Writer’s Envy: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Book
December 7, 2019
“Is there one among you who is not stripped of envy?” Alma asks. “For such an one is not found guiltless.” (Alma 5:29)
Every time I read this verse, it’s as though the wind is knocked out of me. My heart drops and I’m disappointed with myself. Of the many things I struggle with, one of the biggest is envy. It’s a type of pride that I’m not proud of. One major form of envy that I suffer from is writer’s envy.
I remember being in 5th grade and writing a paranormal story based on a picture by Chris van Allsburg. The whole class was assigned to write a story, but after the teacher read mine, some of the other kids in my class turned to me and said, “Wow. That was really good.”
In junior high and high school, when getting feedback on stories or essays, it was often just pointing out spelling and grammar mistakes and a simple statement of, “I love this!”
I didn’t have to put a lot of effort into papers in college. Even if I only wrote for a few hours, I managed an A or B. It was clear to me that I was a natural writer. I allowed that to sink in.
Trying to find a publisher for my fantasy novel, though, is a different story. In the beginning, I worked on my book for years, then submitted it to a publisher. I expected it to be accepted on the first try.
A rejection came, followed by devastation.
I revised and revised and tried again.
Rejection. More devastation.
More tweaking. I sent it to two or three agents.
The response was, “No.”
With each rejection came more revisions. Frustration and doubt set in. At times I would set the book aside for months—or even years—declaring that I was giving up. I wasn’t meant to be a writer.
It was often after those declarations that inspiration increased, as though God was saying, “I still want you to do this.”
In the meantime, I saw others writing books, finishing books, finding publishers—the things that, in my mind, have always equaled success. I have read published books filled with holes and errors and thought, My book can’t possibly be worse than this. What do these books have that mine doesn’t? Then, I think about the years that have passed since I started writing. Having spent the greater part of two decades with this story, it’s disheartening to see people so much younger than me being published, thinking they can’t possibly have worked as long as I have. I deserve to be published more than they do.
See what I mean? Envy. It ate at me for a long time, tearing away bits of my self-worth until I didn’t believe in myself anymore. I prayed for relief, prayed to not feel this awful jealousy, but whenever I felt that I was making progress, something would happen to test me and I would fail the test.
But this year, a miracle happened. I didn’t even realize it at first. A friend of mine found an agent*. The miracle? I felt a genuine happiness for her with no trace of envy. When that agent was able to find her a publisher, I was even happier. How strange it was that I didn’t feel like her success took anything away from me.
From then on, I started to see more clearly. I thought about the path that God has prepared for me. I thought about the stories that He has inspired me with. My experience and the way everything works out are all part of a perfect design, crafted specifically for me. I continue to write. I continue to make goals and work towards them. When I’m ready again, I will (prayerfully) submit my book to agents and/or publishers and let what is supposed to happen, happen.
Slowly, I have started to do things that help me to see that writers really can support each other. We aren’t competing. I started following some writers on Instagram, then Twitter. In January, I am planning to attend a writer’s conference. Instead of feeling envious, I can choose to support others as we work together at our individual paces towards our individual goals.
Do I still have moments of envy? Yes. Alma’s question still comes to mind frequently and I’m not always happy with my answer. But I’m working on it and accepting that I have a lot to learn. I can honestly say, though, that I’m enjoying the process.
*Watch for Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson, coming out in March 2021.