Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Prize

I saw this picture on Facebook yesterday, and it got me to thinking. Then, I decided I wanted to write a bit on what the picture was saying, and I ended up setting aside the column I was originally writing for this month's contribution to the site. So, now you know why my blog post is a day late. Sorry about that.

Anyway, let's have a look at the picture that's to blame for my tardiness:

Yep, it happens to the best of us.

We see, read, or hear about another writer landing a great book deal, or their book gets optioned for a movie or television project, and we can't help feeling a pang of envy. "Who the heck is that? I've never even heard of them," or "Really? They're making a movie out of that book?"

Usually, this sort of reaction is followed by thoughts of career change, such as delivering pizza or becoming a telemarketer, or replacing the poor bastard who has to give suppositories to zoo animals.

Sure, it's natural to offer up such a response when we see someone else in our chosen field gaining success we don't or perhaps even ever won't enjoy. There's really no stopping that sort of thing, even if the sensation lasts for a few fleeting seconds. Humans are fiercely competitive creatures; we can turn anything into a contest of wills or a pitched battle between the forces of good and evil, even if it's just figuring out who's getting that last chicken wing.

I mean, it's not just me, right? Hello?

Yes, it's understandable that as writers, we'll experience that moment of jealousy when another writer--particularly if it's someone we know personally or with whom we at least enjoy a familiarity thanks to social media--announces a new project or a lucrative book deal. I'll admit there have been times when someone I know mentions they've landed a deal to write a particular book or participate in a certain project, and I can't help wondering why I wasn't approached about it or perhaps even considered. I'll think, "Now, hang on. The editor/publisher knows me, and knows I'd welcome such an opportunity. Why didn't they call? What did I do to offend them? Oh, wow. Are they ever going to call me again about anything? Ever?"

Then I talk myself down after a minute or so of this, eat a Snickers bar, and move on. In truth, I suspect my subconscious plays tricks like this just because it knows I'm trying to cut down on Snickers bars, and it's mad at me.

While it's normal to cave to that fleeting bit of doubt in these sorts of situations, don't fall into the trap of dwelling on such things. Another thing to avoid is succumbing to the urge to start eyeing that other writer's accomplishments in comparison to our own. One writer enjoying a lucrative publishing deal or great reviews on Amazon has no bearing on our own efforts. It's not a competition, nor is it some form of "zero sum game." Their successes don't brand us failures.

Instead, channel those feelings toward something positive. Whenever a friend or colleague announces a project or new deal, I want to celebrate their accomplishment with them. Their good news motivates me to keep after my own goals. It challenges me to work harder, get better at what I do, finish the projects for which other people have already contracted or paid me, and get on with figuring out what I'm going to do next. Then, I just repeat that little cycle, every day.

Long story short? Don't lose sleep over what other writers are doing. Keep your eyes on your own prize.


KeVin K. said...

Oh, yes, I know this feeling well.
Especially when I took a couple of years off from writing to earn my MFA. I did continue to edit - but there's a reason books that are not anthologies are never shelved by editor. One of my favorite games to write for rebooted its novels, a friend's original novel made a best seller list, another's short story won an award, I had to turn down an anthology invitation that came during crunch time on my thesis.
For just a second there's a twinge of jealousy - a sense that that should have been me. Probably has something to do with being human.
Then my better nature asserts itself and I'm happy for the other writer.
And usually I read the story and think: "Well, yeah, that's better than what I would have done. They deserve this."
Of course, it's never about the other writer or me. Writing - and publishing - is not a zero-sum game. It's good to remember it's quite possible for all of us to win.

Liane Spicer said...

I plead guilty to those feelings. I've wondered why a certain editor who said she loved my work and with whom I thought I had a great rapport did not approach me for an anthology project--twice--and why one of my publishers puts certain books like mine into their best promos--but not mine. I can't tell you how many times that zoo suppository job began to look really tempting by comparison.

But I move on. And I'm always glad when someone I know in this business achieves something good.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I can't ever say that I've entertained those feelings. When I see an author's success it tells me there's hope for me yet and I celebrate it. Except in the case of some undeserving political figure who gets a million dollar deal for a story written by a ghost writer, because they had the audacity to be publicly stupid. But that's a whole other kettle of worms.

Sunny Frazier said...

I received awards for short stories early on and I actually reached a point of "Why me?" What was I doing that others weren't? I studied my own writing and figured it out, then started lecturing on how to write prize-winning short stories.

So, I think that stage of envy over the success of others hasn't been a problem. I've actually helped authors succeed, both when I was an acquisitions editor and with my promo column "Coming Attractions" over at Kings River Life. That is as satisfying as my own success. Maybe not in a money sense, but Karma has a way of rewarding me as people don't forget the help you've given them.