Sunday, June 04, 2006

Zen and the Art of Avoiding the Green Monster

While battling blog block the other day, I stumbled upon the Imagination Prompt Generator, which spits out ideas for blogging, journaling, or whatever writing endeavor your heart desires at the click of a mouse. My question for today was, “Who do you envy, and why?”

Well, OK, that was after I rejected “If you could become invisible for life, would you?” (No. 'Nuff said.), “God is_________” (Too personal.), “Write about an unhealed hurt” (This is an author blog, not a chronicle of my journey to mental health. At least, most days.), and “Depression ...” (Urgh.).

So, who do I envy and why? Bombshell author Sharron McClellan and I were discussing just the other day how we don’t envy anyone--particularly other writers. Both of us know people who semi-regularly react to the news of another person’s sale as if the world just fell on their heads. (“If SHE can sell, why can’t I? What’s the matter with me?” :::insert existential crisis here:::: ) And frankly, we don’t get it. Trying to improve our own writing is enough work without feeling like we have to best the whole free world while we’re at it.

OK, sometimes I wish Aaron Spelling were my rich and generous uncle, but other than that, I’m quite happy with my life, and so is Sharron. Our writing abilities are what they are--we may or may not be the next Lisa Gardner or Audrey Niffenegger or Nora Roberts, but whatever. We do our best, work on getting better, and don’t worry about what anyone else is or is not selling, writing, or winning.

So, thanks to the Imagination Prompt Generator, today’s blog is going to be a public service announcement on maintaining Zen-like calm in a competitive business like writing by avoiding jealousy. (Not that I think anyone out there needs this PSA, but it gives me something to write about….) Here’s how:

1) Read something in your genre/sub-genre that you consider vastly better than what you can now do. (I’m mentally staring at Karen Rose right now.) Instead of feeling jealous, learn from it. Take it apart and figure out just what that author does that you think is beyond you. Try to imitate those elements in your own work--without ripping said author off, of course.

I think Karen Rose does the best villains in not just the romantic suspense market, but the suspense market in general. They’re real people, with fleshed out personalities, complex psychological profiles that explain why they do the evil they do, and even flashes of goodness every now and then. My villains, on the other hand, have been a weakness. So I carefully examine Rose’s villains when I read her and try to bring some of that dimension to my own when I write. It’s a win-win--I get to read a kickass book AND learn something, so I can’t be jealous of Karen Rose.

2) Read something in your genre/subgenre you consider complete crap. No, this is not the time to go all Church Lady and feel a little bit superrrriooorrrr to another author. It’s a time to remind yourself that the tastes of editors and readers vary WIDELY. One person’s sewage sludge is another person’s keeper. There are people who are going to like that book you hate infinitely better than they would like yours. That is an absolute truth, and it’s good for your ego to remember that. Be happy for the author who inflicted the sludge on you and move on.

3) Long ago, a writer who’d just sold to a major romance publisher joined a now-defunct e-mail list I was on. She introduced herself and announced her sale, to which the majority of us sent her welcomes and virtual applause, and there was much festivity all around. Then, some obviously unhappy author who wrote for the same publisher had to climb off her broomstick and spoil our fun by announcing that she JUST didn’t know what was going to happen to her career, because her line was buying ALL of these new authors, and they were TAKING all the spots from the veterans who had proven sales records, and aren’t those editors just UNGRATEFUL for all the work said veterans put in to growing their readerships, not to mention MISGUIDED about how to best handle the line in general. No welcome, no congrats--just a jealous rant that while not technically directed at the newbie might as well have been addressed specifically to her, starting with "Dear NAME, a.k.a. 'the Usurper'."

Remember, NO ONE is stealing your spot--there is always a spot for a great book. Unless that article I read recently is true and book sales altogether are doomed to take a nose dive because NOBODY IS READING ANYMORE (Who ARE these people? You might as well tell me that there’s an incurable virus infecting the free world that will slowly eat all our brain cells until we’re a bunch of zombies. I mean, honestly, no one’s reading?), publishers are always going to want a steady supply of good books to please their customers who are in search of good books. That means that if your friend Hortense writes a really good book, she will probably sell it (unless she’s breaking new ground and scares some editor to death who really, really, really likes it and can’t put it down, but marketing just doesn’t know what to do with it, so we’ll have to pass, but it just kills the editor, because the book was just so good.). Say it with me now: Hortense did not steal my spot. If you write a terrific book (that won’t cause the marketing department’s heads to collectively explode), you are also likely to sell it--in time, and with a little luck. We are not all jostling for one coveted publishing slot like a freaking lottery ticket. Thousands of books sell each year, and if you do your work right, yours has every chance of selling whether Hortense sells or not. And if Hortense happens to get a seven-figure contract, tons of marketing support, and a cool cover with FOIL her first time out, maybe she did get the lottery ticket with that particular publisher. Rather than feeling jealous, take comfort in the fact that such a deal is even possible, because she has now given you something to shoot for.

