Tuesday, June 29, 2010


This post is going to be brutally honest. I hope you don't think less of me at the end of it. But I think this is an important thing to write about, because I swear all us writers experience it whether we admit it or not, whether we want to or not.

Sour, stomach-twisting, soul-sucking ENVY.

I've been doing this writing thing off and on for 10 years. I've been doing the trying-to-get-published thing hardcore, with agented submissions and revisions and resubmissions, for more than 2. I've gotten close. I have high hopes for the novel I'm working on now. But I haven't yet quite made it past that hurdle, and it's been an emotionally drenched up-and-down run.

The writing community--especially the YA writing community--is close, a tangled knot of interconnected writers, where everybody knows and supports each other. I spend my days surrounded online by YA writers I love. I cheer with them, joke with them, read their work and blogs and emails. I feel that most of them are friends tangentially at least, and many are good friends. I adore these people. I truly want them to succeed.

And yet--and yet.

Still it kicks me in the gut when I read about another 3-book deal with an editor we submitted to. Still I have to take a breath before I smile when I hear someone's book went to auction in the first week of submission. Still I flinch when I see writers half my age sell their fourth book, see people who went on submission long after I did showing their covers or their release dates. Sometimes it's hard to be surrounded virtually by success at something you want so badly, but haven't managed. (yet)

But here's the good news, in my opinion. That horrible envy, those moments of selfishness? They're OKAY. It is perfectly normal and natural to feel a moment of bad for yourself in the midst of feeling glad for others. It's human.

The tricks I've found to feeling that way and still going on, without falling into the suck:
  • Allow yourself to feel bad, but NOT FOR LONG. Put a time limit on it. You can feel sorry for yourself for--oh, an hour. Max. And then you get the heck over yourself and you realize that person, that friend, has felt this way too, has had their own struggles, but they've finally made it. And now is their time to celebrate, and your time to HELP THEM CELEBRATE. They need you to. It's okay to feel the envy pangs--it is not okay to wallow.
  • Never allow your personal issues to show (erm, outside of this blog post). Envy is personal and private, and okay in that context. It's *maybe* okay to share with a close, trusted friend. It is never allowed, in my opinion, to let any sense of envy dictate your behavior: to say rude things or bring anyone down.
  • Realize that everyone feels this way at some point. Even if they seemingly sailed to this achievement, be absolutely certain they've had issues you have no idea about, that there's more behind the scenes. 
  • Don't let up. Continue to focus on your work, on improving, on things you can control. That is how you will make it to the celebration stage yourself. 
In short: feel it, but don't let it bring you down. Use that envy to up your efforts. If you have work you're excited about, it's so much easier to truly be happy for others.

And all my dear friends who have succeeded, are succeeding: don't be afraid to share your good news with me! I promise that even if it makes me hurt for a second, that is quickly overwhelmed by my happiness that you really have done it.

And hope that if you can, if I keep pounding someday I will too.


Travis Erwin said...

I am floating along the same river as you. Except I do not write YA and I am not even agented. Been close had several personal calls from agents but so far the prize has eluded me. And still I'm compelled to plug away.

Susan Adrian said...

Travis: I choose to believe that the people who keep plugging and learning in the face of failure WILL be the ones who succeed in the end.

Ev Bishop said...

Great insight and advice!

Shari Green said...

Thanks for this brave & honest post. :)

I especially agree that we need to remember everyone has had their own struggles - even those we think have had it easy. There's a good quote: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Plato? I should google it, but I'm too lazy, heh.) Also, the most productive and helpful and misery-minimizing thing we can do for ourselves in the midst of envy or disappointments is, as you said, to focus on the things we CAN control. (Thanks for the reminder!)


Susan Adrian said...

Ev: Thanks. I hope it's helpful!

Shari: Honest, yes. Brave? I dunno. I guess so, but if everybody feels that way, it shouldn't be brave to say so, y? I admit I do struggle with envy, but hopefully most of the time I'm in control of it. :)

Kari Lynn Dell said...

It may sound funny, but time limits WORK! My husband and I have a twenty minute 'sulled up' limit when we're rodeoing. For twenty minutes you can curse and kick and pout to your little heart's content.

Then you have to Get Over It.

One of the many reasons we've stayed married this long.


Fabulous post!

I know EXACTLY what you're talking about, and I've been there dozens of times myself.

My path to publication was long and brutal and a whole lot bumpier than I thought I'd signed on for. Though I would never have wished for it at the time, I'm glad for all the roadblocks I encountered along the way. It makes me appreciate the book deal I got a whole lot more than I would have otherwise.

Keep at it, and thanks for sharing such an honest take on this issue a lot of people don't like to talk about.


Linda G. said...

Why, I don't know WHAT you're talking about.

