Writers: What Do You Do When You’re Jealous?

Okay, get this.

Two months ago I went to one of the larger writers conferences in New York. It is so big and so sophisticated that the sponsoring organization issues a set of “etiquette” rules in advance. The rules mostly warn you to be polite to editors and agents–that is, to refrain from accosting them in the hallways and elevators and shoving your manuscript in their faces. In fact, the rule sheet suggests, you should leave your manuscript at home, as no one will want to see it on site. Bring only, it says, paper for taking notes, an open mind, a good attitude, your best listening skills, and so on.

So at one of the workshops, I happen to sit next to a very nice person. It turns out we have kids the same age and a couple of other similarities, so we chat a bit, and then she asks how I’m enjoying the conference. I mention that I’ve learned a lot, I feel somewhat motivated and inspired, I’ve collected the email addresses of agents who might be interested in my book, so it’s all good. And what about her?

As it turns out, she ended up seeking out and meeting one of the conference organizers who also happens to be a very successful and well-known author with dozens of popular books to her credit. And while I was following the rules and being polite with my open mind, my new friend was handing her manuscript to this writer (yes, she brought her manuscript, “evading” the very rules that this famous writer had probably helped write!), who promised to read it and get back to her with feedback within the next two weeks.

Oh, did I mention that I’ve been working on my book for three years, while she just wrote hers last fall?

We exchanged email addresses and we’ve been in touch a few times, and she wrote me yesterday to tell me that she heard back from the famous writer, who loved her manuscript and recommended an agent who she felt would definitely be interested. Of course, using this famous writer’s name will no doubt catch the agent’s attention, so there’s no danger that my friend’s work will sit in the agent’s digital slush pile, along with mine and the gazillion others that have been emailed since the conference.

In short, I really do think my new friend is on her way.

Now the hard part: I want to be happy for her. I really do. And I am happy for her.

But I also feel like throwing up.

Even worse, when I read her emails, it completely derails me. I find it hard to work or be at all optimistic. I feel hopeless. It’s as though she won the lottery, and the other 1200 of us at that conference should just pack it in. It’s hard to keep doing all the things the books and conference workshops tell you to do, when a newcomer can just scoot in, cut the line, and potentially win the whole kit-and-kaboodle.

What do you think? How do you feel when a friend strikes it big in the publishing world? How do you stop yourself from feeling miserable and giving up?

Another discouraging day in the life of just another working writer.

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4 Responses to “Writers: What Do You Do When You’re Jealous?”

  1. danbracewell Says:

    Wow. I’d want to just curl up into a ball and die.I have a friend who finished his story and got an agent all in like six months. When I heard, I was like–are you f’n kidding me? It actually motivated me to get off my keister and finish what I had started. I try to keep in focus the reason why I write: because I love it. Money and fame is not the reason. I also reminded myself that I was certain my friend had not come out of the closet yet and when his new wife found out the s%$t would hit the fan and I’d feel much better about the whole situation (well, maybe not). 🙂

    • justanotherworkingwriter Says:

      So funny! It’s true that this kind of situation can actually be motivating — I was once talking (complaining) to a favorite writing teacher about a friend who had scored an agent really quickly, and the teacher said, “Look, it’s going to be at least a year before her book actually is published, and maybe even longer. It’s very possible that by then, you’ll have an agent as well!” It was a nice way to look at things — her success wouldn’t stop me from having successes of my own. But overall, I have to agree with your most important point — that I write because I love it, and that’s really what matters.

  2. thillegonds Says:

    Wow, I think anyone who says they haven’t felt that way before is lying. It’s tough not to feel the green monster of envy pop up out of the murky waters when someone seems to coast their way right to publication. But I think all we can do is learn from them. As cliche as it is, rules are meant to be broken sometimes. It’s all about being resourceful and tactful, right? I would say that next year, should you attend the same conference, you need to emulate your friend. And then, of course, write about it so we can all be jealous of you! 🙂

    • justanotherworkingwriter Says:

      Thanks, your comment made me smile! And I know you are right–you’ve got to put yourself out there if you want things to happen. This whole situation has really been a learning experience for me. I will do it right next year!

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