Writers in the Storm

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May 25, 2015

Disable the Green-Eyed Monster Before it Disables You

Kathryn Craftby Kathryn Craft

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!

About Kathryn

10685420_966056250089360_8232949837407332697_nArt of FallingKathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy.

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.

Twitter: @kcraftwriter
FB: KathrynCraftAuthor


56 comments on “Disable the Green-Eyed Monster Before it Disables You”

  1. Great post, Kathryn - this one is near the bottom of my writer neurosis list (which is very long, don't get me wrong), because I see it as giving away my power.

    Anytime I focus on something I can't control, I'm giving away what power I do have. When I catch myself doing this, I go and write - because, ultimately, that's the ONLY thing I have full control of!

    I also try to remember the song, 'Unanswered Prayers'. How many times in my life have I thought, 'This was the WORST thing that could have happened!' only to look back later, and be thankful it did.

    Taking the loooooong view isn't always easy, but it's that, or climb on the crazy train. I left those tracks a long time ago, and I'm not going back!

    1. Laura the Unanswered Prayers song really strikes a chord in me as well. Thank goodness I'm not the Queen of the Universe! It would be a sorrier place indeed.

  2. Very good post, Kathryn. I am reminded of a comment a writer made somewhere in a blog which pulled me up from sniveling about a bad review I received.

    She said that when we get down about our work, think of the best book you have ever read, the one that you have treasured perhaps all your life and then look it up and read the reviews. It WILL have a bad one!

    So I looked up The Wind in the Willows, by Winston Graham written (I think) in 1936 and to my mind an art form as much as a book. Sure enough, it had several bad reviews! I couldn't believe my eyes.

    When I'd recovered, I realised I had a new perspective on my work and that not everyone is going to love my writing, something I had forgotten in my angst and - yes, envy - of other writers who seemed to be doing everything right.

    I pulled myself together and got on with life and my work. I've never forgotten that little lesson 🙂

    1. Yes that's a good one, Diana, for sure! We're all looking for different things from different writers, which is exactly why no two careers can possibly look alike.

  3. I have to admit to this one, though I didn't see it until my daughter called me out. A dear friend, who had never been interested in writing, suddenly got a great book deal with a large publisher. He had a fascinating life story and soon had a ghost writer, an agent, and a publicist while I continued to collect rejections. He merely wanted to spread the word about his work in the Middle East. I wanted to write books. It didn't seem fair. Once my daughter pointed out that I was actually jealous, I was able to adjust my attitude and celebrate his success.

    1. Oh Kathy I hear you! Any writer can relate to this one. Not fair! Not fair! I felt that way when Jessica Seinfeld got a cookbook deal (that became a bestseller of course) because she hides unwanted yet undetected pureed vegetables in her kids' spaghetti sauce. Haven't we ALL done this? We just didn't have the presence of mind to write about something so obvious. Or marry Jerry Seinfeld to get our book deal.

      But it all boils down to wasted energy. It isn't fair, but we can do nothing about it other than be thankful that we have a passion for our work rich enough to see us through. Best wishes to you.

      1. "Not fair!!" Yup, been there, whined that. But then I remind myself that it's not a question of fair or not. The fact that someone else found success doesn't mean I'm not worthy, it just means I haven't found my perfect footing yet. And the fact that others are finding success means that it can be done, despite all he naysayers out there. It can be done; it is being done. So instead of wasting the energy on negative feelings, I channel it into doing something positive.

  4. Oh, the"not fair" button. I've disabled it so many times. And I am pretty good at it, but it still manages to rear it ugly head. Most of the time it tends to come out as a more general "not fair" envy, like "those millions of dollars could have supported handfuls of career novelists instead of buying more bling for a flash in the pan."
    But when the bills come in and the writing hits a rough stage . . . I just try to remember that the green-eyed monster ends up devouring itself.

    1. The economics of ANY line of work can drive you crazy with the unfairness of it all. Compare the head of a national bank to a small business owner who gives her all for her community—which one should have the bigger paycheck? Answer: it doesn't matter, because we can't do anything about it. I think it's better to focus on, "Who has created meaning and joy in her life?" If they're lucky, both the bank prez and the small biz owner can say, "I have."

      1. Yeah, somewhere along the line I've pretty much gotten over the money thing, thank goodness I have a life, family and avocation that I love. But in general, if life were fair, the world would be a better place. Now back to my little corner of it.

  5. Great and insightful post, Kathryn. I think all of us authors who have struggled for years have become the green-eyed monster at one moment or another. I love your work and the important messages within. It's frustrating sometimes when society or the industry favors other types of work, but you are right: It's best to continue on your path and forget about distractions that will only add negativity to your life. Wishing you every success with your new book!!

