People talk a lot about writer’s block but they don’t talk so much about writer’s envy, which is surely something many writers struggle with. Oh there’s a lot of it around!
For years, when I was trying to finish a novel to a point that I was happy with it, I ached with envy for those people who had somehow found a way to pull their story together and type those miraculous and longed-for words THE END.
Even though I wrote pretty much every single day, even though I had maybe half a dozen manuscripts in various stages of completion (at the time I tended to think of them as burning wrecks) I didn’t feel like a real writer.
I had nothing to pitch, nothing that was ready yet to send out into the world.
Real writers get to the end. That is a fact.
Do you want to know what gave me the huge and helpful kick in the butt to get something to that point of readiness? I hit the year in which I would turn forty (this year!). I felt the terror of time passing, slipping away. I felt the magnitude of the work I have to do pressing down on me.
I decided that I would have a finished novel ready to send out to publishers by the age of forty.
And I did!
Champagne! Elation! Celebratory book purchases!
And then, the pitching. Oh boy the pitching. I won’t go on about it, because really it’s just something you have to do, but that’s when the envy starts to bite.
There’s one thing I want to say before I talk about pitching envy. This is something I keep reminding myself. As much as I have worked hard, as much as I want my words to become a book, nobody owes me anything.
I am not owed readers, or agents, or a publisher. I am not owed good reviews. That won’t stop me wanting them and trying to get them of course, but I understand that being owed isn’t how this works.
The hardest thing about the pitching is the silence.
You send this thing that you’ve lived with for years out into the harsh cold world and hear – nothing. Not a damn thing. And meanwhile you’re reading about writers getting agents and publishing deals and books coming out with darn beautiful covers and sitting there in piles on the shelves in bookshops for people to pick up and sniff and fondle… Argh! It’s enough to send an aspiring author mad with envy!
There’s no easy answer to it, though fortunately there are some mitigating factors.
For me, I write because I have to.
A day without writing is harder than a day writing, far harder. Close to impossible now. The backlog of stories in my head need to be put down on paper. The burning wrecks on my hard-drive need to be hosed down and examined for salvageable parts.
I don’t really have a choice in the matter.
But I do love books and everything about them. So of course, the longing to see the thing I’ve made turned into that adored physical object – THE BOOK – is intense, and at this point remains unrequited.
In the meantime, though, while I’m waiting for My Book to be born, I’m lucky that for the most part, the moment I pick up somebody else’s book the envy slips away like the incorporeal imaginary thing that it is, and all I feel is whatever that book makes me feel.
I have not lost the joy of reading and I have gained enormous respect for authors’ hard work and determination in getting their story told, and helping it find its way into the world.
Also, when people ask me if they can read my novel, I’ve started to say yes. (Twice now in two weeks!)
Because maybe part of what I want isn’t “published book” it’s just that my story gets read, that it creeps its way out of the pages and into other people’s minds and hearts and gets to nest there for a little while.
Both people I gave it to loved it. My story made them stay up late, cancel other social appointments, and cry. My story!
Maybe one day they’ll be able to buy it in book form too, but for the moment, that’s enough.
Do you suffer from writer’s envy? How do you deal with it? If you’re an amazing and super successful published author, does it eventually go away?