Huh? My complexion? I swear, the green tint is normal. I, uh, have Martian blood in my distant past. Nothing whatsoever to do with envy. ;)

Jamie Grey said...

Great post - thank you so much for your honesty. I know I've been there myself and it's reassuring to know that it's a natural reaction and I'm not just a b*tch!

Josie Brown said...

Beautifully put! Susan, it is truly inspiring. Yes, it's HARD to cheer others on when you want your book to be picked up. We've all been there, done that.

Your tips here show that you've put it in perspective. I would add just one more to it: While you're putting this one out there, begin work on your next book. Selling another will mitigate the fact that this one is still an orphan.

Besides, you want to be ready when an agent or editor says, "What else do you have?" Having even 50 pages of a second or third manuscript, with a succinct synopsis, may be the key to getting you published.

I'm a good example of that: my latest book was something I WASN'T pitching. But when my editor asked that question, it was ready for her to see. Ironically, it was one of my orphaned manuscripts: a previous agent had rejected it out of hand. Like me, my editor loved the style and the premise. It ran my pub house's editorial gauntlet with flying colors, and the sales team was excited about it, too. It is now on the shelves at Target, so you never know what hits the zeitgeist. Or perhaps you can chalk it up to a mix of right agent, right editor and right time for this book...

But if I hadn't had pages ready for either of them to see, it wouldn't have made it on the shelf.

Susan, you certainly got the karma flowing in the right direction, by providing support to others. This post is yet another example of that.

I wish you luck; make that SUCCESS, in getting your manuscript with an editor who falls in love with it and becomes a strong advocate for it. Please remind your readers: it's LAST AUTHOR STANDING. If you ain't in the game, you can't hit a home run, let alone strike out.

Josie Brown
(Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press)

Bill Cameron said...

I keep wondering when the green monster will go away. Right now, I'm in the, "sheesh, who do I have to kill to get a review in my own home town?" stage. Each week, when the new books section comes out, I get the stomach clenches as I'm passed over yet again.

But what can you do? Everything you describe here so profoundly is what. And hope, well, maybe next time. But accept that, well, maybe never. I've already achieved great success, and for that I'm deeply grateful.

Esperanto said...

Yes. Great post, and it is natural and okay to feel envy. I think envy can only do harm when it's denied and denied and denied until eventually it just grows giant and consumes you (DOUBLE FAULT by Lionel Shriver is such an incredible novel about this very thing - except with tennis.) And since we're admitting things here, let me say I read your blog regularly and I've envied YOU before, for having such a dream agent. But guess what, when your book comes out (which it WILL), I'll be there at the bookstore buying it and I'll be happy for you :)

Unknown said...

Yep. Been there, felt that. You are so right about the whole envy thing. And about the moving past it thing, too.

I try to remember there's always someone out there with something better...the grass is always greener and so on.

You'll get there. We'll get there and we can all (after that initial twinge of envy) cheer each other on!

Thanks for your honest and oh-so-spot-on post.

Weronika Janczuk said...

Oh, Susan, I know just what you mean. Sometimes I let the envy drag me down, for a bit, but most often it acts as fuel - to keep writing, to keep trying.

Susan Adrian said...

Kari: The time limits really work for me too. I think my brain's figured out that's all the pity-party time I'm going to give it.

Tawna: Thank you! And I keep telling myself I'll feel glad for the roadblocks eventually. Sort of a mantra under my breath. And then it sounds like I'm swearing... :)

Linda: HA!

Jamie: I really do believe everybody feels that envy sometimes. Even pubbed authors!

Susan Adrian said...

Josie: A success story! I love those, especially the ones after turmoil. And it didn't even make me envious. :) Yes, I completely agree on having more books, better books, in the works. Always.

Bill: I admit, the one thing I hate to hear is that it doesn't go away even after you have that deal. But I have enough friends across the line to know that it truly doesn't. *sigh*

Empty: I think I love you. Just saying.

Mary: I do hope so! I know the only ones who'll get there are the ones who keep going, but I've definitely had to accept that I'm not always going to feel serene about it.

Weronika: If you can make it act as fuel to go on, you are doing something RIGHT.

Karen Mahoney said...

Susan... what an amazing and TRUE post. Oh, believe me... I can relate to much of this. I have BEEN there! You know this, I'm sure.


And, honestly, writers can feel envy even when the HAVE got a book deal or a cool cover or whatever. It doesn't go away over night. :)

I really love this post. I know, without a shadow of doubt, that you will absolutely be signing book contracts in the not too distant future.


nova said...