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Adria! Our economy seems to be structured around perceived value, not value, and I can't control what's popular (without my magic wand and my spell book, but they are hidden in a cave and...never mind. Another story.). But who knows which of us may be just ahead of our time, or may turn the tide of public opinion even without the aid of mind control spells. I think all writers who hope to publish have a bit of the gambler in them, don't you?

  6. This is such wise advice, Kathryn, and something probably all writers, published or not, can relate to. I know I can. But I'm aware of how toxic it is, so when I detect a green glint I try to shut it down fast. In a way it's easier to keep the blinders on before you're published because if you're not officially in the "game," you can't be losing, right? I heard Julianna Baggott speak at the Philadelphia Stories conference last year and she said, something like, transform your envy into motivation. All we can do as writers is strive to succeed for who we are.

    Thanks for your wisdom Kathryn, and your wonderfully riveting and intelligent novels!

    1. Orly I love that too. As well as "so when I detect a green glint." The whole point in studying emotional reaction is not so that we can rid ourselves of negative emotion, it's so we can recognize quicker what those emotions are trying to tell us. Then, after receiving the message, we can kick their badass selves out the door before they harm us.

      So once you sense the "green glint," ask yourself: what am I afraid of here? What can I hope to impact in the situation, and to what/whom must I surrender control? The quicker that process can occur, the quicker you can get your derailed goal train back on the tracks.

  7. I also try to remind myself that when you want something someone else has, you have to agree to take ALL of it - and when I look at other people's problems, I'd usually rather keep my own.

  8. Great post, Kathryn. I think that my envy seeps out when I see others being published in in my dream literary magazines and I wonder why not me? I take a few deep breaths and focus on my own path and realize that rejection doesn't mean that my work isn't good. It means that I haven't found the right home for my work. I quit my whining and get busy submitting.

    1. Yes I love reframing rejection as a misalignment, Tori. And what we never know sometimes, when being rejected, just how close to success we were. One editorial change and the same piece might be accepted by that same dream journal!

      Or, sometimes, we may end up following a call that will speak more loudly to us than our dreams ever could. I admire your approach to get busy submitting—something else may hit!

  9. I often feel that twinge of envy when a publishing friend gets something I don't have. I;m lucky to have an author friend who will listen for a moment, then pat my head and order me to get back to work. That always works...

    1. That's a good friend! It also helps to analyze why you want that thing they have so badly, since there may be other ways to receive the validation you seek. It your answer is "because she has it," you need a serious attitude adjustment! And either way, it's back to work.

  10. Hmm, at this point, I believe I'm jealous of younger writers who are learning the joys/challenges/hard work and successes of Indie publishing, forging ahead to find a path of self-empowerment. I'm in the middle of that, but I wish I had many more years ahead of me to find the success from all that hard work. I began a bit too late in the process. Then again, maybe I'll still be writing when I'm 90!
    And reading Dana's comment, perhaps this bit of 'age' jealousy will motivate me to write more, faster!!

    1. Pam, I started writing fiction when I was 44 and my debut got published when I was 57, so I seriously hear you on this. I fear dementia, since my parents both had it. I fear I won't have time to create the body of work I'd always envisioned. So I hear you on this one, for sure.

      Which brings to mind something my former therapist once said: "You don't know what you know until you know it. How could you possibly know it before then?" I was born with a book in my hand, not a pen. It wasn't until the school of hard knocks gave me a good shove that I turned my sights on fiction and now I am its passionate servant.

      Our time is limited and precious so let's make a pact, you and I —let's not waste any more time and energy on this particular regret! Onward.

      1. Oh wow. I was so surprised on how I commented, yet I guess that fear/regret has been inside me. Good to know I'm not alone. We must forge on - it's our passion - and hope we have years to share that passion. Thank you!

  11. Kathryn, as always, such an insightful post. Having access to your words of wisdom and those of other writers, helps me both professionally and personally in my writing journey. Though I've been writing all my life, I've only gotten serious about it in the last four years. Had I pursued this career earlier in life when I felt compelled to be competitive in so many aspects of my life, sports, career, academics, etc. I think I would have found myself green with envy on many occasions. This isn't a career where success is easily measured and if we look at number of books sold or a sterling NYT review as the bar, it leaves many falling flat. What I'm learning is there are numerous measures of success in this business, and that includes the everyday, sometimes small steps forward, of writers who are not published. For me, writing a novel has been much harder than I imagined it would be, and I've learned to appreciate all authors, even if their style isn't one I'd gravitate toward, or their books are written in a genre that I don't read. This is hard work, for most of us it's underpaid or monetarily uncompensated labor, and there is no way to tell what will be commercially or critically successful, or else publishing houses would have tapped into that formula. I've learned life is not always fair but that doesn't mean we should stop being optimistic. Envy can lead to self-doubt and even anger, so if it's possible, it's best to brush it aside and live in gratitude for what we have, not what we don't have. One thing I've found with our wonderful writing community (WFWA and others for me) is that there is plenty of support out there, and when I support others, and they support me, kindness and understanding gets me through a crummy writing day. I'm seeing now too that there is probably a good reason that I've come to this game later in life, when it's not so much about winning or losing, it's about enjoying the game.

