Brain Babies: Envy And Stuff

I want to talk about envy for a minute. I mean, we all experience it, I’m pretty sure. I certainly do. When I come across a bit of prose that sings, a line that stops me cold, making me wish I was anywhere near that good, I almost weep with envy.

When that happens, I try (and sometimes succeed) to channel that into something closer to respect. I try to think to myself, “Wow… this writer is so great; someday, maybe I can be that good.” I try to use that feeling to motivate myself to be better at this stuff.

Sometimes, it even works.

Here’s the thing I try not to do, and I strongly encourage you to avoid it as well. I try not to be bitter, or angry, or resentful. I try, instead, to celebrate the skill and success of my fellow writers. I try to see their position (typically way above my own) as a place to which I should be ascending, so I can stand beside them. Not to knock them off.

See? That’s the thing: there’s enough room on top of that pedestal for me too. And you. And all of us. The readers out there don’t give a damn if one writer is more successful than another. They just want good stories. And, that’s what we should be giving them.

On a related note, the one thing I consistently tell people, when asked ‘what’s the most important thing for new writers to know?’ is “Don’t be a dick.” When I say this, I mean, of course, don’t be rude. Don’t start fights with other people in the industry. Don’t aggressively push your own work (seriously. Don’t be the one walking around shouting “Buy my book!” in everyone’s face. Don’t do it in person. Don’t do it online. Just don’t do it. If an occasion arises, and someone is talking about how scary hurricanes can be, for example, and you just happen to have written a novel about the devastation from the world’s most powerful hurricane ever… sure. Pimp that work. Use the moment to sell yourself. Otherwise, unless someone asks you about your work, eat some humble pie and keep that to yourself.)

Also, if you ask another writer for a blurb (this is a necessary evil, and I hate it a lot), be polite and respectful, and take “no” with grace. You’re going to get a lot of “no” responses. Especially if you ask big players in the industry. Most writers who do it full-time are extremely busy people, and, much as they might want to help (most do), they simply cannot. Thank them for responding and move on with your life. I imagine the writers I ask feel bad they can’t help. I know I would. I hope to find out someday.

I think we all want to be read widely and loved for our work. I think we all would like to be able to quit our day jobs and support ourselves writing. I think a small percentage of us will make it there. Most of us won’t. Sad, but true. So, if you are one of the struggling ones, who maybe has a small fan base of 10-30 readers (hello, my tiny, but loyal group of people. I love you guys!); if you’re putting the words out there for the world; if you expose your heart to the world… keep it up. The world needs you. We need art, and stories, and escapism. We need to shine the light on the ugliness (there’s a lot of it) in the world. We need to read.

But, if someone else is where you want to be, instead of glaring at them, applaud them. Instead of being unhappy it’s not you there, be happy one of us made it. And, try to remember, we’re all human beings. We all have lives outside of fiction (or nonfiction, if that’s your thing. I try not to judge). We all have feelings, and hopes, and dreams, and struggles. People we love die (don’t get me started). We hurt. We cry. Our children break their arm in a fall (another real-life example from me. What the hell, my life? Why you gotta throw this at me?). We have bills to pay. We have a house that leaks (yeah. Me again). We have a sore back. We’re tired. We’re in chronic pain. Whatever. We’re all in this together. We all serve the reader. We’re on the same side.

Let’s act like it, huh?


Thanks for listening.

Ken MacGregor

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