I've been carrying this post around with me in my mind for hours since reading. I understand this so well... and yet when I was going through it I found myself unable to articulate how I felt, how CONFLICTED I felt... how I could be so happy for my friends and yet so sad for myself. I started actively trying to make it as a writer about eleven years ago. My math is bad and I try not to think of it... But if that math is right, it took me eight years to get my first real book deal, and nine years to get an agent, in a completely different genre than I started out writing, with two trashed novels along the way, not to mention short stories. I tried. I tried and I tried and I kept getting close and I kept hearing no. All around me, it felt like, were my friends and former classmates getting book deals and poems and stories in fancy magazines, and I truly was amazed by their talent and happy for their success. And yet I kept wondering: Why not me, just one little tiny yes? Why not? How could that hurt the balance of the universe?

I don't know.

What I do know is that you are clearly handling this far better than I did, in my worst years. This is a post I wish existed back then, as it could have helped me immensely. I admire you so much and I believe in my heart that you WILL get that yes. You will. The balance of the universe will shift in your favor and then here we all will be -- all your writing friends who you've been so supportive of during all of this -- and we will be celebrating YOU.

I can't wait for it to happen.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I think your advice is really good. And yes, we all have those feelings sometimes. Like you said they are normal. I often feel like I'm the slowest writer around trying to juggle writing, working, & family. And it's taken me way longer to finish even one manuscript.

But if we're persistent and plod along, we'll get there. Right?

courtney said...

Suze, thank you so much for being so honest. Like I said to you earlier, I think this is an important entry. I think there is a lot of power in recognizing the emotion, letting yourself have it, and then moving on. Your advice is spot on, bb. We all deal with this in some way or another and it's nice to feel not alone. You rock.

lisa and laura said...

AMAZING post Susan. Thanks for this - we've ALL been there.

Elissa J. Hoole said...

terrific post. I think everyone who has ever been on this path can probably relate, but you give such nice advice to get over it! very helpful!

Christa Allan said...

Honest without being whiny. Loved it. I also think that when we get those truths out of ourselves--on paper, on posts--they're somehow diluted, and seem to have less power over us.

If your writing is as honest as this, there's a contract waiting to find it.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Great insight into reality! It's hard to be in the in-between spot, no matter which in-between spot it is.

When we stop being envious - we don't want it enough.

Joanne Levy said...

Great post, Susan. I can totally empathize with both the long struggle and the feelings (some not so pretty and gracious) that pop up along the way. I have made a lot of friends in my years trying to make it in this business and have watched many of them sell their books while I cheer from the sidelines. It's tough. I'm incredibly proud and happy for them, of course, but yeah, it's tough. Having those friends has gotten me through, though and that experience alone has made it all worth it. You know, mostly. ;-)
Hang in there - if it was easy, it wouldn't be as worth it in the end, right?

Patty Blount said...

Excellent post. Thanks for your honesty.

For me, it's not so much envy but often a dip in confidence. "I'll never get there!" or "I'm nowhere near THAT good!" I often feel unworthy. Sure, there's envy but for me, it's because I want to be THAT good.

I urge you to hang in... I believe we'll both find the right agent as soon as we offer the right project.

Christi Goddard said...

It's such a mixed bag, really. I'm happy for those with success, and am floundering at what I should do about my own work. I don't truly envy them their success, but their luck at writing what an agent was willing to take on. I see what sells, and my stuff is different. Agents say they want unique and original, but it FEELS like that's not true. In the end, I feel mostly frustration.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know I'm not alone in feeling this! Thanks for being so upfront and honest about it.

I'm currently querying my second novel, and it's tough being at this stage again when those close to me have already reached the finish line and are doing a victory lap.

It's a very bitter-sweet feeling. I'm so proud of them and genuinely happy for them (no really! Honest!), but every time I hear some more good news it takes a moment for me to catch my breath, put on a smile and say 'that's wonderful'.

But I'm a firm believer things in life happen when they're meant to. Just keep working hard, keep improving, be the best friend you can and take joy from other people's accomplishments. You will get there when the world's ready for your awesomemess.

Keep the faith and the very best of luck to everyone!

shabbygeek said...

GIRRRL. Loved this post. Heartstrings have been pulled. I love how positive and honest you are, to see your thoughts and views on this process that I feel so detached from as a reader. I also love to see how much of an encourager you are to other writers, and to read your cheerleading tweets.

*sparkles* & xoxo

Suburban Vampire said...

I know exactly how you feel, Susan.

jjdebenedictis said...

Psychologists define two types of envy--malicious envy and benign envy.

What you're talking about is benign envy. Someone gets what you want and you feel sad and sorry for yourself. Your focus is on you.

Malicious envy is when someone gets what you want and you feel rage and want to take it from them. Your focus is on the other person.

I agree with you that benign envy is okay as long as you limit it.

Malicious envy, however, is extremely toxic, as Kristine Kathryn Rusch notes in this blog post about both not giving in to professional jealousy and surviving someone else aiming a bout of it at you.