    1. Oh thank you so much for your kind words, Cerrissa! I believe our soul work is our creative work and I'm so thrilled that WITS has given me a platform to share this perspective. I hope Pam from the comment above yours reads this! I think you're right that much wisdom can come with age—to those who seek it. Not all of us do, although you would hope a writer would! But the writing life is hard and if you don't find a way to keep yourself malleable you can harden right along with it. Glad the force is with you, my friend. 😉

  12. I have to agree with Laura here - for me it's the only thing that works! We have no control over much in our writing careers: what success others have, how a publisher handles our work, if our book sells no matter how hard we promote or how well it's received, if we'll get another contract or not like so-and-so who got a 12-book deal. So setting a new focus to WRITE more of the stories we want to tell that are OUR stories and no one else's we can compare ourselves to - is what I aim to do. I try and look at other folks who have what I want and bite that monster in the face and say "I'm going for that!" and I buckle down to work on the story I think will make it happen and work hard to make it shine the best it can be. If they can do it, so can I! And so can we call.

    Then I also try to remember - it's not a race. It's a journey of exploration and learning and it's exciting to think what could I learn in the next year, or two, or five? And where will it take me? Ultimately, the green eyed monster can devour us - or not. I don't want to stop writing stories so I'll keep pushing him back under the bed. 🙂 We need to be our own best friend and battle that monster. No one else will.

    1. Donna thanks for your comment. I like the accidental version too—"and so can we call"—because when it comes to envy, confession can be good for the soul. Sometimes it just takes a call to a writing friend to admit your feelings and get your head back on straight! "And so can we call" and do so!

      But you're so right that we can use others as our role models. Patterning our hard work on theirs may not attract the exact same accolades, but who cares? You'll get the ones that are just right for you.

    1. Thanks Jaylee, you're right, there are so many applications. When I was in junior high I desperately wanted to wear my hair swept off my face into a high ponytail like an actress I'd seen on a TV show. But I had a high forehead and the style did me no favors. I was depressed about my high forehead for months until my uncle said, "I love my high forehead. It's perfect for wearing bangs." You may now go check out my head shot. 😉

  13. I love this post! And it came at a perfect time for me, as I await my editor's decision on a new synopsis and chew my fingernails over how my previous books have sold, wondering if I'm "good enough" or as good as those writers whose names always seem to be on this or that bestseller list. Thank you for the reminder that only the work really matters, and that we're writers if we're writing, whether we're selling at the moment or not. All we can do is our best work.

    1. True, Holly. And do you know how many writers on this thread will feel the "green glint" (as Dana would say) simply because you have a publisher to work with? Or a track record that allows you to submit on proposal? Or enough previous books under your belt that you could compare sales? Or enough previous books to have rock-solid proof that should your next proposal fall short, you could come up with a different and perhaps even better idea to replace it? We're all on a continuum; there will always be people ahead of you and people behind you. I know the pressure to up your game never goes away, and you wouldn't want it to—it motivates your creative drive as well.

      I wish you much success with your next book. Fingers crossed on that proposal!

  14. Oh Holly, isn't that the truth? I think it helps to see that the fear (which is what jealousy comes from, isn't it?) doesn't end with a publishing deal. I'll bet even the writers at the pinnacle worry about falling off that.

    In fact, I talked to a friend who won a RITA, a month after she won it. She just didn't sound as excited as I was about it, and I asked her why. She said, that she was worried about her NEXT book. What if the editors didn't like it? What if it got panned?

    I was shocked, and it made me realize that maybe not everyone is in the same boat, but we're ALL bobbing on that same huge ocean!

  15. I've never quite understood this. I get so excited when my pals get pubbed. No one does that without a crap-ton of hard work, and hard work should be rewarded and celebrated.

    I heard the best analogy for this from a pastor, of all places. He told the people in the room: "Stay in your own lane. Don't get caught up in worrying what people are doing in the lane next to you. If you try to run their race, you're going to fail. You can only get to the finish line by running your OWN race."

    1. Jenny if this is not one of your particular worries, be glad for it! I'm not so sure it's "pals" who incite it, though. That's a little TOO real—we know they've had struggles as well as victories. Most people who get caught up in envy, I think, do so because of Facebook posts that seem to heap one accolade onto the next in the complete absence of the kind of context (of course) that would make them real, therefore leaving the struggling writer thinking, "What does he have that I don't have?"

      I think people are also more susceptible to envy when drinking, depressed, sleep-deprived, dehydrated, ill, eating too many carbs, sitting too long without motion to get the blood pumping...and also, of course, when they aren't doing that thing that makes them feel like a writer: Writing.

