Yes, I’ve been AWOL for a while. Life has been kicking me in the teeth lately, and I’ve bailed on a lot of commitments as a result–my monthly post here being one of them. Truth be told, while I’m in this mood, I need to take a break from posting about my experiences at Writer’s Police Academy. I’ll come back to that thread at some point, I promise, but first I’d like to talk about something else: battling envy as an author.
I’ll be the first to admit I struggle with this. As an interesting sidebar, I’ve noted that depending on what social media site I’m on, I’m a slightly different personality. I tend to be more policitcal on Twitter and reveal a bit too much of my personal life on Facebook. When I had an Instagram account, I was relentlessly perky. Weird, huh?
Not really. I think the account tends to mold your responses and interactions there. Facebook in particular tends to shape two different kinds of posts depending on the feedback you get from your followers. Either your life is wonderful and perfect as you post images from your trip to Bora Bora, or your life is on the skids–so bad you’re starring in a country music song.
I like Facebook, but sometimes I have to avoid it. Studies have shown too much time on social media–and in particular, Facebook–can make you depressed. I believe it. I’ve posted about that fact before. Marketing gurus tell us we must spend time on social media, making connections and interacting with fans. Mental health experts tell us we sometimes need to take breaks from social media.
That’s advice I can accept. I find that too much time on Facebook and the like (I’m looking at you, Twitter) makes me depressed. Despite knowing most people post about the good things in their lives, skewing us into believing their lives are better than ours, I find Envy, the green-eyed monster, often stalks me when I read the happy posts of others.
These days, I don’t have the energy to deal with the frequent melt-downs and drama either.
But today, after weeks of reading books I thought were problematic at best and stank like sewer gas at worst, I read a book that was really good. One I could barely put down. One that pulled me in and got me involved in the lives of the characters, even though it was a genre I seldom enjoy. And miracle of miracles, the author put real obstacles in the paths of our protagonists, not simple misunderstandings that five minutes of conversation would have resolved if the characters hadn’t been such blooming idiots.
And like always when this happens to me these days, I felt a pang of envy that I would never write anything half as good.
It’s bad enough when you read something that stinks but made its way to the bestseller lists. You know the writing is subpar and the plot grates on your writerly soul, and yet thousands of people rushed out to buy it. Worse, they seem to be gushing over it. Even the people who admit they hated it couldn’t help but buy the next book in the series because they had to know what happened next. Look down your nose all you want, but storytelling like that can’t be as bad as you think.
But at least with a story like that, you can tell yourself its very badness is what attracted some readers to it, and since the author is laughing all the way to the bank, there’s no point getting on your high horse about it.
No, those stories, even though their success is inexplicable (and makes you grind your teeth with rage) are somehow easier to accept than the others.
You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that are so damn good, it takes your breath away. They remind you why you fell in love with books in the first place. No, they aren’t such masterpieces that people will still be reading them generations from now, but they are damn fine stories just the same.
And it kills you that you don’t write that well.
In some ways, this kind of story is harder to take than the drek that inexplicably become a bestseller.
Stop. Take a deep breath.
First of all, this Unbelievably Awesome Writer didn’t become that way overnight. Like you, they wrote. A lot. With passion–sometimes more passion than execution. What they didn’t know, they learned. They put in their time at the keyboard, honing skills until they produced the story that caused such powerful envy in you. Stop fretting about how good they are and how you’ll never write anything a fraction as good. These authors were like you once. You are on the same journey as they are. They are just farther along on the path. That doesn’t mean they are innately more talented than you are. Talent alone is meaningless without the grit to achieve your goals. And it is one thing that can be improved on with training and practice.
Second: this writer whom you hold in awe probably has half a dozen or so authors that make them sigh and fear they will never write anything as good as Writer X. There will always be someone better than you at any stage of the game, be it writing, or making money, or creating art, you name it. And there will always be someone worse than you, who either doesn’t have the knowledge to recognize their work stinks or isn’t prepared to do the work to make it readable, or simply because they are new at it and are farther back on the path. You can bet the author you’re in awe of has authors who awe him or her. Has days where they think their work sucks. Sits biting their nails for the first reviews to come out after promising themselves they wouldn’t read them. It’s the nature of the game.
Third: just because you love it, and the story seems to be univerally loved on all fronts, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Read the reviews of your favorite books by your favorite authors. Most of them have their share of unkind reviews, same as you. And if someone can hate a story you love SO MUCH, that’s a pretty good indication it’s not for everyone. Everyone–believe me EVERYONE–gets bad reviews and rejected from time to time. Don’t let them dimish your dreams and goals.
Fourth: though it may not seem like it, there are people out there who are going to think your stories are awesome. Don’t disparage their intelligence because they like your stories. It’s rude at best and insulting at worst.
Fifth: Read more books just like it. Yes, read more books that make you cry with envy over how good they are. Don’t read crap. Your brain absorbs what you continually expose it to. Crap reading translates to crap writing. Want to be a better writer? Read the good stuff.
Most of all, let the writer know what you thought of their work. For all you know, your feedback may be the one thing that prevents them from pulling all their hair out and chucking the writing business as a lost cause.
In the meantime, I’m back to reviewing the audio version of Fool’s Gold. With any luck, it will be up on audible.com before the end of August.