Susan Adrian said...

Kaz! I do know you've been there. You're one of my models, now. :) Thank you, bb!

Nova: Your comment made me all teary. Thank you so much! And that "just one tiny little yes" bit? YES. THAT.

Natalie: Oh, I get the slow writer thing. I'm there with ya too. We'll get there!

Courtney: No, YOU ROCK. (Seriously, thank you. It is NICE to see how many people have the same feelings!)

Lisa and Laura: Thank you! And I really do love that everybody admits to feeling it.

Susan Adrian said...

elissa: I do hope it was a little helpful. I know it always made me feel better when my friends told me it was OKAY, to just acknowledge it and then let it go!

christa: WHEW I AVOIDED THE WHINY. Thanks! Yes, I do usually feel better once I've written something out. Writer much, huh?

Amy Sue: It IS hard in-between. Though ironically I'm actually okay right now, working away on my stuff. I think it would've been hard for me to write about this when I really was in a down time.

Joanne: Thanks. I know you can relate! You hang in there TOO.

Patty: Yes, I think the dip in confidence always comes with the envy for me, or after. It's hard to keep up the confidence unflagging. Fortunately I've been through it enough that I know it does come back.

Susan Adrian said...

Christi: It is a mixed bag! That's what's so difficult about it, sorting out all that tangle. Frustration can easily soar to the top. But you can't let that one grip you too long either...

Red Pen (heh): You are NOT ALONE. Apparently I'm not either, which I love. Isn't it funny, though, that "I really am happy for you HONEST" thing? Both emotions honestly can exist at the same time.

Shabby (dear): Us writers are such TWISTED people. *~sparkles~*

Catherine: Yes. Fortunately it seems like everybody feels it!

jjdebenedictis: Interesting. Thanks for that. I do much prefer "benign" to "malicious"!

Donna Gambale said...

Hi Susan, found the post via Alice Pope's link to Janet Reid's tweet -- whew! Gotta love social networking.

Anyway, all of the above comments are so, so right. And I love your tricks of the trade for getting over envy. I tend to dislike self-linkage in comments (because it usually means blatant self-promotion), but I actually wrote a post on admitting jealousy when my critique partner got an agent, and that's the best way to show you that you totally hit the nail on the head for me.

Of course, I envy your post a wee bit -- I wish I'd thought of doing my own "don't fall into the suck" section! But hey, it pushes me to try harder to cover all the bases next time, right? :)

Susan Adrian said...

Donna: Thanks for commenting! I didn't know Alice Pope had linked, so I had to go track it down after you said that. I feel all famous-y now. :) I like your post on the subject too--exactly that. *nods*

Janet Johnson said...

It is hard not to envy the success of others when we're all struggling for the same thing. But if we can truly feel happy for them, and celebrate with them, I think we're still in a good place. Like you said, use the envy to motivate you to work harder.

Loretta Nyhan said...

Hi, Susan!

Thanks for the refreshingly honest post. Feeling jealous is such a normal reaction, but admitting to it is sooo hard.

Daisy Whitney said...

Indeed, Indeed. I have felt that envy too! Took me four books and more than two years agented and rejected to get a deal.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Great advice! I particularly like the sulking time limit.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Great advice! I particularly like the sulking time limit.

Amie Borst said...

so THAT's what that feeling is. I just thought it was PMS. Or gas. Or both.

Wendy Sparrow said...

Yes... I've just always buried it, but it's definitely there. It feels like when I was trying to get pregnant and suffering miscarriages. I think sometimes we're forgiven for just limping along inside if we put on a brave face for our friends. Also, it's safe to assume those people we envy have a lot that we wouldn't envy. (Spoken by someone who is still allowing herself a few more days to hate someone for their success, btw... because they aren't a friend... and it was too easy.)

Susan Adrian said...

Janet: Exactly! We can try at least.

Loretta: Thanks! And as I get older, I think I get more honest. Soon I'll be one of those old ladies wearing purple or something. Okay, not SOON, thank goodness.

Daisy: I do SO love your story. :)

Nora: The sulking time limit really works for me. It also works for feeling bad after rejections.

Amie: HA.

Susan Adrian said...

Bethany: Hee. Well, honesty helps with a lot of things, but I'm pretty sure you need a kickass book to get a book deal. I'm still working on that one. :)

Wendy: I think your analogy is spot on. You truly can feel "happy" for another's joy even when it cuts a little. And YES that if we traded places we'd likely be surprised.

Chrissy said...

I really needed to read this post today. Someone else was given the teaching job that I wanted and I have been tortured by it for two weeks. Although the landscape is different, the emotional experience is similar to what you shared. Thank you!!