  16. Love, love this post, Kathryn. It's a matter of growing up. Some get it earlier than others. Some never do. Grown up people understand that the only person they can truly compete with is themselves. To always stretch yourself to find the next level of excellence.

    What we can learn from others is so important that is is a shame to squander the opportunity with envy 🙂

    1. I love everything you say here Florence except I'm not completely on board with the growing up tie in. It's true you can't be born wise any more than you can be born six feet tall. Each requires growth. But the physical growing up will happen one way or the other; there's nothing automatic about gaining wisdom so it's hard to think of it as a function of growing up. Our different ways of framing it aside, the underlying truth in your comment is powerful.

      1. I can see what you mean, Kathryn. Perhaps "growing up" was not the correct phrase. I was thinking that often we are like kids in the playground wanting to outdo each other.

  17. I'm shutting my eyes on this one, Kathryn. I don't even want to REMEMBER the times I've been brought up short because of envy. But here's one.

    Green was the color of a gorgeous farm house and barn set among sprawling green fields that I had to pass every day on my way to work. My own little house was old and a messy work in progress, and I was spackling ceilings while six months pregnant. That village house would never be the one I wanted; I yearned for more. Green was the color of my soul, and it leaked out into my vision.

    One day I was on my way home when I heard the voice in my head saying, "Stop wishing I'd given you that house and start thanking Me that I gave it to her instead." Oh, man, talk about hard. "Really, God? You sure?" So, every day, twice a day, I'd drive past that place and speak to my steering wheel (and God): "Thank you for giving that house to her and not to me. Thank you for placing me where I am." And lo and behold, one day I finally meant it. I was free.

    So, I get it. If some author has incredible success that looks a lot like that beautiful green farmhouse and barn--or if that youngster has figured out how to write an incredible book about forty years earlier than I managed a contract on my first one--then, honey, I'm going to rejoice. I am. I'm just going to beat God to the punch this time and do my very best to rejoice and help others be as successful as possible. Because, glory, there's goodness enough for us to share it, and if I'm behind instead of ahead, there must be a purpose to it: maybe I've more to learn, more to fix than some other folk. I've concluded that I want to be the best me possible. Not the best you or her or him. The best me.

    So, we'll all work on this together, helping one another and rejoicing in the glorious things in store for each of us. Amen? Amen!

  18. I don't know why it is that with writers we can be the most jealous of all professions. We think that because this or that person is published, they're stealing our glory. But then I've always been a little envious of other people's successes because when I was growing up, my family had so little. We lost everything. As a young child growing up in Utah, my father owned a chicken ranch. We raised chickens, processed chickens and sold them over the Western US. Then the big dogs in the industry wanted to force out the little growers and we wound up losing our business, our home, and everything that went with it. I guess I've always had a chip on my shoulder and figured everyone that got somewhere in life did so dishonestly. I tried to see that in writers. It was wrong and it was holding me back.

    I tried to write contemporary romance, but felt held back by the 50 Shades gals I worked with. So I took a shot and wrote something so totally different, that it still amazes me how quickly and effortlessly I wrote it. Leaving the jealousy behind, I emerged successful in a genre that fits my personality, even thought it's not all that popular.

    I'm still striving to overcome envy and strife in my writing and in my life. Those are my trials. So your words, Kathryn, were just what I needed to hear.

    1. Carol I'm sorry I was tapping on my phone. I do not want you to eat wishes—unless of course that works for you. 😉 I meant "best" wishes.

  19. Twitter is one of the places where if I'm tired, uncertain or overstimulated, I can find that green-eyed monster starting to lurk because it's so easy to see everyone else has what i want (or so it seems). So I appreciate this post and it's good to know it's human and I'm not alone - and also how to move beyond it!

  20. Wow, Kathryn, you struck a serious chord! So many authentically shared stories in response to your post so I'll keep mine short. Yes...I have experiences the Green-eyed monster when it comes to writing. Your advice: "Trust that your hard work will attract its own opportunity," is now one of my new incantations I speak aloud to slay the monster when it appears. My father, may he rest in peace, told me from age 7 "What we focus on expands." That's why I maintain an arsenal of positive, relevantly-focused incantations. Finally, given your success (I clicked on your links and found your books on Amazon), I'm very much appreciate that you've so openly shared your struggle with The Monster on this post. Thank you. I just ordered your books and very much look forward to reading them.

    1. I feel it's only fair to spout wisdom acquired from my own foibles. Who knew so any others could relate? Thanks so much for ordering my books, Gina!

  21. Thank you for this. Sometimes I forget to appreciate what I've accomplished or to remember that my journey will not be the same as others -- and that's okay.

    1. Yes Debbie! It's like being upset you never won a Bram Stoker Award for horror, when what you write is women's fiction. Kind of funny when you think about it.

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