Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
It's true: If you want to become a writer, you have to read authors you admire—works that you feel are better than your own. This is how you grow.
When you read others’ work and follow them online, however, it’s easy to slide into jealousy—where reading and connecting stops being joyous and becomes an impediment to progress. Indeed, never-ending awards shortlists or humblebrag-ridden Facebook posts can arouse the green-eyed monster in the most grounded writers.
Fortunately, you can leverage envy to your advantage.
This guest post is by Liz Lazzara. Lazzara is an androgyne writer, editor, and activist specializing in mental health, addiction, and trauma. They have written online copy for rehab centers, and essays, narrative nonfiction, and journalism for multiple online and print publications. They are currently working on a manuscript about complex post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, and they are affiliated with Active Minds, the Mental Health America Advocacy Network, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the National Association of Memoir Writers, the Nonfiction Authors Association, No Stigmas, and the One Love Foundation. Follow them on Twitter and find their entire body of work at LizLazzara.com. (Note: This article appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Writer's Digest.)
What Are You Jealous Of?
As a writer, I have plenty of jealousy: of talent, of network and of success. The trick to disarming it is to determine which of these applies to you:
- Do you long to be like writers who interact with people you admire? You’re hungering for their network.
- When perusing author websites, are you struck by their lists of publications? You want their success.
- While reading, do you feel like you could never write something on that level? You’re lusting for talent.
Knowledge is power, and understanding the source of such feelings will enable you to pursue your real desires.
How Can You conquer It?
When building your writing community, reach out to writers, editors, agents and publishers of all grades—above, below and at your level. You’ll get advice from the pros, camaraderie from your compatriots, and perhaps a little pick-me-up from the people just starting out where you once were. Some writers make the mistake of connecting only with writers they admire. Think broader. Before you know it, your own group will grow and thrive—and you’ll no longer be tempted to obsess over someone else’s.
When you read the works of others, get in the mindset of reading as if you’re studying. Pick out what you admire, examine what it is that makes the writing successful, and think of how you can transform and incorporate it into your own work. Jealousy, then, turns into learning, and learning turns into growth.
Remember that true success doesn’t come easy for anyone. It can be an elusive recipe of who you know and what you know. But if you continue to network and to hone your craft, you’ll be on the right course. After all, some of the most important qualities for a writer are persistence and resilience. Best of all, when you do triumph, it will be your success, based solely on your diligence and your writing. There will be no need to compare what you’ve done to anyone else.
Focus on what you have, what you want and why. Despite similarities in style, genre or career path, no two writers are the same, and it’s useless (even unhelpful) to compare. Make jealousy work for you instead of against you—and then get back to your keyboard.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Here are 10 questions you need to ask your characters.
- How to create an effective synopsis for your novel or memoir.
- Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings -- see them all here.
- Here are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you awesome.
- New Agent Alerts: Click here to find agents who are currently seeking writers.
- Download a year's worth of writing prompts right here.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.