel towards improving yourself. Commit to growing as a writer. Do it for yourself. Read a book about writing. Take a class. Enter a contest. Network with other writers. Keep moving forward.
Use your envy
When envy indicates a desire to equal another in achievement, it doesn't have to be negative.
1. Feel the fear
When you feel pangs of envy, first embrace it. “Feelings are real. They’re valid. You feel them, you talk them through, then you let them go,” says Melanie. Take a minute, an hour, a day, whatever you need to deal: wallow, eat some chocolate, take a step back from social media.
Self doubt is common, especially among creatives. “There's always that little voice: Why not me? When is it going to be my turn?” says Ella. It’s okay to question yourself. It doesn’t actually mean you’re a terrible writer. It means you’re self-aware and understand there’s room to grow.
2. Don't compare yourself to others
Everyone’s on a different point in their journey. When asked how it feels when everyone else seem to be getting agents and book deals, Jo says, “How does that make me feel? *coughs* Imposter Syndrome? Yup. That.” Of course, you know this writing gig isn't about selling more books than another author, it's just about selling your own books.
Unplug from social media if you have to- it's been proven social media can cause jealousy and envy. Admittedly, all those “successful” tweets or status updates can be anxiety-inducing. I want to be happy for other writers, but some days, it’s hard. If I’m struggling with my own writing, it’s easy to start thinking they’re better than me. That’s when I have to close the browser window.
3. Keep writing
“What's amazing is that in spite of all the anxiety, jealousy, disappointment, and rejection WE KEEP WRITING,” says Dana. “Maybe it's because we have something we really want to say. More likely, it's because we find a sense of community with each other. And, somehow, that keeps us going.”
You’ll never reach goals you don't work toward. “For me, it was the worst when I was trying to get an agent,” says Laurie. “These days, I'm too busy to be jealous. Seriously, being super busy helps.”
But also know you never "arrive," you’ll never reach some mythical “end.” You'll always be seeking more. Fear and self doubt will still be there. “I can say that the professional envy never goes away--it just changes form,” says Gail. There’ll be new fears, like getting good reviews, a second book deal, or the next book being as good as the first.
Push past the worry and keep writing. The only way to make it to the next step in your career is to keep going.
4. Define (or redefine) your own success
Figure out what you really want. But if you need a publishing deal to feel like you--or your writing--is good enough, you’re missing the real issue.
Why do you want that book deal? Is publishing with a traditional publisher the only way to be successful? Is there only one way a book can be shared with the world?
Decide if there’re other ways to reach your goals. Don't lock your view of success into too narrow of a goal, based on someone else’s view. It should be personal to you, based on what you feel is important.
“The one thing that has helped me is to acknowledge how much of the publishing process is largely out of my control,” says Jen. “I went back to a list of publishing goals I’d made and crossed off anything that wasn’t in my direct control. Now my “career plan" has goals I can personally attain and I moved all the other stuff onto a Wish List. Just "flipping the script” on how I define success in this business has helped me.”
Success is a moving target. Technology evolves, publishing companies merge and readers’ tastes change. Your view of success should be fluid, too.
5. Cheer others on.
Surround yourself with positive people and celebrate their success. Have a grateful attitude and count your blessings. “I find motivation comes from positive feelings. When I'm feeling good about myself and my work, I'm inspired to do more of it,” says Ronni.
When my pitch was accepted for a year-long freelance writing project, I was excited to share it with our group. Their support and congratulations mattered. Kudos from writer friends helps to keep that fear and anxiety at bay.
When you celebrate your fellow writers’ success, the positivity comes back to you. Then, they’ll be there to support, help and cheer you.
And this is a better place to be.