I envy you.
Or at least I may have in the past. There. I said it. It’s true. As much as I try to stay in my writing lane and sincerely cheer for my colleagues when they write 2,000 words a day or land agents and book deals, there’s this pernicious, bottom dweller part of me that sometimes covets your successes.
We do this to ourselves all the time. Whether it’s a smaller waistline, a bigger bank account, more letters behind our names or recognition from our industry, we’re often looking at other people and measuring our own worth against theirs.
Four years ago, I attended my first juried writing conference, an experience that validated my writing chops, an opportunity to study with a best-selling author and talented writers. At the end of the weeklong intensive workshop, our author instructor selected the work of one writer (not me) as the best-of from the class and included an excerpt of her novel in the literary journal for the conference.
I was bitter. And petty, too.
I googled this writer often over the years to see what she’d accomplished or had not, and for a long time, nothing came up in my searches, which gave me the false hope that I had time to catch up. Then one day I saw her name embossed on her gorgeous book, published by Penguin Random House, on the new fiction shelf at Barnes & Noble. That familiar pang of envy stabbed me. Over the next few weeks, I learned that her novel was featured in the New York Times Book Review and O, the Oprah Magazine. More angst for me.
Then, I bought her novel and actually read it. I loved it. Really. No snark. No shade. She’s a phenomenal writer and storyteller. She deserved the honor she received at that conference years ago as well as the Kirkus starred review and write-up in Elle. Her journey is not mine and there’s more than enough room in this industry for both of us to soar and shine.
This change in me didn’t happen overnight. I had to repeatedly remind myself why I write. I love the beauty of language, the rhythm of it, the texture of words on my tongue and the way they fit seamlessly on the page. I love a story that makes me think and empathize, one that transports me to new worlds, challenges me and leaves me breathless throughout and awed by the end. That’s magic and I get to create it every time I sit down at my laptop to write a new chapter of my novel. That, and not the external validation, is what inspires me to create.
I’ve often dismissed those who say do what you love and the money will follow. But, they’re right. Well, no money yet, since I’m still writing my first novel. However, focusing on my craft has paid off with national writing honors, and after my third year attending that writing conference, the leaders selected my novel excerpt as best-of and featured it in the journal. I just had to stay focused, hone my craft and recognize that my only competitor in this writing game is me, no one else.
Shifting my focus from self to others helped, too. When writers reach out to me to commiserate or to offer feedback on a page or a chapter or an entire novel manuscript, I say yes as often as I can. There’s joy in the magnanimity of the writing community and what you give is reciprocated. I’ve developed friendships with writers who have introduced me to agents and editors, read my work, asked me to blog or serve on panels, and kicked my butt when I hit a creative slump.
After a few months, I emailed the author I’d envied to congratulate her on her success. She responded by saying, “Don’t stop (writing)! If you ever have questions about the publishing process, let me know.” Her second novel will be released later this year and I couldn’t be happier for her.
Nancy E. Johnson is a senior communications leader with an Emmy-nominated, award-winning journalism background. She contributed to O, the Oprah Magazine which published her personal essay in the November 2015 issue. Nancy serves as secretary for Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s 2016 Rising Star Contest and one of the winners of Writer’s Digest’s “Dear Lucky Agent” contest. When she’s not reading, writing or pontificating about politics, she’s running and eating chocolate, sometimes at the same time. The Chicago native is writing her first novel.