Turning Whine Into Gold
Today, on Memorial Day, we remember those who trained, risked the fight, and died so that we Americans can express ourselves fully and pursue our dreams without fearing the high stakes that claimed them. Sustaining a writing career requires a similar singularity of purpose. When all is said and done, will you be memorialized as someone who stayed on course, or as someone who was distracted from her life’s true purpose because she had one envious eye on the competition?
Envy is one of the many ways authors can create their own problems once they attain their goal of publication. Your painful climb is behind you—at long last you have scrabbled onto the public platform, where you can connect with your readers! You want to revel in your success. But truth is, you’ve gotten comfortable with the level of disappointment you suffered on the climb. Could anything truly good be at work in your life? Your new platform starts to wobble—or is that your ego?—and rather than reinforce it, your eye strays to the greater strength you perceive in that other author’s platform.
You want what she has. And that all-too-familiar disappointment returns.
That other author in your publishing house was sent on tour. Who’d she sleep with? You heard his advance was bigger. He thinks everything of his is bigger. And that one got into the New York Times, wasn’t your publicist supposed to get you into the Times?
Suddenly you are no longer flirting with the green-eyed monster. You’ve become the monster.
Avert your eyes
Trust that your hard work will attract its own opportunity. Allowing yourself to become distracted by someone else’s career can make a potential opportunity in your own path, at first glance, look deceptively like an obstacle.
I know this because I have a pair of green eyes of my own.
One day, a month or so before release, The Far End of Happy received a bad Goodreads review. No need to look it up, I’ll summarize: the reader “hated” my three point-of-view women. Consumed by fear that my book had missed its mark, all I could see was the success I thought everyone else was having.
Luckily a friend was able to lend perspective without laughing out loud. Her alternate assumption was that I had triggered something in this reviewer that she didn’t want to face. After all, “hate” suggests a lot more energy expenditure than “disinterest.” She said, “Kathryn, if you wanted to be popular, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be writing about the biggest taboos in our culture—the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of the mother-daughter relationship, our perceptions about our own bodies, suicide…”
I was the one who started to laugh, because she made me feel exactly like a ninth grader. Back then I never sought popularity either—I just felt bad that I didn’t attract it.
What my friend helped me realize is that my career is dead-on track. I am exactly where I aimed to be, and have controlled the quality of every aspect of my career that was mine to control, right down to which agent and publisher I chose to work with. I am doing my work—not Jennifer Weiner’s or Sophie Kinsella’s or Janet Evanovich’s.
With my attention again fully focused on my own path, I now see that my legacy will incite conversation about tough truths and events that challenge our need to sustain hope—and I will find that hope. Commercial success or no, I will have led the life of my choosing and reaped the soul benefits of doing so. When you’ve lost someone to suicide as I have, you know how crucial it is to devote your energy to your true path instead of squandering it on sustaining life as an impostor.
Think “colleagues” not “competitors”
Envy destroys; networking empowers. Stay grounded in the truth that there is no single way to grow a successful career. Fortify yourself for your journey by fully appreciating what rewards come your way, and dredge up the generosity to congratulate other authors for theirs. Competitors will keep secrets; colleagues are more likely to share how they got that tour or hit that list or got the publicity you coveted.
Instead of being memorialized as a firework that burst onto the publishing scene but then fell into multi-colored pieces that scattered hither and yon, you will be memorialized as a blazing star whose afterburn lingers in your one true color.
Anyone want to fess up as to what makes you envious? Better yet, if you’ve identified your true path—the type of book that’s always you, no matter the genre—please share!
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.