I am working with a client who is doing the very intense work of considering the structure of a new how-to book. She is determining the tone, the message, the audience — everything. On a call the other day, she said she had a great deal of trouble with the assignments I gave her because she was distracted by a writer whom I shall call Famous Writer. Famous Writer has just come out with a book that is being reviewed everywhere, hailed everywhere, and blurbed by everyone who is anyone, and my writer, whom I shall call Isabel, was distraught. “That’s my book,” she said, “I should have written that book. And it’s a beautiful book and I love it.”
Isabel described how she lay on the floor with Famous Writer’s book splayed open on her face and cried out in agony. A young relative came over to see what was causing this much pain, saw Famous Author’s photo on the back of the book, and made a catty comment about what Famous Author was wearing. This mean-spirited comment made Isabel feel a tiny bit better, but this was a low moment.
There are only two things I know that can help with this white-hot kind of jealousy:
1.) Focus on Your Own Work
We discussed the ways in which Isabel’s book will be different — different concept, different audience, different design, different message, different voice, different author — and that helped Isabel do what you always need to do when you feel doubt about your project: return to your work and keep striving to bring it to life.
You can’t control what happens in the world of publishing — who gets published, when they get published, what kind of reception their book gets — but you can control your work habits, and your focus, and your efforts to write the best book you can. Whenever you feel jealous, return to controlling what you can control.
2.) Lean into the Jealousy
Even if you focus on your work, you can’t wish jealousy away. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. It is there, so you might as well use it. Here are a few ways that might work:
Isabel decided to give Famous Writer’s book a 5-star review on amazon. After all, she had loved it. And being a good literary citizen is always a good move.
Isabel decided to write to Famous Writer via the form on her website and tell Famous Writer directly how much the book meant to her.
Isabel decided to tape up a picture of Famous Writer’s book jacket by her desk so that she can use her jealousy to motivate her own writing.
In the acknowledgements of her wonderful book The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer tells a story of being so jealous of Brene Brown that she almost didn’t finish writing her book. She ended up reaching out to Brene, and Brene ended up writing the forward to Amanda’s book. This is a delightful example of how leaning into your jealousy can sometimes be the catalyst to getting exactly what the jealousy is pointing you towards.
I wrote about jealousy and 42 other tough moments, in my book, The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat: The 43 Worst Moments in the Writing Life and How to Get Over Them
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