4) Be happy for your friends. Nothing kills a friendship faster than jealousy. I’ve seen it happen, but happily, I haven’t had it touch my relationships. (In part because my friends are excellent, and also because I don't have a seven-figure contract at the moment. Or a six-figure contract. Or foil.) If your first kneejerk reaction to a friend’s success is not completely and utter joy, practice in the mirror until you can fake it.

On the other hand, if her sale makes you want to sell that much more so you and your friend can be back on equal celebratory/commiserating ground, that’s perfectly normal. Use that feeling as the kick in the pants you need to finish that proposal, finish the whole manuscript, give your book a really good edit, or get the guts to submit to some editors or agents.


5) If it hurts you too much, don’t compare yourself at all to other writers.
Practice tunnel vision and focus solely on your work and how you can make it better. When you read a really great book, don’t compare yourself to that author--if you can’t use the good book as a learning experience, just enjoy it and forget about it. Don’t compare. If you read a truly awful book, toss it in your driveway, run it over a few times, and forget about it. Don’t compare. Unsubscribe from "Publisher’s Lunch." Give your RT BookReviews issues to your neighbor. Get off listservs where someone is selling all the time. Stick your fingers in your ears and start shrieking “Bohemian Rhapsody” whenever someone tries to tell you about so-and-so’s sale. (Note: Make sure it isn’t the speaker’s sale, though, because then this is rude.) Throw off all your friends and become a hermit or hang out solely with uncreative types and math geeks. Because really, if all that matters is your career, it all boils down to simply churning out the best books you can and continuing to grow as a writer.

6) If someone in your life is seeping poison all the time--putting down your talent, trying to one-up you whenever something good happens, sulking in a corner whenever you have a writing-related victory to celebrate--gently ask her to stop. If she doesn’t, you can try a not-so-gentle ask, or you may want to rethink the pros and cons of maintaining that friendship. We all have enough to deal with with the little voices in our heads. We don’t need some real-life harpy coming down on us, too.

End of PSA. Has your writing life been touched by jealousy--either yours or that of someone you know? How do you deal with it?

7 comments:

MaryF said...

There are two members of my chapter who I am really jealous of. They came in way after me, and honestly, they busted tail. Now every time I turn around, one of them has a new contract and yes, my head wants to explode. Shame on me, I know. What I do is email a good friend, she "there, there's" me and I get on with life. Takes me a day, though.

Tracy Montoya said...

But Mary, you've been on the edge for awhile now--winning GHs, getting an agent, getting good feedback. So I don't blame you for being impatient--especially when a couple of people come in and get that lucky break quickly. Here's hoping for some sale news of your own so you never have to feel that way again!

Jen said...

I get a twinge when other authors I know sell. Usually it's overwhelmed by the excitement I feel for them. I like to blog about other authors and I can usually see why they are pubbed while I'm not yet.
I did recently read a ebook that I thought was pretty awful. I thought "How did this get past an editor?". Then I thought that maybe this appeals to someone else.
I keep thinking of Barbara Kingsolver's "Poisonwood Bible". Oprah hoopla. My MIL loved it. I HATED it. LOL. So, it's pretty subjective out there.
Great blog topic, Tracy.

Tracy Montoya said...

Jen, likewise, I'm not a big fan of Nicholas Sparks, but he rings some peoples' bells or he wouldn't hit the NYT list. It's kind of fascinating how different everyone's tastes are.

As for the ebook you read, there really are some books (paper and non) out there that are SO clunky, you can't imagine anyone else liking them either. You gotta wonder....

The Queen-a Athena said...

Oh, Tracy. The Green Monster and I are too well acquainted, unfortunately. Not all the time: there are some folks who I desperately want to do well, and their success brings me nothing but joy. But with folks who irk me anyway, or who dash off somethign with (seemingly) little thought, or who make that first sale right off the bat - yeah. It can get bad, and so can I.

Though most of the time, now, I find I don't get jealous as much as depressed. I want folks to have the success. But I want some, too!!!

Tracy Montoya said...

Chris, I can't even imagine you being a jerk to someone--I'm positive your green-eyed monster is of a normal sort. And, like Mary, you've been THISCLOSE for so long, I don't blame you for getting a little irked when someone's lucky break comes faster. Here's to an swift and well-deserved sale for you, too. Let this be the year!

MaryF said...

I know, Tracy. Being on the edge isn't a fun place to be.....

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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